The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang

Rating: 8/10

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High-Level Thoughts

Is Universal Basic Income a good idea? Yang makes a compelling case in this book that it's at least the best option for a pretty terrible situation. Lots of great statistics and historical data.

Summary Notes


Normal people. Seventy percent of Americans consider themselves part of the middle class. Chances are, you do, too. Right now some of the smartest people in the country are trying to figure out how to replace you with an overseas worker, a cheaper version of you, or, increasingly, a widget, software program, or robot. There’s no malice in it. The market rewards business leaders for making things more efficient. Efficiency doesn’t love normal people. It loves getting things done in the most cost-effective way possible.

The Obama White House published a report in December 2016 that predicted 83 percent of jobs where people make less than $20 per hour will be subject to automation or replacement. Between 2.2 and 3.1 million car, bus, and truck driving jobs in the United States will be eliminated by the advent of self-driving vehicles.

The U.S. labor force participation rate is now at only 62.9 percent, a rate below that of nearly all other industrialized economies and about the same as that of El Salvador and the Ukraine.

The number of working-age Americans who aren’t in the workforce has surged to a record 95 million.

More than half of American households already rely on the government for direct income in some form. In some parts of the United States, 20 percent of working-age adults are now on disability, with increasing numbers citing mood disorders

When entrepreneurs start companies and expand, they generally aren’t hiring a down-on-his-or-her-luck worker in need of a break. They are hiring the strongest contributors with the right mix of qualities to help an early-stage company succeed.

There is really only one entity—the federal government—that can realistically reformat society in ways that will prevent large swaths of the country from becoming jobless zones of derelict buildings and broken people.

Nonprofits will be at the front lines of fighting the decline, but most of their activities will be like bandages on top of an infected wound. State governments are generally hamstrung with balanced budget requirements and limited resources.

1: My Journey

America is starting 100,000 fewer businesses per year than it was only 12 years ago, and is in the midst of shedding millions of jobs due primarily to technological advances.

automation had eliminated millions of manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2015, four times more than globalization

2: How We Got Here

today five banks control 50 percent of the commercial banking industry,

finance enjoys about 25 percent of all corporate profits.

Ninety-four percent of the jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were temp or contractor jobs without benefits; people working multiple gigs to make ends meet is increasingly the norm.

Real wages have been flat or even declining.

The chances that an American born in 1990 will earn more than their parents are down to 50 percent; for Americans born in 1940 the same figure was 92 percent.

The share of GDP going to wages has fallen from almost 54 percent in 1970 to 44 percent in 2013, while the share going to corporate profits went from about 4 percent to 11 percent. Being a shareholder has been great for your bottom line. Being a worker, not so much.

3: Who is Normal in America

Take education for instance—if you are reading this, you are probably a college graduate or student and most of the people you know also graduated from college. That puts you, your friends, and your family in approximately the top third of the U.S. population. If you have a graduate or professional degree, you are in the top 12 percent of the population by educational attainment.

it would be entirely accurate to say that the average American is not a college graduate.

Think of your five best friends. The odds of them all being college graduates if you took a random sampling of Americans would be about one-third of 1 percent, or 0.0036.

The median household income was $59,309 in 2016. Each household typically consists of multiple family members, however. The median personal income in the U.S. was $31,099 in 2016 and the mean was $46,550. The relevant statistic for seeing how most people live and work is the median, as the mean gets dragged up by the handful of people making millions at the top. The median is the midpoint if you lined everyone up by income. Half of Americans make less than $31,099 and half make more, with 70 percent of individuals making $50K or less.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics places the median hourly wage at $17.40, which would mean about 35 hours of paid work per week over 50 weeks. This is consistent with the average of 34.4 hours reported by the OECD. So the average American worker has less than an associate’s degree and makes about $17 per hour.

A Bankrate survey in 2017 found that 59 percent of Americans don’t have the savings to pay an unexpected expense of $500 and would need to put it on a credit card, ask for help, or cut back for several months to manage it. A similar Federal Reserve report in 2015 said that 75 percent of Americans could not pay a $400 emergency expense out of their checking or savings accounts.

