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.

922_MW_P40_Profile
Yang: a compelling candidate for the Democrats?

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.

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".

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.

Recommended

Great frauds in history: Philip Arnold’s big diamond hoax
Investment strategy

Great frauds in history: Philip Arnold’s big diamond hoax

Philip Arnold and his cousin John Slack lured investors into their mining company by claiming to have discovered large deposit of diamonds. There were…
13 Jan 2021
Adar Poonawalla: the vaccine prince who will save the world
People

Adar Poonawalla: the vaccine prince who will save the world

Adar Poonawalla, the chief of the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer by volume, has an ambitious plan to rescue us all from Covid-19. The future for…
11 Jan 2021
The faces of 2020
People

The faces of 2020

Great leaders thrive in the midst of turmoil and upheaval, as we have seen this year. Four of the great movers and shakers of 2020 stood out for us.
29 Dec 2020
Three women CEOs who prove that diversity is the key to success
Entrepreneurs

Three women CEOs who prove that diversity is the key to success

Tom Saunders looks at how three very different women – Shahrzad Rafati, Trinny Woodall and Anne Boden –  have grown successful businesses.
28 Dec 2020

Most Popular

A simple way to profit from the next big trend change in the markets
Investment strategy

A simple way to profit from the next big trend change in the markets

Change is coming to the markets as the tech-stock bull market of the 2010s is replaced by a new cycle of rising commodity prices. John Stepek explains…
14 Jan 2021
Forget austerity – governments and central banks have no intention of cutting back
Global Economy

Forget austerity – governments and central banks have no intention of cutting back

Once the pandemic is over will we return to an era of austerity to pay for all the stimulus? Not likely, says John Stepek. The money will continue to …
15 Jan 2021
Here’s why markets have shrugged off the US political turmoil
Investment strategy

Here’s why markets have shrugged off the US political turmoil

Despite all the current political shenanigans in the US, markets couldn’t seem to care less. John Stepek explains why, and what it means for your mone…
7 Jan 2021