Yang 2020

A Son of Taiwanese Immigrants Runs for US President

2020 / March

John Spiri

Dr. Andrew Yang, the first person of Taiwanese heritage to seek the Democratic Party nomina­tion for US president, is the son of immigrants from Taiwan. Yang has a background in law and the tech industry. What ideals for social transforma­tion is he bringing to American politics?


To the surprise of many who follow American politics, with the support of the “Yang Gang,” the nickname for his passionate supporters, Andrew Yang rose steadily in the polls of Democratic candidates hoping to defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election. On January 24 the media reported that 8% of people polled said they would vote for Yang, good enough for fourth place, ahead of more famous candidates such as Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But Yang decided to suspend his campaign after the New Hampshire state primary on February 11.

Andrew Yang was born in 1975 in Schenectady, New York. Yang’s parents were born in Taiwan and immigrated to the US before meeting at graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. Yang’s father was a successful businessman at IBM with over 69 patents, while his mother was a statistician and artist. Yang’s parents were “thrilled” to send young Andrew to Exeter, a New England prep school. Andrew made staying near to his parents a priority by choosing Brown University, close to where they lived. Yang credits his parents for making him “conscious of money.” He reportedly fondly remembers frequent trips back to Taiwan with his parents and brother.

As a presidential candidate, Yang had little to say about Taiwan. Writers such as David Spencer have speculated as to whether Yang is “weak and unsure in his pol­icies,” but the more likely explanation for Yang’s silence on Taiwan regards how racist elements of the American electorate might feel suspicions about his loyalty and motives. With Donald Trump’s tactic of stoking fear of immigrants, Yang was forced to tread a fine line between celebrating his heritage while at the same time appearing as American as apple pie.

An American-born Taiwanese in New York

John Spiri: If you’ll excuse me for starting with a question about stereotypes, years ago I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, about the great pressure Chinese-­American mothers put on their kids to study hard. To what extent were you pressured to excel academically?

Andrew Yang: You know, both my parents were working, so they didn’t really drive me that hard, or my brother. If you were to take a few isolated data points you could construct a tigerish picture, but I really don’t think it was. Mainly I had piano lessons when I was quite young, and we went to Chinese school on Saturdays—which I was ­really bad at. But other than that, I honestly think my parents were too busy to be pushing my brother and me that much.

Q: So studying came naturally for you? Obviously you excelled from a young age.

A: Yeah. You do internalize certain values. I think one of the things we internalized was that if we didn’t do well it was because of our own lack of trying, because our abilities should be enough to put us someplace in a good spot if we exerted ourselves. So there was that sense. You know, my parents did not push my brother and I that hard.

Q: Was Taiwanese culture a big influence?

A: Visiting extended relatives, going to Chinatown to pick up groceries. I mean we did do things like that, and I had foods that my classmates were shocked at in various ways, when I was just like, “That’s interesting.” I remember I brought in a rice cooker full of fried rice and it blew everyone’s minds….

Q: That’s pretty standard!

A: Yeah, that’s pretty standard. It’s not like a 1000-year egg. I also brought in lu dan [soy eggs], which we ate with dumplings, and people thought that was absurd. It wasn’t the 1000-year variety but it was similar. I remember as a kid, any time I saw an Asian person on TV I would like, jump up and down excitedly and try and find my brother. It didn’t even matter what the person was—like a newscaster. Didn’t matter. Because it was so uncommon. Strangely, I still look back fondly on those times, because I feel like America was a more straightforward culture at that point.

The path less traveled

Q: You graduated with honors from Brown, then got your first job in a law firm but didn’t last a year. Was there some event, or something, that caused disillusionment?

A: Someone had advised me to try to find someone in my organization who you truly admire. “If you don’t find anyone,” he said, “you’re probably in the wrong place.” So I visited a startup CEO and said “Oh, this is the life I want.” Back at the law firm colleagues didn’t seem very happy. Or admirable. So that was the impetus.

Q: So you quit to start your first company, Stargiving?

A: Yeah, that was a big part of it. I said, “Okay, I want to quit my job and try and do this.” It was exciting. Star­giving was a site that helped celebrities raise money for their favor­ite charities. Although raising money was challenging, we had some early success and actually got on CNN. But soon the media and investors lost interest and we ran out of money fast. I really wanted to have a good effect on society, but also I saw that process as a different form of training, where I was going to end up developing skills as a result of trying to build a company. And that it would give me different tools and relationships that I wouldn’t get in the law firm.

Q: When you started Venture for America, what convinced you that students who excelled academically would be the best and most qualified ones for entrepreneurship?

A: VFA recruits at now over 100 schools so it’s certainly not all like the top-flight ones in terms of test scores and whatnot. I certainly believe that talent is everywhere, and that more people can be starting companies from any background. The stats show that people most likely to start a company are engineers out of a public university, big state schools. But it did strike me as a giant misallocation that we were taking people who did happen to be good at taking tests and then funneling them disproportionately towards certain fields and industries, in the financial sector for example, that were to me not adding that much value.

A plan to end poverty

Q: So your signature idea is universal basic income. You call it the “freedom dividend.” Could you explain it?