Yes, the top 20 percent own 92 percent of stock market holdings.

So what’s normal? The normal American did not graduate from college and doesn’t have an associate’s degree. He or she perhaps attended college for one year or graduated from high school. She or he has a net worth of approximately $36K—about $6K excluding home and vehicle equity—and lives paycheck to paycheck. She or he has less than $500 in flexible savings and minimal assets invested in the stock market. These are median statistics, with 50 percent of Americans below these levels.

4: What We Do for a Living

If you dig into the author’s alternative suggestions for workers though, they’re equally unrealistic and could only be offered by someone who hadn’t tried any of them. Upwork primarily finds work for developers, designers, and creatives on a global scale. Asking a retail worker from small-town America to log on and get work assumes they have a skill to offer. These global platforms have people offering their services from abroad, who can price their time at as little as $4 an hour even for a college graduate. Getting work on these platforms is highly competitive, doesn’t pay very well, and carries no benefits.

On average, sellers’ income from Etsy contributes only 13 percent to their household income and is intended as a supplement to traditional work. Forty-one percent of Etsy sellers who focus on their business full-time get their health care through a spouse or partner, and 39 percent are on Medicare or Medicaid or another state-sponsored program.

The reason that even well-meaning commentators suggest increasingly unlikely and tenuous ways for people to make a living is that they are trapped in the conventional thinking that people must trade their time, energy, and labor for money as the only way to survive. You stretch for answers because, in reality, there are none. The subsistence and scarcity model is grinding more and more people up. Preserving it is the thing we must give up first.

5: Factory Workers and Truck Drivers

What happened to these 5 million workers? A rosy economist might imagine that they found new manufacturing jobs, or were retrained and reskilled for different jobs, or maybe they moved to another state for greener pastures. In reality, many of them left the workforce. One Department of Labor survey in 2012 found that 41 percent of displaced manufacturing workers between 2009 and 2011 were either still unemployed or dropped out of the labor market within three years of losing their jobs.

How do the 40 percent of displaced manufacturing workers who don’t find new jobs survive? The short answer is that many became destitute and applied for disability benefits. Disability rolls shot up starting in 2000, rising by 3.5 million, with the numbers increasing dramatically in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and other manufacturing-heavy states. In Michigan, about half of the 310,000 residents who left the workforce between 2003 and 2013 went on disability. Many displaced manufacturing workers essentially entered a new underclass of government dependents who have been left behind.

Morgan Stanley estimated the savings of automated freight delivery to be a staggering $168 billion per year in saved fuel ($35 billion), reduced labor costs ($70 billion), fewer accidents ($36 billion), and increased productivity and equipment utilization ($27 billion). That’s an enormously high incentive to show drivers to the door—it would actually be enough to pay the drivers their $40,000 a year salary to stay home and still save tens of billions per year.

Other autonomous vehicle companies report similar timelines, with 2020 being the first year of mass adoption.

6: White-Collar Jobs will Disappear, Too

The real distinction is routine vs. nonroutine. Routine jobs of all stripes are those most under threat from AI and automation, and in time more categories of jobs will be affected. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, wealth advisors, traders, journalists, and even artists and psychologists who perform routine activities will be threatened by automation technologies.

There is a lot of repetitive functioning in what we consider high-end professional jobs—what I call intellectual manual labor. A doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, or pharmacist will go through years of training and then do the same thing over and over again in slightly different variations.

The Federal Reserve categorizes about 62 million jobs as routine—or approximately 44 percent of total jobs. The Fed calls the disappearance of these middle-skill jobs “job polarization,” meaning we will be left with low-end service jobs and high-end cognitive jobs and very little in between. This trend goes hand-in-hand with the disappearance of the American middle class and the startlingly high income inequality in the United States.

It’s hard to understand what exponential growth means over time. Take the example of a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle’s efficiency. If it had advanced according to Moore’s Law, the vehicle, in 2015, would be able to go 300,000 miles per hour and get two million miles per gallon of gas. That’s what’s happening with computers.

If you think your job is safe from computers, you’ll probably be wrong eventually. The purpose and nature of work is going to change a lot in the next 10 years. The question is what will drive this change aside from the fact that fewer of us will have jobs to go to.

