Will US accept a Chinese-American president?

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/8 21:13:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The 2016 US presidential election may still feel like yesterday, but the drumbeat of the 2020 polls has started sounding. At least that's the impression the nation's politicians are giving.

President Donald Trump is his usual self - raising money and bashing potential rivals, mainly TV star Oprah Winfrey. The television icon has emerged as a possible Democratic presidential candidate and the more she issues half denials or doesn't address the question the more people believe she will run. That is a familiar path - Hillary Clinton played the same game before announcing she was officially contesting.

Many people in the Democratic Party are said to be interested in running but the party seems to have little idea about who has the potential to beat the sitting president. Among the possible candidates is Andrew Yang, a Chinese-American who is starting to garner some attention .

Born into a Taiwanese immigrant family in New York, Yang is a successful entrepreneur who is good at creating and running startups. But before he announced his campaign for 2020 recently, the economics and political science major had never run for public office.

What helps him make a splash is his campaign message. Yang, who has rich experience in the high-tech world, says he believes automation will soon erase millions of jobs in the US, and the only way to keep the country stable and prosperous is to launch a universal basic income that offers each American adult a certain amount of cash on a monthly basis no matter whether they have work or not. The amount he proposes is $1,000 a month.

Universal basic income, or UBI, is not a new idea. Some Western thinkers had been playing with the idea as early as the 18th century. In the 1970s, some countries launched experiments on the concept on a small scale. But it's not until the past few years that the idea picked up momentum, thanks to the development of technology which has reached a scary new level.

In history, the greater benefits brought by technology revolutions have never really trickled down to people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

And the idea that humans will be able to better enjoy their lives when technology liberates them from laborious work has been shown to be bunkum - up to now at least. In many countries, those with work are working harder than ever.

But the development of artificial intelligence may have a far greater impact on human society than any previous tech revolutions. Last year, a report from the McKinsey Global Institute found that 800 million workers worldwide will lose their jobs to robots by 2030, including 39 to 73 million in the US. The New Yorker last October even had a cover illustration that depicted a dystopian world where a homeless person sits at a street corner holding out a cup to robots moving like busy professionals.

UBI seems to bring some hope to offset these grim possibilities. More or less a government-ministered wealth redistribution program, the UBI would raise money via adjusting the tax structure and/or reducing the welfare system and guarantee that everyone meets the basic needs of life.       

In recent years, many countries including Finland, India and Canada have launched or plan to launch pilot programs. In the US, a few experiments were also rolled out. The support among average people for UBI is stronger, too. A recent report found that 48 percent in the US support the idea, a sharp rise from 12 percent found 10 years ago. And among the fans of the idea are tech icons including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  

Yang, the only potential presidential candidate who is running on UBI so far, hopes the idea can help push him into the Oval Office. It is not the time to dismiss an outsider. After all, Donald Trump who was until recently a complete political outsider, owed his own victory in the presidential election to some people who were more or less fed up with the negative impact of automation.

Still, Yang has to face a thorny challenge - his race. When I asked Yang whether he thinks a white candidate with similar ideas would have a better chance, he brushed off the question and said his geeky Asian face may be helpful because it is the opposite of the "intellectually incurious" current incumbent.    

But when the anti-China sentiment is getting so strong under Trump's watch that a Chinese face itself may be enough to arouse suspicion, it is hard to imagine that American voters won't ask whether a geeky Asian is qualified to decide the future of the country.

If they don't, god bless America.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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