Andrew Yang* was born on January 13, 1975, in Schenectady, New York. His parents were from Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. Yang’s family settled in Westchester County, New York, where Yang grew up. He described being bullied and called racial slurs by classmates while attending public school. He later wrote, “Perhaps as a result, I’ve always taken pride in relating to the underdog or little guy or gal.”
Yang later attended Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding school in New Hampshire. At Exeter, he excelled in debate and eventually became a member of the 1992 U.S. National Debate Team. Yang graduated from Exeter in 1992 and went on to attend Brown University, where he concentrated in economics and political science and graduated in 1996. He then attended Columbia Law School, earning a Juris Doctor in 1999.
After graduating from law school, Yang began his career as a corporate attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City. He left the firm in 2000 to join his office mate in launching Stargiving.com, a website for celebrity-affiliated philanthropic fundraising. From 2002 to 2005, Yang served as the vice president of a healthcare startup.
After working in the healthcare industry for four years, Yang joined his friend Zeke Vanderhoek at a small test preparation company, Manhattan Prep. In 2006, Vanderhoek asked Yang to take over as CEO. While Yang was CEO, the company primarily provided GMAT test preparation. It expanded from five to 69 locations and was acquired by Kaplan, Inc. in December 2009. Yang resigned as the company’s president in early 2012.
Following the acquisition of Manhattan Prep in late 2009, Yang began to work on creating a new nonprofit fellowship program, Venture for America (VFA), which he founded in 2011 with the mission “to create economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs.”
VFA’s strategy was to recruit the nation’s top college graduates into a two-year fellowship program in which they would work for and apprentice at promising startups in developing cities across the United States. Yang’s book Smart People Should Build Things (2014) argues that the top universities in the country cherry-pick the smartest kids out of small towns and funnel them into the same corporate jobs in the same big cities. VFA’s goal is to help distribute that talent around the country and incentivize entrepreneurship for economic growth.
In March 2017, Yang stepped down from his position as CEO of VFA.
Yang launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 United States presidential election on November 6, 2017. Initially considered a long-shot candidate, he gained significant momentum in early 2019 following appearances on several popular shows and podcasts. After poor showings in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, Yang dropped out of the race in February 2020.
One of his principal concerns is that automation and artificial intelligence will make millions of jobs obsolete. Yang’s signature policy is what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” a universal basic income (UBI) in the form of $1,000 monthly for every American adult over age 18. The other two central elements of his platform are “Medicare for All” and “Human-Centered Capitalism.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, he said that he would push initiatives meant to inform parents that they don’t need to have their infants circumcised for health reasons. Yang said he wants to “inform parents that it is entirely up to them whether their infant gets circumcised, and that there are costs and benefits either way.” He added that pressure to circumcise a child is a “cultural onus”’ imposed on families.
Yang opposed U.S. military support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen and has backed a more aggressive policy toward Russia. He has also criticized what he calls U.S. “misadventures” abroad that have cost trillions of dollars and “destabilized parts of the world, made enemies of allies, and resulted in untold human suffering.” He has pledged to “rebuild our relationships with the rest of the world.”
Yang is the author of the 2014 book Smart People Should Build Things and the 2018 book The War on Normal People.
Yang attends the Reformed Church of New Paltz with his family. He identifies as spiritual but not religious.
Yang lives in New York City with his wife Evelyn and two sons.
- Yang said he does not support the B.D.S. movement. “I do not support anything that does not help us get closer to achieving a two-state solution, but I will always defend Americans’ First Amendment rights.” (New York Times, December 2019)
- Regarding support from alt-right: “I denounce and disavow hatred, bigotry, racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and the alt-right in all its many forms. Full stop. For anyone with this agenda, we do not want your support. We do not want your votes. You are not welcome in this campaign.” (JTA, December 17, 2019)
The United States-Israel Relationship
Yang backtracked on his answer to the New York Times in which he said Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed to return to Israel. “It was answered by a staffer who I think misunderstood the question,” Yang wrote. “I believe that Palestinians should have a say in their future but I do not believe that all refugees and descendants have the right to return to Israel.” (JTA, February 10, 2020)
“He said he’s unhappy with the current Israeli government and would restart negotiations around a two-state solution.” (The Atlantic, January 17, 2020)
The New York Times asked each candidate a series of questions related to Israel. Yang said he would maintain the current level of military aid to Israel and that he would not move the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem, but, he said, “The status of Jerusalem should remain a part of any negotiated two-state solution, and we should be mindful of both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators before deciding where the embassy should be.” He agreed that the Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed to return to Israel and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state that includes West Bank land as demarcated by pre-1967 borders, except for longtime Israeli settlements.
“The only acceptable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves a two-state solution that allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to have sovereign land and self-determination. With the Israeli and Palestinian people leading the conversation, my administration would engage with all stakeholders to come up with confidence-building measures, such as a ceasefire and an end to the expansion of settlements. Coming together to provide aid to those suffering in Gaza can also be an opportunity for all parties to work together to handle the humanitarian crisis. Additionally, I would revamp our development assistance to include health and cultural programs.” (New York Times, December 2019)
“Historically, we’ve endorsed a two-state solution, which has always struck me as the best way forward, and I think it’s really unfortunate that Donald Trump has moved us away from that to the extent that he has. I would try to move us back in that direction.” (New York Times, December 4, 2019)
“Israel is a very, very important ally. Certainly, some of the actions that are being taken there are deeply problematic and run afoul of standards we’d like to see countries meet.” (Times of Israel, June 20, 2019)
“The only acceptable end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves a two-state solution that allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to have sovereign land and self-determination.
