Ken Yang is co-creator of the YangDAO, an Ethereum-based decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) that funds projects “in the shared interest of the Yang Gang” – the rabid supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. So it’s no surprise that Ken gets this question a lot: Is he related to the guy running for president? “We might be related,” deadpans Ken, who is in his mid-twenties. “There’s a possibility that he might be my dad.” All joking aside, the Yangs have a lot in common ideologically, first and foremost their support of universal basic income (UBI). At the center of the outsider candidate’s platform is his Freedom Dividend – a guaranteed, “no questions asked” payment of $1,000 per month to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18. Ken, meanwhile, is the content manager of UBI Works, a Canadian policy organization that advocates for UBI. Both Yangs are also extremely interested in cryptocurrency.
Ken met Andrew in Los Angeles last April, at a private fundraising dinner. “I gotta say, I’ve never been anywhere where a speaker was able to invigorate the crowd like that,” Ken recalls. “You could feel the excitement in everybody’s eyes and everybody’s tone of voice – they really wanted to do something for this movement. And it’s that sort of energy that was so extremely addictive.” The next day, an enthused Ken was having lunch in Venice with Ameen Soleimani, CEO of SpankChain and creator of the MolochDAO, a decentralized and autonomous grants system for Ethereum infrastructure projects. Soleimani suggested that Ken fork MolochDAO to create a DAO for the Yang Gang. Ken and a small team of like-minded folks launched YangDAO over the summer.
“The Yang Gang movement has extended beyond borders to such an extent that now you’ll see Yang Gang in every continent,” says Ken, who hails from Canada, thus precluding him from ever actually voting for the man who shares his surname. “That’s a very, very exciting thing.” As of last count, there were 32 YangDAO members, with a current pool of nearly $5,000. Among other projects, the community has elected to fund a “memelord” named Adrian Leonard, who creates pro-Yang deepfakes – the candidate’s head on Iron Man’s body, for instance. It might sound like a silly use of money, but perhaps no other 2020 candidate, save for Donald Trump, has benefited from the proliferation of internet memes as much as Andrew Yang has. “The YangDAO really tapped into an energy that you wouldn’t see normal super PACs, or even a campaign itself, fund,” Ken says.
There’s no doubt about it: Andrew Yang has Big Crypto Energy. The 44-year-old appears to be the only current presidential candidate to have an official policy on cryptocurrency. To wit: “Create clear guidelines in the digital asset world so that businesses and individuals can invest and innovate in the area without fear of a regulatory shift.” (Not even Elizabeth Warren, who’s spoken skeptically of crypto, has a plan for that.) Yang advocates for, among other things, clear token definitions and tax rules; he’s vowed to work with sponsors of the Token Taxonomy Act and Wyoming legislators. (He is also a proponent of blockchain voting.) “Other countries, which are ahead of us on [crypto] regulation, are leading in this new marketplace and dictating the rules that we’ll need to follow once we catch up,” Yang wrote in a November blog post.
Seth Adam Cohen, cofounder of HumanityFWD, a Yang super PAC that accepts bitcoin, DigiByte, Dogecoin, Litecoin, and Vertcoin, echoes Yang’s sentiment. “If we can get out ahead of crypto and blockchain, we can make these technologies work for the common good,” Cohen says. “Andrew is the only candidate that I know of that is cognizant of this, that is pushing this forward.” And according to those who’ve conversed with him about crypto, Yang knows what he’s talking about. “He understood what bitcoin was, he understood what Ethereum was, he understood what mining was,” says Amentum CEO Steven McKie, who had Yang as a guest on his BlockChannel podcast in the summer of 2018. “He’s a very sharp dude. He picks up things really, really quickly.” (Yang has said he personally doesn’t own any cryptocurrency; his campaign, on the other hand, began accepting it over the summer.)
