Andrew Yang is not your average Democrat. In fact, he is not your average politician. With a rare combination of depth and mirth, Andrew Yang is the modern face of a movement to address the challenges of the future with a combination of asymmetrical ideas that break out of the capitalist/socialist paradigm. His signature proposal “The Freedom Dividend” has opened the subject of Universal Basic Income to the national conversation. It is an idea that is both simple and radical; a blend of bottom-up, free market and progressive democratic socialism. He goes further than even Bernie Sanders on some topics, while consistently bringing the conversation back to realistic ways to address ever declining Labor Participation Rates.

Humpback Endorsement in NH.  

“Sorry for that noise. The whales like my climate change plan. There are a half dozen humpback whales, clapping their flippers and saying ‘Yang Gang,'” Yang jokes, midway through a press conference on the water in Portsmouth, NH on Monday. A passing wake had bounced a small boat against the dock below, and Yang improvised a joke that was both on message and lighthearted. There is a deftness to his messaging that needs to be seen in long-form. He has the rare ability to send the message of “It’s even worse than you think” while making it clear that “all is not lost.”

Andrew Yang releases his Climate Policy in Portsmouth NH

“I’ve released a plan today that in many ways is similar to other Democrats, but it goes further,” Yang says as he settles into his proposal. “The first thing we need to do is build a sustainable economy in the US, and the main way to do that is by internalizing all of the externalities. The truth is we subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tunes of hundreds of billions of dollars, and it’s time we invest in the energy sources of the future,” says Yang.

Upon first meeting Yang, he said, “Tell me about The Painted Lines.” Upon hearing our strategy and scope, he said, “And hopefully you’ll cover politics also?” At that point I explained that we explore ideas and will not cover politics as sport. And that is what makes Yang an interesting figure. There is an audacity to his ideas and proposals that do not fit within the classic duopolist ideals of modern day political theater. And that’s what makes Andrew Yang a positive externality to the world of politics.


An externality, in economic parlance, is a cost (or benefit) that is passed onto third parties by an industry. Most often used in relation to pollution, it is easy to think of a negative externality like the impact to a fishing industry caused by polluted or warming oceans. Stronger hurricanes and rising sea levels will get the bulk of media coverage, but it is in the more subtle ways that externalities create disruption to an economy that Yang continued to articulate in his meetings Monday.

For example, California has recently released a statement about the dungeness crab, long a staple of seafood restaurants:

“Dangerous levels of domoic acid have been detected in the body meat and internal organs of Dungeness crab from this region,” the release states. “Cooking crabs neither decreases nor destroys the toxin.”

Domoic acid is released by a certain type of algae that thrives in warming waters and contaminated oceans. Domoic acid is not harmful to the crab itself, but is extremely toxic to humans and other animals. Per Wikipedia, On August 18, 1961, in Capitola and Santa Cruz, California there was an invasion of what people described as chaotic seabirds. These birds were believed to be under the influence of domoic acid, and it inspired a scene in Alfred Hitchcock‘s feature film The Birds.

A Positive Externality

Not all externalities are bad. Some industries create jobs and opportunities that benefit others outside of their production chain. Yang, 44, represents the embodiment of a positive externality. He has worked as a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and an accelerator of the start-up world with his nonprofit Venture For America. In a world where the best talent in technology, finance, and business are increasingly migrating to the Bay Area or New York, Yang has advocated for investment in emerging cities in America to smooth and broadly distribute talent.

The Real Idealist

A YangGang member displays the Make America Think Again sign

As Yang relaxed with a joke about whales, he pivoted right back to his plan. Instead of taking a purely domestic view, he extended a hand to industry, acknowledging that the US contributes just 15% to worldwide carbon emissions. Using the Amazonian deforestation fires, he said, “We looked on in horror and thought, what can we do?”

He used this as an opportunity to touch on three continents in under two minutes. Citing actions in South America, Asia, and Africa, the Democratic candidate who wrote “The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future” deftly weaved in a domestic and international message that showed a broad understanding of the problems of the future.

“Communities around the country and around the world are going to be struggling with [climate change]. It’s going to be poorer communities, people of color, people who don’t have economic resources who are going to struggle the most,” Yang said.

And woven within all of it was an economic based message that proposes a bottom up approach. “It’s going to cost tens of billions of dollars, but that’s where our resources should go.” He then goes into a practical message that acknowledges that a point of no return has already occurred.

We are well past the point where we can do less of the bad things, and expect things to get better

Bottom-Up Solutioning

Andrew Yang

“The costs are trivial to the catastrophic effects of doing nothing” is the kind of response that fits well into a soundbite before diving into a much more technical concept of reforestation of the seabeds, known as a Marine Permaculture Array. The key technology involves lightweight latticed structures roughly half a square mile in size, submerged 80 feet below sea level, to which kelp can attach. Kelp soak up the nutrients and grow, establishing a trophic pyramid rich in plant and animal life. This animal life will capture carbon and release oxygen at a far more efficient rate than even trees and forests on land. If you’d like more reading on it, check this article out.

Yang did make some headlines with his notion of exploring a solar satellite to reduce solar radiation hitting the earth, but it shows the full range of ideas that he is willing to consider and learn about. In an age of anti-intellectualism versus pontification, Yang walks the line between depth and mirth.

Andrew Yang released his climate policy in Portsmouth, NH on Monday August 26, 2019. Yang speaks of externalities and complex thinking to address the challenges of a changing climate.

Yang met first with the Union of Concerned Scientists and an executive of a renewable energy company based in New England. Player Piano was there to cover the event for The Painted Lines.