7: On Humanity and Work

in America, with 32 percent saying they were engaged with their work in 2015. Still, that means that more than two-thirds of Americans aren’t exactly skipping on their way to and from the office each day.

The relationship between humanity and work involves money, but in something of a negative correlation. The jobs and roles that are the most human and would naturally be most attractive tend to pay nothing or close to nothing. Mother, father, artist, writer, musician, coach, teacher, storyteller, nurturer, counselor, dancer, poet, philosopher, journalist—these roles often are either unpaid or pay so little that it is difficult to survive or thrive in many environments.

On the other hand, the most lucrative jobs tend to be the most inorganic. Corporate lawyers, technologists, financiers, traders, management consultants, and the like assume a high degree of efficiency. The more that a person can submerge one’s humanity to the logic of the marketplace, the higher the reward.

Benjamin Hunnicutt, a historian at the University of Iowa, argues that if a cashier’s job were a video game, we would call it completely mindless and the worst game ever designed.

The challenge we must overcome is that humans need work more than work needs us.

8: The Usual Objections

the technology in question is more diverse and being implemented more broadly over a larger number of economic sectors at a faster pace than during any previous time.

The test is not “Will there be new jobs we haven’t predicted yet that appear?” Of course there will be. The real test is “Will there be millions of new jobs for middle-aged people with low skills and levels of education near the places they currently reside?”

In reality, studies have shown that retraining programs, as currently practiced, tend to show few, if any benefits.

The problem is that the unemployment rate is defined as how many people in the labor force are looking for a job but cannot find one. It does not consider people who drop out of the workforce for any reason, including disability or simply giving up trying to find a job.

The unemployment rate also doesn’t take into account people who are underemployed—that is, if a college graduate takes a job as a barista or other role that doesn’t require a degree.

The proportion of Americans who are no longer in the workforce and have stopped looking for work is at a multi-decade high. There are presently a record 95 million working-age Americans, a full 37 percent of adults, who are out of the workforce. In 2000, there were only 70 million. The change can be explained in part by demographics—higher numbers of students and retirees—but there are still 5 million Americans out of the workforce who would like a job right now that aren’t considered in the unemployment rate.

The New York Federal Reserve recently measured the underemployment rate of recent college graduates and came up with 44 percent.

9: Life in the Bubble

We joked at Venture for America that “smart” people in the United States will do one of six things in six places: finance, consulting, law, technology, medicine, or academia in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC. Conventional wisdom says the “smartest” things to do today are to head to Wall Street and become a financial wizard or go to Silicon Valley and become a tech genius.

private company ownership is down more than 60 percent among 18-to 30-year-olds since 1989. The Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Endangered Species: Young U.S. Entrepreneurs,” and millennials are on track to be the least entrepreneurial generation in modern history in terms of business formation.

It turns out that depressed, indebted, risk-averse young people generally don’t start companies. This will have effects for decades to come.

The SAT came into its own during World War II as a way to identify smart kids and keep them from going to the front lines. Now, every year is wartime.

Yuval Harari, the Israeli scholar, suggests that “the way we treat stupid people in the future will be the way we treat animals today.” If we’re going to fix things to keep his vision from coming true, now is the time.

10: Mindsets of Scarcity and Abundance

A U.S. survey found that in 2014 over 80 percent of startups were initially self-funded—that is, the founders had money and invested directly. A recent demographic study in the United States found that the majority of high-growth entrepreneurs were white (84 percent) males (72 percent) with strong educational backgrounds and high self-esteem.

They observed the income level at which point income volatility stopped being a problem at about $105,000 per year, a level far out of reach for most families.

But if each group was forced to consider how to pay an unexpected car repair bill of $3,000 just before taking the test, the poor group would underperform by the equivalent of 13 IQ points, almost one full standard deviation. Just having to think about how to pay a hypothetical expense was enough to derail their performance on a general IQ test and send them from “superior” to “average” or from “average” to “borderline deficient.” Activating scarcity through a hypothetical expense was also found to reduce correct responses on a self-control test from 83 to 63 percent among the less well-off participants, with no effect on the well-off.

