If you’re already familiar with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, that might be a sign you’re spending a little too much time online. Yang’s candidacy, which is centered around a a $1,000-a-month Universal Basic Income proposal, has blossomed largely in internet spaces like Reddit and even 4chan, leading to a weird amount of alt-right-adjacent memes. As a fringe candidate, he’s taken pretty much whatever press he can get, whether that means agreeing to debate circumcision with Ben Shapiro or showing up on Joe Rogan’s podcast. But whatever he’s doing appears to have paid off—he’s already hit 65,000 individual donors, which means he’ll be onstage at the televised Democratic primary debates.
When he gets there, he’ll have no shortage of things to talk about. Though his “Freedom Dividend” UBI proposal has attracted the most coverage, Yang is the furthest thing from a single-issue candidate—one of the things that distinguishes his campaign is the comically large platform on his website, which includes 76 items in all. His campaign’s central focus is how the US workforce will navigate a future dominated by job-displacing AI, but he’s evidently not afraid of sharing his thinking on literally dozens of other subjects. While the majority of his positions are pretty much in line with progressive Democratic priorities, he also clearly has a Silicon Valley–esque penchant for moonshotting and quirky passion projects. No issue is too big, too small, or beneath the dignity of the campaign to weigh in on. Some of them seem like good ideas. Some are… uh, not that. Let’s take a look:
THE REGULAR IDEAS:
It’s hard to argue with priorities like Combatting Climate Change and LGBTQ Rights, and Yang is far from the first Democrat to back Reducing Mass Incarceration, Equal Pay for those who do the same work, Campaign Finance Reform, and Net Neutrality, though his focus on the latter is unusual and showcases his focus on tech issues. He’s vague on Gun Safety, Foreign Policy First Principals, and Right to Privacy/Abortion and Contraception, but seems a bit more passionate about Rebuilding American Infrastructure and the Opioid Crisis.
His platform may be overstuffed, but on a lot of fronts it just reaffirms that he’s a Democrat who agrees with Democratic positions: On immigration, he backs a Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants, Southern Border Security, and the DREAM Act. When it comes to large corporations, he wants to Hold Pharmaceutical Companies Accountable and punish Economic Crime perpetrated by the finance sector. Primary voters will find nothing unusual about his Paid Family Leave and Mandatory Paid Leave positions, which are in line with what other candidates want to do. He also wants to Legalize Marijuana and support Medicare For All (or some other new health insurance system that covers everyone). If he’s not specific about his desire to Reduce Student Loan Burden or Promote Vocational Education or Increase Teacher Salaries, he seems in step on those issues with the rest of the party. His desire to Control the Cost of Higher Education and Make Community College Affordable for All is actually less radical than promises of tuition-free college from Bernie Sanders; a Carbon Fee and Dividend would similarly fall short of the aggressiveness of the Green New Deal. Finally, he’s not the only one who has called to Make Puerto Rico a State.
SEEMINGLY BENIGN, BUT ODDBALL:
On the other hand, Yang has no qualms about breaking from traditional Democratic orthodoxy. His championing of Nuclear Energy as a safe, clean bridge the gap to fully renewable power will ruffle some environmentalist feathers. The progressive wing of the party may be on board for Value-Added, Capital Gain/Carried Interest, and Financial Transaction Taxes, but the financial sector–funded neoliberal centrists still running the show are likely to push back. Battling Algorithmic Trading/Fraud seems like a niche issue but it fits into Yang’s overall techie vibe. And though audacious, his notion that Nuclear Launch Decisions shouldn’t be entirely up to the sole discretion of the President isn’t likely to be unpopular in the wake of Trump’s tenure.
Many of Yang’s proposals, like Enticing High-Skill Individuals to emigrate to the US by reforming visa programs or Making it Easy for Americans to Move for Work by offering tax rebates and reforming licensing requirements, have a vaguely libertarian-ish flavor to them, as does his plan for Tort Reform, which would give judges greater ability to toss frivolous lawsuits (it’s unclear how that would work). His plan on Support for the Arts, which involves copyright reform, is similarly not a cookie-cutter progressive idea. On the more socialist end of the spectrum, Free Financial Counseling for All, Free Marriage Counseling for All, Early Childhood Education for All, Increase Assistance for Single Parents, and Life-Skills Education in All High Schools are some imaginative proposals about how government could be a force for good in everyday life. More personal is his plan to Fund Autism Intervention—one of Yang’s sons is on the autism spectrum.
Some of his ideas, while mostly sensible, incorporate tech in in such a way that the plan veers off into the realm of fantastical sci-fi. His Robo-Calling Text Line for snitching to the FCC is probably the most realistic of these, but Yang also wants to Modernize Voting by allowing it to be done through smartphones via blockchain. His AI-centric plans to Expand Access to Medical Experts, Invest in America’s Mental Health, and Fund Medical Technology Innovation demonstrate that he’s not against the rise of the machines. His Every Cop Gets a Camera approach to police reform goes on to propose giving all officers handprint signature guns. And while the left has perpetually called for Congress to decrease and Modernize Military Spending to focus on 21st century threats, Yang stands alone in his support of a nuclear material buyback program and founding a “Legion of Builders and Destroyers” to handle interior and infrastructure tasks.
