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

Will Shu: Deliveroo CEO and its first delivery rider
People

Will Shu: Deliveroo CEO and its first delivery rider

City analyst Will Shu was sick of working long hours at Canary Wharf and having to make do with what was left on the shelf in Tesco for dinner. So he …
10 Apr 2021
John and Patrick Collison: the nerds who conquered Silicon Valley
People

John and Patrick Collison: the nerds who conquered Silicon Valley

John and Patrick Collison, a genial pair of young Irish brothers from a humble background, had a simple idea – to launch the next PayPal. Just ten yea…
3 Apr 2021
AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot: in the crossfire of the vaccine wars
People

AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot: in the crossfire of the vaccine wars

AstraZeneca’s boss Pascal Soriot was winning plaudits for his stewardship when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Since then, he’s been having a hard time …
27 Mar 2021
Great frauds in history: Wang Fengyou’s ant-breeding scam
People

Great frauds in history: Wang Fengyou’s ant-breeding scam

“Model entrepreneur” Wang Fengyou's ant-farming Ponzi scheme pulled in $1.2bn, with investors losing all.
25 Mar 2021

Most Popular

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it
Bitcoin

The bitcoin bubble will burst: here’s how to play it

The cryptocurrency’s price has soared far beyond its fundamentals, says Matthew Partridge. Here, he looks at how to short bitcoin.
12 Apr 2021
Four investment trusts for income investors to buy now
Investment trusts

Four investment trusts for income investors to buy now

Some high-yielding listed lending funds have come through the crisis with flying colours. David Stevenson picks four of the best.
12 Apr 2021
Central banks are rushing to build digital currencies. What are they, and what do they mean for you?
Bitcoin

Central banks are rushing to build digital currencies. What are they, and what do they mean for you?

As bitcoin continues to soar in value, many of the world’s central banks are looking to emulate it by issuing their own digital currencies. But centra…
8 Apr 2021