Studies show that people on a diet are continuously distracted and fare worse on various mental tasks. The same goes for sleep-deprived people, lonely people, people with their phone on the table in front of them, and poor people who are asked to think about money.

11: Geography is Destiny

The central point is this: In places where jobs disappear, society falls apart. The public sector and civic institutions are poorly equipped to do much about it. When a community truly disintegrates, knitting it back together becomes a herculean, perhaps impossible task. Virtue, trust, and cohesion—the stuff of civilization—are difficult to restore. If anything, it’s striking how public corruption seems to often arrive hand-in-hand with economic hardship.

There’s a truism in startup world: When things start going very badly for a company, the strongest people generally leave first. So why doesn’t he apply this on the national level? They have the highest standards for their own opportunities and the most confidence that they can thrive in a new environment. Their skills are in demand, and they feel little need to stick around.

From Andrew: Biggest market in the world. Best high end education and services. Other major societies have higher VATs and taxes anyway. Inertia. Patriotism. After you have a certain amount of money it doesn’t touch you day-to-day.

The economist Tyler Cowen observed that since 1970 the difference between the most and least educated U.S. cities has doubled in terms of average level of education—that is, more and more educated people are congregating in the same cities and leaving others.

California, New York, and Massachusetts accounted for 75 percent of venture capital in 2016, leaving 47 states to compete for the remaining 25 percent.

Compounding the problem is that Americans now move across state lines and change jobs at lower rates than at any point in the last several decades. The annual rate of interstate relocation dropped from about 3.5 percent of the population in 1970 to about 1.6 percent in 2015.

12: Men, Women, and Children

An Atlantic article in 2016 called “The Missing Men” noted that one in six men in America of prime age (25–54) are either unemployed or out of the workforce—10 million men in total.

Fewer men in the workforce means fewer men who are considered marriageable. A working-class woman asked about marriage by journalist Alana Semuels said, “I haven’t run into someone I’d consider doing that with.” For women who don’t have college educations, their male counterparts can’t find jobs and don’t seem like stable partners.

Boys without fathers are more likely to get in trouble from elementary school onward, and appear to be “more responsive to parental inputs (or the absence thereof) than are girls.” As the authors of one study put it, “As more boys grow up without their father in the home, and as women (especially in… working-class communities) are viewed as the more stable achievers, boys and girls alike come to see males as having a lower achievement orientation and less aptitude for higher education… college becomes something that many girls, but only some boys, do—the opposite of the earlier cultural norm.”

ADHD is two to three times more common among young boys than girls, with one 2015 U.S. Centers for Disease Control study finding that as many as 14 percent of boys received a diagnosis.

As the gender ratio of college graduates becomes nearly three women for every two men, this means that almost one in three college-educated women will not find a male partner to marry if they want one, even assuming ideal matching.

13: The Permanent Shadow Class

Many of the deaths are from opiate overdoses. Approximately 59,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016, up 19 percent from the then-record 52,404 reported in 2015. For the first time, drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Coroners’ offices in Ohio have reported being overwhelmed as the number of overdose victims has tripled in two years in some areas—they now call nearby funeral homes for help with storage.

In 12 states there are more opioid prescriptions than there are people.

A study showed that one out of every 550 patients started on opioid therapy died of opioid-related causes a median of 2.6 years after their first opioid prescription.

Almost 9 million working-age Americans receive disability benefits. That’s more than the entire population of New Jersey or Virginia. The percentage of working-age Americans who received disability benefits was 5.2 percent in 2017, up from only 2.5 percent in 1980.

The biggest growth categories of disability are “mental disorders” and “musculoskeletal and connective tissue,” which together now comprise about 50 percent of disability claims, nearly double what they were 20 years ago. These diagnoses are also the hardest to independently verify for a doctor.

After someone is on disability, there’s a massive disincentive to work, because if you work and show that you’re able-bodied, you lose benefits. As a result, virtually no one recovers from disability. The churn rate nationally is less than 1 percent.

