About eleven years ago, in one of the stranger moments of my life, I was in a bar with a few friends when a group of men approached, one of them offering an enthusiastic “Hello!” We greeted them by taking a sip of our drink to buy time while we considered the most polite way to tell them to get lost. But then suddenly there was Steve Guttenberg, and an enthusiastic “Hi, I’m Steve!”, leaving us completely disarmed of our best brush-offs.
We chatted for a while, and Guttenberg was as smiley and goofy as you’d expect. While most of our chat remains unmemorable, one line has always stayed with me: after a solid round of banter, Guttenberg declared, “It’s so refreshing to talk to some nice, college-educated women!” to which I responded, “Where the fuck do you hang out?”
In case it’s not clear, I’m the asshole in this story. As a 32-year-old in New York City, with a thriving career and penchant for fancy bars, almost everyone I knew was the same. Worse, I viewed myself as some kind of underdog, equipped only with an undergraduate degree from a bankrupt women’s college, an accomplishment that seemed cute compared to the achievements of all the Michigan, Harvard, Yale, Brown, Vassar, and NYU graduates that I would meet, over and over again. I was, as 2020 Presidential candidate Andrew Yang wrote in his book, The War on Normal People, living in “the bubble.”
But like many people living in that bubble, I didn’t actually enjoy a lot about my life. This was especially true a few years later, as I worked to maintain the level of performance I was known for while also being a new parent. My husband and I dreamed of raising our girls in the New England countryside, but every day that I boarded the 6:54 a.m. train to Grand Central, hoping (praying) that none of my fellow passengers would strike up a conversation, that dream haunted me like the ghost of Willy Loman. It seemed impossible to ever get off that train.
But then we got lucky in the unluckiest way. My husband’s employer, a solar company based in California, went bankrupt and he was laid off. The reality of our situation was suddenly laser focused—we were making six figures every year, only to live paycheck to paycheck. We lived in a house that, for years, had at least four pots in our living room catching water from a leaky roof as we swatted our curious toddlers away from the day’s accumulation. We didn’t have the money to fix it. We had our two daugthers within two years, and because of a medical condition I had to take four months off work with each delivery. Each time, I did receive the six weeks of state-mandated disability pay with a small contribution from my employer, but it was significantly less than my usual take home pay. Between the medical bills and life in general, we were leveled completely. We could have easily rebuilt our life in New York for sure, but suddenly the idea of moving north seemed possible. It had finally dawned on us, if we can kind of make it here, then we can kind of make it anywhere.
I was so committed to this plan that I quit my job before my husband had secured a new one (the plan was for him to work full time and for me to work freelance and spend more time with the kids). I also quit before we had closed on the New York house. I would completely discourage anyone from making such rash decisions, but as Andrew Yang also writes in his book, “a mindset of scarcity is more than just ‘stress’—it actually makes one less rational and more impulsive by consuming bandwidth.”
In July 2017 we made our move and settled in a large town in southern New Hampshire, completely changing our family structure. Things are good. But we are also incredibly lucky—we could take these risks, even the risk of living paycheck to paycheck, because we have family who could help if shit ever really hit the fan. Most people aren’t so lucky, and this is why I keep mentioning Andrew Yang. Yang has an idea that could completely reshape the way Americans participate in our country’s wealth, and because we moved to a swing state, where candidates for the presidency campaign hard and early, I discovered Andrew Yang and his innovative ideas back in May of 2018.
Yang’s main policy, called “The Freedom Dividend,” is a once a month, $1,000 dividend check given to every American between the ages of 18 and 64. This is a return on the investment we all make in technology, whether it’s ordering from Amazon, using the self-check-out machine at the grocery store, or doing our banking online (or at one of those incredibly efficient ATMs). Currently, these technological advances come with a human price because workers will never be able compete with a robot who never has to sleep. Automation is here, and we’re definitely not building a wall around the robots. Currently, many of the large corporations who are leading the way in automation pay NOTHING in federal taxes. They achieve this legally through complicated accounting practices. The spokesperson logic is that the money these huge companies save on taxes is reinvested into communities by creating job growth and funding non-profits. It’s logical enough to be believable but vague enough to be impossible to measure. But as we see more and more empty storefronts, more and more college debt, more and more people filing for bankruptcy because of medical bills, isn’t it fair to ask if we can manage this investment in our communities a little differently?
That’s exactly what Yang is proposing with his The Freedom Dividend. Here is how it works:
● A 10% Value Added Tax will be imposed on major tech companies.
● That collected tax income will be redistributed to every single American between the ages of 18 and 64 as a monthly $1,000 dividend check.
● Americans can spend this money on whatever they like, and it is expected that enough people will do a bit more shopping at the companies that are paying the 10% VAT, helping to thwart elevated pricing. With that much more volume in sales, pricing increases are not necessary to sustain growth.
In his book The War on Normal People, Yang offers both an analytical and psychological examination of the problems facing America today. It turns out that Steve Guttenberg was right: it is hard to meet a college-educated woman, because nearly 70% of Americans don’t have a college degree. College isn’t the answer for everyone, and for many, given the high costs of education in this country, college isn’t even a wise investment. As Yang writes, “We should recognize that the majority of high school students will not go to college and that their ability to function should be independent of further education.”
Yang envisions a society where even those smart enough to eschew the trappings and pitfalls of a mediocre college education can still live a life where they are recognized for their work ethic and character, not just SAT scores. As Yang writes, “We’re all the same people we were before we got sorted and socialized, we’re all mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers above all who want the same things for ourselves and our families.”
My sister and I had the opportunity to attend the first stop on Andrew Yang’s Humanity First tour. I was expecting to be impressed, but I did not anticipate how good the experience would make me feel. I was moved—to tears, no less! You can watch the entire discussion here—and whether you like Yang’s ideas or not, I am confident you will learn something new, which is never a bad thing.
If you find yourself looking for all the ways to discredit the The Freedom Dividend and Andrew Yang, that’s exactly what you should do. We should question everything our politicians promise us, all while demanding data and transparency to substantiate their policies. Andrew Yang has a CNN Town Hall on Sunday at 7 p.m. and you can read more about his policies and ideas on his incredibly informative website. And while a bit of skepticism can keep all of us honest, don’t forget that optimism also serves us well. As Yang writes, “Through all the doubt, the cynicism, the ridicule, the hatred and anger, we must fight for a world that is still possible.”
Learn More About Andrew Yang
The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang
Smart People Should Build Things, by Andrew Yang
Joe Rogan Experience, Episode #1245
The Ben Shapiro Show, Episode #45
The Breakfast Club
Well Red, Episode #112
Sam Harris, Episode #130
ABC News with George Stephanolopoulos
Tucker Carlson on Fox News
Ali Veshi on MSNBC