MOONSHOTS THAT MIGHT BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO WORK:
Yang’s flagship proposal, the Freedom Dividend, remains a tricky topic—UBI has been growing more and more popular, but it has yet to be embraced by any mainstream politicians, and though it could transform society its impact likely depends on how it’s implemented. Yang has forward-thinking proposals to Regulate AI and Other Emerging Technologies and Ease the Transition to Self-Driving Vehicles, which seek to mitigate the threat of murderous and job-stealing bots by creating a Department of Technology and a Trucking Czar.
One of his wilder notions is his plan to Automatically Sunset Old Laws, which is another libertarianism-infused policy that would require Congress to routinely renew important laws, a frightening proposition in our age of legislative dysfunction. The optics of laying off a bunch of workers who just weathered a shutdown aside, his plan to Limit Bureaucracy in the Federal Workforce has the potential to upgrade the creakier facets of the government. His quest to Prevent Corruption among Federal Regulators by paying them more and barring them from lobbying or working for the industry they regulated is certainly well-intentioned.
It’s not all pie in the sky, however. If he could shore up enough public support for his common-sense ideas like giving people the option of having the IRS automatically File Income Taxes or Providing Basic Banking Services through the Post Office, average Americans might feel some tangible effects of President Yang’s policies.
THINGS THAT AREN’T REALLY THE PRESIDENT’S JOB:
It’s hard to fault Yang for being moved by the struggles and injustices of our time, but some of his platform seems like he’s airing personal views rather than talking about what he’d do in office. Under Yang the government would be giving people Freedom Dividends and providing financial advice; does it also need to create new opt-in accounts to Make it Easier to Save for Retirement? College athletes are arguably being exploited, but do we need Yang to weigh in and demand that NCAA Should Pay Athletes? Seeking to Prevent Airlines from Removing Customers seems like an odd issue to highlight—airlines are likely to be cautious in this area anyway, following the public backlash to the viral video of a man being dragged off a United flight and the subsequent large settlement he got. And upsetting as America’s urban housing crises may be, Zoning is still largely a local and state government issue.
More concerning is Yang’s desire to meddle in journalism, which will likely play right into the worst fears of conspiratorial right-wingers. A Local Journalism Fund of $25,000-$250,000 federal grants sounds great in a vacuum, but what’s to stop the next partisan president from giving a juicy government check to the equivalent of Alex Jones? One need only consider half the country’s opinion of Snopes.com to see the flaw in Yang’s belief that a fact-checking News and Information Ombudsman would restore trust in the press. Just as laughable is the notion that nominating a cadre of well-paid American Journalism Fellows could be a nonpartisan affair. And it’s odd, in at a time when ownership of the press is increasingly concentrated in a few hands, that Yang is worried about Media Fragmentation.
Last in this category is Yang’s goal to Improve the American Scorecard by tracking citizens’ overall happiness along with a host of other metrics. If it seems like a good idea to focus less on purely economic measures like GDP, getting the country to think about money less would entail a transformation of American society and attitudes, not just government policy.
GENUINELY WEIRD, SCI-FI-ESQUE SHIT:
Peppered throughout his largely sober, thoughtful agenda are a number of ideas seemingly plucked straight from a all-nighter that have no chance of coming to fruition. On the “cute” side of the spectrum, we have his patently nanny state idea to Reduce Harm to Children Caused by Smartphones by creating a Department of Attention Economy, or his pitch for Making Taxes Fun by way of a new federal holiday and White House visit raffle. Then there’s his American Exchange Program, which would bridge the country’s cultural divides with student swaps between regions. Slightly more ominous—if still well-intentioned—is his plan to Closely Monitor Mental Health of White House Staff.
To rekindle a sense of civic pride and community, Yang proposes annual $100 Prosperity Grants to be donated to the charity of one’s choosing but might just breed grift and fake charities. He want to turn shopping center husks into… something else?… with the American Mall Act. The crown jewel of this set is his Modern Time Banking proposal that awards citizens spendable brownie points for performing tasks like “coaching little league,” or “fixing a neighbor’s appliance.”
These, like so many of Yang’s policies, hinge on his idea of Human Centered Capitalism. He insists that the system can operate in a way that values humans over profit, but getting there involves dozens of moving parts that could easily go awry or have unintended consequences. Yang dreams big, but in imagining citizens accumulating time banking points while helping others vote through their smartphone during the annual Revenue Day celebrations he’s writing a speculative fiction novel, not a platform.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Justin Caffier on Twitter.