14: Video Games and the (Male) Meaning of Life

As of last year, 22 percent of men between the ages of 21 and 30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year—up from only 9.5 percent in 2000. And there’s evidence that video games are a big reason why. According to a recent study based on the Census Bureau’s time-use surveys, young men without college degrees have replaced 75 percent of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer, mostly playing video games. From 2004 to 2007, young, unemployed men without college degrees were spending 3.4 hours per week playing video games. By 2011 to 2014, the average time spent per week had more than doubled to 8.6 hours.

“When I play a game, I know if I have a few hours I will be rewarded,” said one 22-year-old who lives with his parents in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In 2000, just 35 percent of lower-skilled young men lived with family. Now, more than 50 percent of lower-skilled young men live with their parents, and as many as 67 percent of those who are unemployed do so. More U.S. men aged 18–34 are now living with their parents than with romantic partners, according to the Pew Research Center.

Video games are fun and communal. Nowadays they’re also so well designed that many almost simulate jobs if a job’s progress were measured in minutes and hours instead of weeks and months. In many games, you perform a variety of mundane, repetitive tasks in order to build points or currencies or accrue items. You then use these items to make yourself more capable. You complete quests with your friends or against the computer. You experience a continuous feeling of progress and accomplishment.

Many men have within us the man-child who’s still in that basement. The fortunate among us have left him behind, but we understand his appeal all too well. He’s still there waiting—ready to take over in case our lives fall apart.

15: The Shape We’re In / Disintegration

In his book Ages of Discord, the scholar Peter Turchin proposes a structural-demographic theory of political instability based on societies throughout history. He suggests that there are three main preconditions to revolution: (1) elite oversupply and disunity, (2) popular misery based on falling living standards, and (3) a state in fiscal crisis.

There will be more random mass shootings in the months ahead as middle-aged white men self-destruct and feel that life has no meaning. As the mindset of scarcity spreads and deepens, people’s executive functioning will erode. It takes self-control to resist base impulses. Racism and misogyny will become more and more pervasive even as they are policed in certain sectors.

16: The Freedom Dividend

Peter Frase, author of Four Futures, points out that work encompasses three things: the means by which the economy produces goods and services, the means by which people earn income, and an activity that lends meaning or purpose to many people’s lives.

The first major change would be to implement a universal basic income (UBI), which I would call the “Freedom Dividend.” The United States should provide an annual income of $12,000 for each American aged 18–64, with the amount indexed to increase with inflation.

Everyone from a hedge fund billionaire in New York to an impoverished single mom in West Virginia would receive a monthly check of $1,000.

The best way to ensure public gains from the automation wave would be a VAT so that people and companies just pay the tax when they buy things or employ services. Would this accelerate a crypto economy?

The biggest companies, like Amazon, would pay the most into the system because a VAT gets paid based on volume, not profits. It also would make it so that we’d all root for progress—the mechanic in Appalachia would feel like he’s getting a stake every time someone gets rich.

Out of 193 countries, 160 already have a VAT or goods and services tax, including all developed countries except the United States. The average VAT in Europe is 20 percent. It is well developed and its efficacy has been established. If we adopted a VAT at half the average European level, we could pay for a universal basic income for all American adults.

And with the backdrop of a universal basic income of $12,000, the only way a VAT of 10 percent makes you worse off is if you consume more than $120,000 in goods and services per year, which means you’re doing fine and are likely at the top of the income distribution.

The hedge fund billionaire who spends $10 million a year on private jets and fancy cars will pay $1 million into the system and receive $12,000. The single mom will pay about $2,500 and receive $12,000, and will also have the peace of mind that her child will start receiving $1,000 a month when he or she graduates from high school.

17: Basic Universal Income in the Real World

The New Jersey Graduated Work Incentive Experiment gave cash payments to more than 1,300 families between 1968 and 1971 to get above the poverty line. Researchers found minimal impact on work—men worked one hour less per week, while women reduced their work weeks by five hours. Mothers spent more time with their children, whose performance at school improved. High school graduation rates rose substantially over the period, by as much as 30 percent.

Canada tried it all in one small town. In February 1974, Canada spent the equivalent of $56 million to get everyone in the town of Dauphin, a 13,000-person town northwest of Winnipeg, above the poverty line. One thousand families got a check each month of different amounts with no restrictions. They called it “Mincome,” short for minimum income.