“I think a lot of people in crypto see him as one of their own,” says Rahul Sood, CEO and cofounder of Unikrn, a crypto-driven gaming and esports company, and the co-host of a recent private event for the candidate in Seattle. SpankChain’s Soleimani counts himselfas one of those people. “It’s nice to see the view of the tech guy represented,” Soleimani says. “And it’s not only in what Yang says; it’s how he carries himself. For example, in the debate, everybody’s attacking each other, and he just waits his turn and then says his piece about how to move things forward, not left or right. And that’s sort of the engineering mindset: ‘How can we actually solve the problem?’” Soleimani hits upon another aspect of Yang’s appeal: He is a crossover candidate at a time when almost everyone else is full-on blue or red. As Sood puts it, “He just seems more reasonable – not extreme left or right,.”
As much as Yang’s positions on cryptocurrency make him stand out among the crowded Democratic field, they provide an even sharper contrast to the views of President Trump, who tweeted in July that he was “not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air.” A few months earlier, speaking at the Consensus conference in New York, Yang vowed, “If I’m in the White House, oh boy are we going to have some fun in terms of the cryptocurrency community.”
How much fun? During Yang’s BlockChannel appearance, he vowed that if he won the presidency, he would throw “a party in the White House for the entire crypto community.” He added, “Because if I win, it’s going to be in large part ’cause you helped me win.”
Candidates – or at least the caliber of candidates who can qualify for every Democratic debate thus far, as Yang has – don’t get much more outsider-y than Andrew Yang. Prior to announcing his candidacy, he’d never run for office or worked on a campaign. He’s kinda nerdy (as a kid, he played Dungeons & Dragons and read science-fiction) and kinda cool (he’s an ex-goth and has been known to skateboard and crowdsurf on the campaign trail). More significantly, he’s the first major Asian-American candidate to run for the presidency. (Yang, who hails from Schenectady, NY, is the son of Taiwanese immigrants.) “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math,” he often jokes.
Though Yang is sometimes described as a tech entrepreneur, he made his money as the head of a test-prep company. In 2011, he founded Venture for America (VFA), a fellowship program with the stated goal of creating “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.” In March 2017, Yang stepped down as CEO of VFA, and on Nov. 6, 2017 – nearly two years before election day 2020 – he filed to run for president.
Yang’s candidacy was treated as something of a novelty early on. “Among the many, many Democrats who will seek the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, most probably agree on a handful of core issues,” Kevin Roose wrote in the New York Times back in February 2018. “Only one of them will be focused on the robot apocalypse.” The piece explored Yang’s central concern, that automation and artificial intelligence will decimate American jobs (“The reason Donald Trump was elected was that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin”), and his primary solution: the Freedom Dividend (“Universal basic income is an old idea, but it’s an old idea that right now is uniquely relevant because of what we’re experiencing in society.”)
A year after that Times piece, Yang appeared on the incredibly popular Joe Rogan podcast – which, much like cryptocurrency, tends to attract a young, male audience. There, Yang sold the host on his Freedom Dividend. “Yeah, it does make perfect sense!” Rogan enthused. “That’s what’s scary about it. I’m not disagreeing with you in any way, shape, or form. I’m just thinking, man.” Yang’s Twitter following exploded (it currently stands at 1.1 million), as did donations to his campaign. “Everything is up and to the right since the Joe Rogan podcast,” Yang campaign manager Zach Graumann told the Daily Beast. “That was the key. That was the moment.”
It was the Rogan interview that captured the imagination of David Hoffman, the 26-year-old chief of operations at RealT, a tokenized real-estate agency that uses the Ethereum blockchain. “I watched the Rogan video all the way through,” he says, “and then I went out and found all the YouTube videos, all the podcast videos, and basically watched them all within a three-day period.” He now contributes to the campaign on a monthly basis. Hoffman particularly likes that Yang is seeking clarity when it comes to the rules surrounding cryptocurrency. “The lack of clarity is one of the biggest hindrances for why blockchain and cryptocurrency innovation isn’t happening in America,” he says.
“I would be a supporter of Andrew Yang even if he hadn’t mentioned cryptocurrency and blockchain technology,” Hoffman adds. “But he has. It would be weird to me if somebody like Andrew Yang, who claims to be a tech-savvy innovator, didn’t know about the blockchain world.” Hoffman says he doesn’t see someone as old as Bernie Sanders, who is 78, getting blockchain and cryptocurrency. “If you can't understand or don’t have the capacity to understand these new things that the world is experiencing,” Hoffman says, “then I don’t understand how you can guide the United States into the future.”