A: The freedom dividend is a kind of social security guaranteeing money—my proposal is US$1000—to every citizen in the US. Unlike many social programs, recipients won’t have to pass a test or fulfill a work requirement. Such a move is necessary because in the next 12 years, one out of every three Americans are at risk of losing their jobs to tech advances. And replacement jobs will not keep up with the jobs lost. The freedom dividend can be the foundation on which a stable, prosperous, and just society can be built.

Q: Was there something you heard or read that really convinced you to get more deeply involved in universal basic income?

A: Yeah. I read a whole series of books. The first was Second Machine Age [Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014], followed by Rise of the Robots [Martin Ford, 2015] and then Raising the Floor [Andy Stern and Lee Kravitz, 2016]. I was running an organization that was trying to create jobs so I was always reading about the future of work, and universal basic income kept coming up again and again as a very real solution. When I looked at it in depth I thought this is really what we need as a society. My experience with Venture for America convinced me that these changes are happening much faster than people believe. We’re actually right in the middle of them. So it was very natural that I would start digging into universal basic income proposals and what I thought would be most effective and sensible.

Q: Why do you think there’s so much animosity towards people who don’t or can’t work?

A: This is the Protestant work ethic baked into the culture that I believe has actually become pathological. My wife is raising our two boys—but that doesn’t count as work in our society. That counts as zero in GDP. There are all kinds of work that we know we need that don’t get measured right now. So we need to get much more broad and imaginative with the way we think about work. But Amer­icans without work tend to degenerate into substance abuse. That’s in many ways the fundamental challenge we have to address. What would a displaced truck driver do with the remaining 20 years of his life? Now the un­imaginat­ive, brute-force approach is, “Well, let’s find some other work for that person to do.” But what if the market doesn’t have a genuine need for, like, a 52-year-old former truck driver who has a bad back and possibly other health problems? We need to start thinking and feeling differently.

Q: What if transportation jobs don’t disappear in the near future?

A: The financial incentives to automate truck driving alone are US$168 billion per year. Knowledgeable people say this is very real and it’s coming. Companies are going to deploy self-driving fleets of taxis this year.

Q: What are some reasons why Americans oppose UBI to the extent they do?

A: We go through most of our waking lives preoccupied with money and treating it like this scarce resource. So when someone says, “If you make me president I’ll provide every­one with US$1000 a month,” people immediately recoil, thinking, “It’s too good to be true.” Or worse, “That would destroy the economy”—which it categorically would not. We can easily afford a dividend of US$1000 per month per American adult. In many ways, the most fundamental battle we’re fighting is to make people look up and realize that it’s possible. People would be put more at ease, they’d be able to plan for their children’s futures, they would be able to invest more for themselves and their families. It would improve mental and physical health. And on and on. We just have to unlock people’s love for themselves.   

Relevant articles

Recent Articles

繁體 日本語



文‧John Spiri 圖‧編輯部 翻譯‧顏兆岐


美國總統民主黨初選候選人楊安澤(Andrew Yang),民調曾一度位居第四,震驚政壇,最後在2月11日新罕布夏州的初選後,楊安澤決定退出參選。


楊安澤就讀知名的寄宿中學菲利普斯‧埃克塞特學院(Phillips Exeter Academy);中學畢業後,他同時獲史丹佛大學及布朗大朗錄取,但他選擇了離家近的布朗大學,主要考量是為了想留在父母親身邊。楊安澤認為父母親的影響,是讓他開始「對金錢有概念」。據說他相當珍惜小時候常與父母和哥哥回台灣的回憶。

作為第一位競逐美國民主黨台裔總統候選人,他對於台灣並未有許多的評論。政治評論家大衛‧斯賓賽(David Spencer)從中揣測,楊安澤對於台灣問題的沉默,很可能是考慮到美國選民中的種族歧視份子,會因此質疑他的國家認同和競選動機,因此楊安澤必須更謹言慎行,在提及他的族裔背景時,同時也要表現得像個原汁原味的美國人。


















約翰‧斯比里:你的代表性政見「全民基本收入」(Universal Basic Income),你稱作「自由紅利」(Freedom Dividend),可否請你解釋一下?












アメリカ大統領選 民主党予備選挙に出馬

文・John Spiri 写真・光華編輯部 翻訳・山口 雪菜




















スピリ:大卒の若者の起業を支援するNPO法人Venture for America(VFA)を立ち上げた時、なぜ学業で優秀な成績を収めた若者はビジネスでも成功する可能性が高いと考えたのですか。






ヤン:私は『The Second Machine Age(第二の機械時代)』『The Rise of the Robots(ロボットの台頭)』『Raising the Floor(最低所得の引き上げ)』などの一連の書籍を読みました。当時、新たな雇用創出のための団体を運営していたので、将来の仕事に関する本ばかり読んでいたのです。「ユニバーサル‧ベーシック‧インカム」というのは実現性の高いソリューションで、この社会に必要だと考えるようになりました。Venture for Americaでの経験を通して、こうした変化は私たちが予想するよりずっと早く発生していて、すでに私たちの周りで起きていると感じるようになりました。








X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!