Andrew Yang: start-up expert aiming for the US presidency

Andrew Yang cut his teeth in the dotcom bubble before establishing a US-wide business. Now he wants to lead his country and introduce a “freedom dividend”. Jane Lewis reports.


Andrew Yang cut his teeth in the dotcom bubble before establishing a US-wide business. Now he wants to lead his country and introduce a "freedom dividend". Jane Lewis reports.

Among the many candidates jostling for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, Andrew Yang stands out. The New York entrepreneur wants to guarantee every adult American $1,000 a month, "no strings attached" and apparently in perpetuity. The government "has plenty of resources, they're just not being distributed to enough people right now", he told CNBC earlier this year when outlining his plan to introduce a universal basic income or "the Freedom Dividend" as he calls it. Yang, 43, is convinced that it would be "the greatest catalyst for arts, entrepreneurship and creativity" on record. "It would take people from a constant mindset of scarcity to a mindset of assured survival and possibility", he wrote on Reddit last spring.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

The right credentials

The idea of a universal basic income has gained new momentum because of the potentially devastating impact robots and self-driving vehicles could have on jobs, says The New York Times. Critics dismiss Yang's predictions of "robot apocalypse" as doom-mongering and his campaign (slogan: "Humanity First") as "a futurist vanity stunt". They also argue that the cost around $2trn a year, or roughly half the current federal budget is prohibitive. Yang counters that the plan could easily be funded by slapping a 10% value-added tax on companies "benefiting most from automation". He argues that he is just the man to "sell the idea in Washington" by framing it as "a pro-business policy".

A well-connected "fast-talking extrovert", Yang certainly has the right entrepreneurial credentials. Born in 1975 in Schenectady, New York, to Taiwanese immigrants, his parents were both high-achievers. His father, who worked as a physicist for IBM and GE, produced 69 patents over the course of his career. Yang enjoyed an upmarket education at Phillips Exeter Academy and Brown University before graduating from Columbia Law School. In the late 1990s, he left his job at a law firm to focus on tech. Having cut his teeth on an internet start-up "that failed during the first dotcom bust" Yang netted "a modest fortune" selling a tutoring business he'd developed to Kaplan in 2009. But the move that put him on the map and gave him "the political bug" was starting Venture for America (VFA) in 2011, with the aim of connecting recent college graduates with start-up businesses. The specific plan, as outlined in his book, Smart People Should Build Things, was to "distribute talent around thecountry".

Advertisement - Article continues below

National success

Over the next few years Yang criss-crossed the country and VFA grew fast: by 2017, its initial $200,000 annual budget had mushroomed to $6m. By the time he stepped down as CEO in 2017, the organisation had raised

over $40m and kickstarted some 29 businesses. Yang argues that his travels, particularly through ailing midwestern cities, made him uniquely placed to spot the connection between the rise of workplace automation and the growth of anti-establishment popularism.

But the programme's success also sharpened his ambitions, says Entrepreneur. "I started Venture for America with nothing but an idea," he notes. That has given him the confidence to face down those who deem his presidential campaign a "longer-than-long shot". For a party clearly in need of an injection of young blood, says The New York Times, he could become a compelling candidate.



Investment strategy

Great frauds in history: Jack Clark’s nursing homes

Jack Clark invented sales, inflated profits and produced fraudulent accounts at his chain of nursing homes to swindle investors out of hundreds of mil…
31 Mar 2020

Ray Dalio: the seer blindsided by a bug

When the financial crisis struck in 2008, Ray Dalio’s hedge fund was well prepared to profit and he has since enjoyed a reputation for prescience. He …
30 Mar 2020

Great frauds in history: the Hound of Hounslow

"Flash crash" trader Navinder Singh Sarao made around $70m from manipulating the futures market.
25 Mar 2020

Peter Thiel: Utopian elite flee for "Galt’s Gulch"

Peter Thiel, the tech tycoon who founded PayPal, has long been prepared for a flight from societal collapse. As coronavirus panic spreads, where is th…
23 Mar 2020

Most Popular


Three things matter for the UK housing market now – and “location” isn’t one of them

The UK housing market is frozen. And when it does eventually thaw out, the traditional factors that drive prices will no longer apply. The day of reck…
1 Apr 2020

What does the coronavirus crisis mean for UK house prices?

With the whole country in lockdown, the UK property market is closed for business. John Stepek looks at what that means for UK house prices, housebuil…
27 Mar 2020

Oil shoots higher – have we seen the bottom for the big oil companies?

Just a few days ago everyone was worried about negative oil prices. Now, the market has turned upwards. John Stepek explains what’s behind the rise an…
3 Apr 2020
UK Economy

How the coronavirus pandemic is killing cash

Covid-19 is making a huge difference to the way we live, work and do business. One of its less obvious effects, says Merryn Somerset Webb, is to accel…
31 Mar 2020