Not everyone in the crypto community supports Yang, of course. Nic Carter, a partner with Castle Island Ventures, was an early Yang booster, but no more. Initially, he was mostly in it for the lulz. “I thought Yang was a really entertaining candidate – he had some very funny policy proposals,” Carter says. “But then Yang became super kind of mainstream and not that funny anymore.”
Striking a more serious tone, Carter says that Yang is ill-informed about blockchain, citing the candidate’s support of blockchain voting: “You don’t have to do that much research to see that it is a total catastrophe.” He also argues that Yang’s Freedom Dividend runs counter to the philosophy of libertarian-minded bitcoiners such as himself. “UBI is an extremely paternalistic policy,” he says. “It implies that the government will be the cure for everything.” Then again, some libertarians see the merits of UBI: “[A] UBI is far less paternalistic than traditional welfare, which often treats the poor like 10-year-olds receiving an allowance,” writes Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. Regardless, Carter now backs an even longer-shot candidate: Tulsi Gabbard.
Seth Adam Cohen, the L.A.-based cofounder of the Yang super PAC HumanityFWD, has a background in media production and was part of the Occupy movement. “The Occupy movement was trying to get big money out of politics, which makes it somewhat ironic that 10 years later I am running a super PAC,” he says. “It basically came down to the idea that these are the rules as they’re currently written, so we need to play by the rules to win. If we could help get Andrew into the White House and then Andrew dismantles super PACs, that would be the thrill of a lifetime for me.”
Cohen isn’t a crypto guy himself, but he saw the wisdom of HumanityFWD accepting cryptocurrency. “The crypto and blockchain communities should, in our minds, have a vested interest in getting Andrew elected because he’s the only candidate who is embracing these technologies,” he says. “The other candidates are basically just ignoring it completely.” That’s why the super PAC teamed up with the DigiByte Awareness Team (DGBAT), a community-driven outreach group that promotes the DigiByte blockchain, and Vertbase, a digital currency platform, to launch a crypto donation platform.
Laura Taylor, DigiByte ambassador and volunteer outreach officer, says that despite DigiByte’s extensive outreach efforts, HumanityFWD was the only organization that wanted to go ahead with a donation platform. She says the arrangement has resulted in some backlash from the DigiByte community. “A few really vocal people that are diehard conservatives or diehard libertarians were like, ‘I can’t believe you guys are supporting Yang,’” says Taylor, who stresses that she is not affiliated with the candidate. “We want to make it clear: We’re supporting a use case for DigiByte. The awareness team’s goal is to get all of the candidates to accept crypto in this way.”
Cohen agrees that the crypto donations platform is “a really powerful use case – especially if you can get Andrew into the White House.” The odds of that are still against Yang – he’s currently polling at about three percent nationally, which puts him in sixth place overall in the Democratic field – but a number of Yang’s crypto-world supporters I spoke with really believe he could pull it off. After all, early on hardly anyone thought Donald Trump would become the Republican nominee, never mind president. Ken Yang is among those who thinks victory is possible. He points to one of Yang’s tweets from late August: “Which is more unlikely - 1) going from being a complete unknown to 6th in the polls or 2) going from 6th in the polls to winning the whole thing?
There’s also a feeling among supporters that Yang’s run is important no matter what the end result. “He is bringing more awareness to blockchain, crypto, his financial freedom initiatives,” says Yang supporter Justin Seidl, the cofounder and CEO of Vertbase. “That type of stuff has always been very important to me personally. So the fact that he can make some of those issues a topic of conversation, I think that’s a win in itself.”
And if Yang does prove victorious? BlockChannel host McKie plans on holding Yang to his promise of throwing a crypto-community party at his new residence. “Having a cookout at the White House would be a good time,” McKie says. “It’d be really cool to grill some steaks on the White House lawn, bitcoin-style.”
The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.