The only groups who worked substantially less were new mothers and teenagers, with the latter spending more time in school. Birth rates for women under 25 dropped. High school graduation rates went up. Perhaps most dramatically, Forget found that hospital visits went down 8.5 percent, with reductions in workplace injuries and emergency room visits. Domestic violence went down as did mental illness-related appointments and treatments.

Governor Jay Hammond, a Republican, had an innovative plan—he pushed to place the revenue in a fund that would then pay out part of its earnings to state residents each year. He insisted that this fund had “a conservative political purpose” by putting a brake on government spending and distributing more of the money directly to people.

The Alaska Permanent Fund accrued earnings and started paying dividends in 1982. Each Alaskan now receives a petroleum dividend of between $1,000 and $2,000 per person per year; a family of four received more than $8,000 in 2015. The dividend reduces poverty by one-quarter and is one reason that Alaska has the second lowest income inequality in the country.

Sixty-four percent of respondents even said that they would accept higher taxes if necessary to fund the dividend

Akee found that the impact of the extra cash actually impacted the children’s personalities over the years. Behavioral and emotional disorders went down. Two personality traits became more pronounced—conscientiousness and agreeableness. Both correlate strongly with holding a job and maintaining a steady relationship. These changes were most significant among children who started out the most deficient.

GiveDirectly has raised more than $120 million, in part to enable new ways to distribute money in developing countries. In 2016, they announced a $30 million 12-year basic income trial in a region in western Kenya.

Iran implemented a full-blown equivalent of UBI in 2011 of approximately $16,000 per year in response to heavy cuts to oil and gas subsidies. Economists measured labor rates and found no reduction in hours worked—if anything they found people in the service industry expanded their businesses.

A universal basic income at the level of the Freedom Dividend would likely result in some inflation as vendors take advantage of the new buying power of the public to raise some prices, but costs would continue to decline for many things because technology would continue to lower the underlying cost of their production.

The data doesn’t show this. In every basic income study, there has been no increase in drug and alcohol use. If anything, an improved sense of the future motivates people to figure out a plan for how to improve their lot.

There’s a tendency for rich people to dismiss poor people as weak-willed children with no cost discipline. The evidence runs in the other direction. As the Dutch philosopher Rutger Bregman and others put it, “Poverty is not a lack of character. It’s a lack of cash.”

18: Time as the New Money

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the U.S. government hired 40,000 recreation officers and artists at a cost of $3.3 billion—about $47 billion today—to make things more enjoyable and keep people engaged. That would be the equivalent of hiring about 100,000 people to go to towns around the country today based on how much our population has grown since then.

imagine a local nonprofit providing after-school recreation for underprivileged kids. It has five employees making $30,000 a year right now. With a UBI, they might be able to hire seven employees at $21,000 a year instead, a 40 percent increase in staffing, because people with a level of financial security might take the job for less.

Many people have some artistic passion that they would pursue if they didn’t need to worry about feeding themselves next month. A UBI would be perhaps the greatest catalyst to human creativity we have ever seen.

If you are in a town of 5,000 people in Missouri and everyone is struggling to get by, starting, say, a bakery may not be that attractive. But with a UBI, there will be an additional $60 million being spent in that town next year. You personally will have an income to fall back on if the bakery doesn’t work out.

Time banking is a system through which people trade time and build credits within communities by performing various helpful tasks—transporting an item, walking a dog, cleaning up a yard, cooking a meal, providing a ride to the doctor, and so on.

If you tell me I’m getting $2 to do something, I may ignore it. But if it’s 200 points, I’ll find it strangely compelling. People right now spend countless hours becoming Yelp Elite, King Wazers, Mayors on Foursquare, Google Local Guides, and other online equivalents based upon points and social rewards.

by creating a new currency, the government could essentially induce billions of dollars of positive social activity without having to spend nearly that amount.

19: Human Capitalism

There is limited or no market reward at present for keeping families together, upgrading infrastructure, lifelong education, preventative care, or improving democracy. While our smartphones get smarter each season, propelled by tens of billions of dollars, our voting machines, bridges, and schools languish in the 1960s.

