Staff Columnist

Happiness as an economic indicator?

2020 hopeful Andrew Yang wants Iowans to rethink market value measures

Andrew Yang, a 2020 presidential hopeful, gestures as he speaks to Cedar County Democrats gathered in West Branch, Iowa on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)
Andrew Yang, a 2020 presidential hopeful, gestures as he speaks to Cedar County Democrats gathered in West Branch, Iowa on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

WEST BRANCH — With less than a month before the midterm elections, some might find it too early to begin a discussion about the 2020 presidential election. But Andrew Yang hopes Iowans are ready to look ahead, and to imagine a more people-centered economy.

“The big problem we have in this country,” Yang told about 50 Cedar County Democrats gathered for a party event Sunday, “is that we are automating away the most common jobs in our economy.”

In addition to about 40,000 lost Iowa manufacturing jobs, Yang points to about 12,000 retail jobs that have disappeared statewide. It’s a situation, he says, that’s going to get worse unless Iowans through the caucus process elevate a different economic message.

Yang is the founder and former CEO of Venture for America, a nonprofit fellowship that connects college graduates with two years of experience at startups or young companies.

He also was CEO of Manhattan GMAT until its acquisition by Kaplan in 2009. It is because of his work as an entrepreneur and business leader that Yang is voicing anxiety about worker displacement by technology.

Yang said it is because of his wife — who was home caring for the couple’s two young sons, one of whom has special needs — that he is speaking out about why the country needs to change the way it measures economic value.

“My wife, what is her value in a country that measures the economy based on GDP?” he asked, a reference to gross domestic product, which is currently used as a measure of the market value of goods and services produced. “Zero.”

Yang says the country needs a new measurement, one that takes into consideration people-centered factors such as health, engagement with work and community, levels of criminality and recidivism and, yes, happiness.

He believes this is necessary as continued automation drives people out of the existing workforce, and he is using iconic Iowa locations as real-life examples. He asked Cedar County Democrats to consider what happens to the World’s Largest Truck Stop just down the road when automated vehicles replace the country’s 3.5 million truck drivers.

“What happens to local economies when those truck drivers no longer come?” he asked.

“This is the reality. We are in the third inning of the greatest economic and technological transformation in the history of our country.”

It’s a message he has taken to federal leaders in Washington, D.C. During the course of those conversations, he received a lackluster response with no urgency. Some told him he was in the wrong place to find solutions or pitch innovative ideas.

“I want to submit to all of you that the Democrats of Iowa are the people who have the greatest opportunity to help our country rise to this set of challenges.”

Yang’s people-centered economic approach might seem a bit radical, but he is the only 2020 hopeful from either party now talking about the types of kitchen table issues pollsters say elevated Donald Trump to the White House.

So, no, it isn’t too early.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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