Israel has been an important ally to the U.S., and it will continue to be an important ally. It is a democracy in a region where that is rare. I disagree with some of the policies of the current Israeli administration, but I believe the relationship is fundamentally strong and will continue to be.
I don’t want to prescribe the specifics of a two-state solution, as the Israeli and Palestinian people both need to be leading any conversation, and I look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to come up with confidence-building measures, such as a ceasefire and an end to the expansion of settlements, as we look towards building a sustainable peace. Coming together to provide aid to those suffering in Gaza can also be an opportunity for all parties to work together to handle a humanitarian crisis that is causing untold suffering.
“In terms of the money we are giving to an ally like Israel, my first instinct would be like, why would we reduce it, you know?”
Yang has said that under his administration, “aid to Israel and Gaza would continue, and also, aid to Palestinians under U.S. Aid would be restored.” (JTA, December 17, 2019)
The New York Times asked each candidate a series of questions related to U.S. policy toward Iran and the nuclear deal. Yang said he would “seek a ‘grand bargain’ to resolve nuclear, missile and counterterrorism disagreements.”
He also said the assassination of Qassim Suleimani “was a mistake.” He added, “War with Iran is the last thing we need and is not the will of the American people. The Trump administration’s failed foreign policy has led to the unnecessary escalation of tensions in the Middle East. This started when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, and it continued with a misguided maximum pressure strategy that has led to where we are today. Not only has Iran restarted its nuclear program, but since we left the J.C.P.O.A., Iran has attacked American troops in Iraq while their proxies continue to destabilize the region. The world is less safe as a result of Donald Trump’s failed foreign policy. We need to restore the balance between Congress and the Executive and ensure transparency and a more robust decision-making process based on judgment, restraint and democratic values.”
Asked about a future confrontation with Iran, Yang replied, “All options are on the table to ensure American national security. However, the goal should be to immediately de-escalate diplomatically and engage regional partners to come to a serious and swift resolution.” He said he has a “three-part test to determine whether military intervention is acceptable in any situation to ensure American national security.” First, he would ask if vital American interests were at stake; second, he would want to know if there is “a clear and defined timeframe for our intervention”; and third, would “our allies engaged and ready to assist?” (New York Times, February 2020)
Yang said he’d piece the nuclear deal back together. “I have the interest of the American people at heart,” he said. “We have spent over $6 trillion in the Middle East at a terrible cost to both our people and our national resources, and … if he wants to find a diplomatic solution, I’m someone he can work with.” (The Atlantic, January 17, 2020)
“Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, and the JCPOA gave us both short-term victories in stabilizing the region through minimizing their influence, and inroads to further discussion to find a solution that would work over a longer period. Leaving the JCPOA was a massive strategic mistake, and one that only served to increase the likelihood of armed conflict in the country. The American people have no desire for armed conflict with Iran, which would lead to another multi-decade engagement that would spread throughout the region and have no clear benefit for the American people.
We need to work with our allies that are still party to the agreement to negotiate a new JCPOA, with longer terms and delayed deadlines to reflect the time wasted with Trump and Bolton’s posturing. We need to get Iran back in compliance with the limitations placed on them under the agreement on nuclear materials and enrichment capabilities.
Then, we need to build on the agreement to get Iran to stop destabilizing the region, attacking our allies, funding terrorist organizations, and causing conflict in the Strait of Hormuz.” (Council on Foreign Relations, August 9, 2019)
“I would move to de-escalate tensions in Iran, because they’re responding to the fact that we pulled out of this agreement,” Yang said. “And it wasn’t just us and Iran. There were many other world powers that were part of that multinational agreement. We’d have to try and re-enter that agreement, renegotiate the timelines, because the timelines now don’t make as much sense.” (Washington Post, July 31, 2019)
Sources: Yang 2020;
“Andrew Yang,” Wikipedia;
Kevin Roose, “His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming,” New York Times, (February 10, 2018);
Candidates Answer CFR’s Questions, Council on Foreign Relations, (August 9, 2019);
Will Sommer, “Andrew Yang, Upstart Democratic Presidential Candidate, Comes Out Against Circumcision,” Daily Beast, (March 19, 2019);
“Queried on Israel and human rights, Democratic hopefuls offer guarded criticism,” Times of Israel, (June 20, 2019);
“Transcript: Night 2 of the second Democratic debate,” Washington Post, (July 31, 2019);
“Where Does Andrew Yang Stand on anti-Semitism and Israel?” JTA, (December 17, 2019);
Edward-Isaac Dovere, “Andrew Yang’s Campaign Is Not a Joke,” The Atlantic, (January 17, 2020);
Josefin Dolsten, “Andrew Yang Backtracks After Saying All Palestinians Should Have the Right to Return to Israel,” JTA, (February 10, 2020)