Standard of Living | The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, by Andrew Yang

The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future
by Andrew Yang
Published by Hachette Books (2018)
Rating: ****

Introduction

A while ago, I wrote about my journey reading about the White House. Since then, I shifted my attention to reading about, and books by candidates running for the Presidency this year. It seemed like a useful way to gain contextual information about some of their policy goals, but also understand who they were as people, in their own eyes. Autobiographies and personal narratives written by the people going through them provide the perspective (and opportunity) for people to articulate their ideas without too much restriction or restraint. I began this journey by reading about Andrew Yang, whose #YangGang trend on twitter blew up in and around the Democratic primary debates when he wasn’t on stage.

Summary 

The title is a mouthful but is a summary of the core argument this book makes: people in America need a Universal Basic Income. This is premised on the changing dynamic of the economy, one that is more technology-focused and technology-driven, which has far-reaching consequences on communities across the economic spectrum. Yang, however, centers his consequential analysis on marginalized communities to showcase how a Universal Basic Income could alleviate additional societal stresses such as drug use and crime that pervade American society.

The Narrative

I enjoyed Economics as a subject throughout high school and University. However, reading non-fiction Economics for me is quite a challenge. Generally, non-fiction – especially those pieces of work that seek to argue a point of view, for me, are easier to follow along if there is a narrative to follow along too. Freakonomics and Outliers, for example, both take case-studies on a chapter-by-chapter basis. That seems like a simple enough way to present argumentative information.

Yang, however, splits up the book, in tone, into two distinct parts. There’s the premise, and the argument. His narrative is built up through the premise itself, drawing on from his own life – hailing from an immigrant family, and talking us through the history (recent past) of America’s economy, to understand the seismic shift that the economy has grappled with in recent years. He moves this narrative forward by talking us through the venture-focused economy America has become, of which, mind you, he is both a contributing cause – and effect. That enables him to portray a bleak picture of what the human has to endure. Additionally, America is a fractured country. Despite being the wealthiest nation on Earth, it has a significant wage inequality. The median, therefore, is not representative. Nonetheless, it is most significant to his argument – and so, he defines his “normal people” – the median in America.

The Argument

This brief history contextualizes most of the analysis that Yang provides. He puts forth, in plain terms, his belief that a Universal Basic Income would help address these issues of wage disparity, and help with the transition that has already begun.

However, Yang’s analysis goes deeper, looking at social dysfunction. He looks at gender imbalances in society, and how income would empower to help further the cause of equality. More importantly, any further stresses on people’s personal and social lives as a result of job disruptances (which Yang links back to the health of the economy) could be contained through the UBI mechanism.

The Humour

There are references to Civilization VI and computer games, which are always worth enjoying.

Conclusion

My only issue with the argument is that I needed more evidence – particularly in the second half. There was a point at which it delved into proselytizing people on the basis of faith and trust, which seemed like it made sense for a Presidential candidate to do, but not as much as an academic endeavour. Some of his statements felt suspect – and the case for the UBI could be made with evidence in a better manner. The tone of the book in these parts was misplaced.

Nonetheless, worth reading – particularly as a thesis on a strategy to cure economic inequality.

Reading the Obama White House

Introduction

In the past 4 years, since Donald Trump took over the Oval Office, I’ve been intrigued by the circumstances that got him there. I’ve missed having President Obama in power. There are only a handful of instances where the policies and politics of America has a direct impact on my life as an Indian. I’ve missed having President Obama because of the optics of everything and the image he projected of America. There was a quiet, commandeering strength about him, as opposed to the 3am twitter updates that President Trump (still not used to this) offers up. The result of this has been a lot of reading about America, and about Obama himself – and what the White House is like and what it represents. I was interested in understanding how Obama forged a White House in his image, and what Presidents do once they leave – which set me forth on a journey in reading several books. I’ll leave ratings and links to these books below, but here are some things I observed that were common through these narratives.

Most of these books are memoirs written by former Obama White House staffers. A few disclaimers:

  1. There are more books describing the Obama White House I haven’t read;
  2. I have read books presenting arguments which criticize the Obama White House; and
  3. I have not read books about previous White Houses. My experience with the other White Houses come from History reports and pop culture.

The Books

  1. Ben Rhodes – The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House – *****
  2. Dan Pfeiffer – Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump – ****
  3. Alyssa Mastromonaco, Lauren Oyler – Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House – ****
  4. Katy Tur – Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History – ***

The Stories 

I loved reading through each of these because they portrayed an incredibly personal narrative of some of the most defining moments in the last few years under Obama’s presidency and during the 2016 Elections. There’s a ton of insight that would have ordinarily been available only if White House staffers were entitled to maintain personal twitter feeds during their time in the White House.

Alyssa Mastromonaco and Dan Pfeiffer write the books that will make you laugh about Obama. Everyone knows President Obama had a great sense of humour, knew how to make people smile (and when), and both these individuals tap into a goldmine of memories they’ve created with Obama front and center to tell you the kind of things you wouldn’t have expected from the Commander-in-Chief, including comments on people’s wardrobes.

If Mastromonaco and Pfeiffer write about Obama the person, Ben Rhodes takes Obama the professional and gives you insight into that separation of powers (do you see what I did there?) Something I’ve wondered about is the kind of toll that certain decisions and politics takes on the personal lives of those in power – and how personal lives actually unfold with so much chaos and noise all around you all of the time. Rhodes tackles this issue-by-issue, almost – constructing a wonderful timeline of everything Obama & him experienced in the White House. In each chapter, Rhodes explores what Obama the President and Obama the person felt – where they coincided, and where they separated, and the burden this placed on him. At all points, the book exudes this warmth that Obama clearly imparted on all of the members of his Service – individuals who still feel privileged to have been a part of things.

And if Rhodes gives you that insight, into that warmth, Katy Tur is able to write about the exact opposite – the narrative that Trump was able to tap into in order to unite the country not through action, but through words – none of which exuded warmth and inclusion, but exclusion at its highest.

Concluding Thoughts

These make for good reads if you’re interested in the changing face of American politics. You’ll take to them far easier if you have bias, I think – as with most pieces of literature. My bias shines through here.