Human Capitalism would have a few core tenets: 1. Humanity is more important than money. 2. The unit of an economy is each person, not each dollar. 3. Markets exist to serve our common goals and values.

This could be tied in to the Digital Social Credit system, where people who help move society in a particular direction are rewarded. For example, a journalist who uncovered a particular source of waste, an artist who beautified a city, or a hacker who strengthened our power grid could be rewarded with Social Credits. So could someone who helped another person recover from addiction or helped acclimate an ex-convict into the workforce. Even someone who maintained a high level of physical fitness and helped others do so could be rewarded and recognized.

20: The Strong State and the New Citizenship

We should start at the top. We should give presidents a raise from their current $400,000 to $4 million tax-free per year plus 10 million Social Credits. But there would be one condition—they would not be able to accept speaking fees or any board positions for any personal gain after leaving office. This would keep them free and clear of any need to make powerful people happy. We should do the same for members of the Cabinet and the heads of all regulatory agencies.

It’s highly irrational for any regulator to come after industry too hard, because industry is waiting with the big paycheck afterward.

Sheila Bair, a former head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, lived through this conflict herself. She now advocates a lifetime ban on regulators working for the institutions they regulated in return for an increased government salary to $400,000.

Here’s an idea for a dramatic rule—for every $100 million a company is fined by the Department of Justice or bailed out by the federal government, both its CEO and its largest individual shareholder will spend one month in jail.

The president would also have the ability to claw back the assets of any such individual to repay the public.

21: Health Care in a World Without Jobs

After all of the competition, schooling, and debt, many doctors don’t want to sign up for less pay and prestige to work in underserved areas.

The best approach is what they do at the Cleveland Clinic—doctors simply get paid flat salaries. When doctors aren’t worried about billing, they can focus on patients.

22: Building People

They are not using their smartphones to learn calculus, but they are trying to keep their Snapstreaks going.

Too often people mistake content for education and vice versa. We act as if we can take a textbook or lesson online and make it interactive, and then that will educate someone. But no one would consider putting a child in an empty classroom with a textbook “education.” We would call that reading or maybe punishment

When children get to school, there are a few things that have been shown to be helpful and effective. Unfortunately, additions like laptops and software have thus far been shown to be largely unhelpful in making poor schools better.

That is, only 59 percent of students who started college in 2009 had completed a bachelor’s degree by 2015, and this level has been more or less consistent the past number of years.

Meanwhile, the New York Federal Reserve estimated the underemployment rate of college graduates to be as high as 44 percent for recent grads and 34 percent overall. One-third of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree. We pretend that a college degree will prepare one for the future and ensure gainful opportunities when that’s often not the case.

Average college tuition has risen as much as 440 percent in the last 25 years.

In 2015, a law professor pointed out that Yale spent more the previous year on private equity managers managing its endowment—$480 million—than it spent on tuition assistance, fellowships, and prizes for students—$170 million. This led Malcolm Gladwell to joke that Yale was a $24 billion hedge fund with a university attached to it, and that it should dump its legacy business.

For Harvard the taxpayer subsidy jumped up to $48,000 per student per year, for Yale it was $69,000 per student per year, and for Princeton it was $105,000 per student per year. Being tax-exempt is more valuable the more money you’re generating.

One way to change this would be a law stipulating that any private university with an endowment over $5 billion will lose its tax-exempt status unless it spends its full endowment income from the previous year on direct educational expenses, student support, or domestic expansion. This would spur Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, Penn, Northwestern, and others to spend billions each year directly on their students and expansion within the United States.

Another possible approach would be to simply tax rich universities’ endowments and use the proceeds to subsidize students at community colleges and public schools, which has been advocated by at least one progressive group.

Edmundson mourns that these ideals today have been largely abandoned. The new ideal is what he calls “the Worldly Self of middle-class values.” To get along and get ahead. To succeed and self-replicate. The three great ideals live on in diluted form (e.g., spin classes and Spartan races for the Warrior, nonprofits and social entrepreneurship for the Saint, Ta-Nehisi Coates and the blogosphere for the Thinker).

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