Yang’s dive down the crypto rabbit hole is not exactly surprising. It’s hard to ignore the parallels between Yang’s culty supporters (known as the “Yang Gang”) and the similarly zealous coalition crypto has amassed. Namely, both have appealed to a type of predominantly young, white, male and meme-loving technologist who fantasizes about disrupting legacy institutions – for the former, it’s Washington politics, and for the latter, it’s Wall Street banks.
“I’m someone who just wants to build as quickly as possible,” Yang, a former tech entrepreneur, told CoinDesk in an interview on Thursday.
While Yang is not exactly building cutting-edge zk-rollups or ponzi-esque DeFi protocols, he has recently staked his name and reputation behind two decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). Last month, Yang revealed Lobby3, a DAO aimed at Web 3-pilling Washington politicians by policy advocacy and educational initiatives.
In an interview with CoinDesk, Yang talks about how he plans to build a coalition via GoldenDAO, reflections on his Asian-American identity, his newfound fascination with “liquid governance” and how the cryptocurrency industry can win over Washington, D.C.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
CoinDesk: Andrew, most readers know you from the Democratic primaries or the New York City mayoral election, both heavily in the realm of politics. What first piqued your interest in crypto?
Andrew Yang: When I was running for president, one of the first communities to embrace my campaign was the crypto community. I think it’s because the people in Web 3 have a sense of optimism about the future and they know we’re going to need to do things differently.
I also have a lot of friends who are deeply involved, so I’ve spoken at a couple of conferences and have gotten to know more and more people, but my first real connection was during my Presidential campaign early on in 2018. I remember friends telling me about Bitcoin years and years ago, so I’ve been aware of it for some time.
Let’s chat about your new project GoldenDAO. It's a decentralized autonomous organization that’s looking to tackle Asian issues. What’s your relationship with your own Asian identity, and did that in any way inspire GoldenDAO?
Yang: It’s been a very difficult time for so many people the last couple of years, but I do think that Asian Amerians have felt a higher level of a need to come together. I’m the son of immigrants, so growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s I always had a very acute sense of both appreciation for the U.S. but also a struggle to belong. I think it’s something that a lot of Asian Americans can relate to.
GoldenDAO was inspired in large part by friends and family of mine who said, “We should try to galvanize more people to address issues that are important to the [Asian] community.” Being someone who is one of the more visible members of the community, I thought I should do what I could to provide that.
Especially during the pandemic, we’ve seen an uptick in violence against Asians. GoldenDAO mentions Asian hate, social injustice, mental wellness and Asian representation as some of the key issues that need addressing. How does GoldenDAO plan to do this?
Yang: One of the virtues of a DAO is that it’s going to be up to the community to decide how to invest time, energy and resources. But our hope is that members of the community will get excited about various projects and then put in time both through the DAO and as also perhaps as individuals. For example, if there’s a public awareness campaign, or mental health initiative, then the members of the DAO can invest part of the treasury in augmenting or amplifying that effort, and then come together to help it in a myriad of ways. You can use a DAO structure to express the popular will as to what efforts or initiatives to get behind.
It’s also kind of the first time we’re seeing a DAO structure being used for social activism. What do you think are the benefits of a DAO vs. traditional affinity group or non-profit?
Yang: I think DAOs are wonderful in their potential to activate a large number of people, but also have the organization be directed by different people at different times. It reminds me of a lot of projects that we’ve all been involved with where the energy tends to gather around the person that puts in the most.
I think a DAO could be an ideal expression of that – if there are members of the community that are particularly animated about a cause or project, and they can make the case, it could be a month later that different leaders emerge. One of the great struggles of the times is, “What does effective governance look like in the 21st century?” We have various political institutions that are not keeping up with the times. So I’m excited about the potential of a DAO to activate our community in whole new ways.
Last month you unveiled Lobby3, another DAO you founded with the goal of lobbying Washington on Web 3 issues. Is GoldenDAO trying to do the same thing, but for AAPI-related issues?
Yang: Lobby3 is meant to provide both an inside and outside effort to helping educate lawmakers on the potential of Web 3 technologies to broadly improve people’s lives, whereas GoldenDAO is focused on issues that affect the AAPI community. I think that you want things to be able to take advantage of DAO structure but also maintain flexibility.
Lobby3 and GoldenDAO are going to be embarking on different types of activities because the problems they are trying to solve are, to me, very distinct.
There’s a feeling in crypto that DAOs are great at marketing an aspirational cause and are effective in raising money [like buying the Constitution], but they often fall short in achieving the goal. Looking at the mint prices for GoldenDAO’s NFTs, the collection could raise up to $9 million dollars if it sells out. What would you say to the skeptics that think this could be a “rug”?
Yang: One of the virtues of this structure is that it’s transparent, so people will see where the resources go. Certainly, I know that there’s plenty of work to do, and as we get resources in, we will be investing it in a way that the community sees fit. Everyone who is involved in GoldenDAO is very mission-driven and excited to demonstrate what these tools can do in the hands of this community.
You’re probably the highest-profile politician to come out and fully embrace Web 3. What are other ideas you have in the pipeline as it relates to Web 3 and politics?
Yang: Certainly right now, these two missions will strike everyone as both obvious and important. Trying to make sure that the rules and regulations over the next weeks and months effectively balance mitigating risk and supporting innovation and the development of new American jobs. And then trying to address some of the problems and issues that the AAPI community is facing but also elevanting builders and creators that want to do positive things. I’m sure I’ll be doing more in Web 3, but these two missions are plenty for now.
There will be other opportunities coming down the pipe. One of the joys of being in Web 3 is that you get to meet so many entrepreneurs that are building awesome things. I’m someone that gets excited about great ideas.
Should we expect an Andrew Yang DAO hat-trick?
Yang: I do like to operate in threes, but right now people are very excited about Lobby3 and GoldenDAO, and I am too.
What’s something interesting in Web 3 that you’re currently most excited about?
Yang: I have friends in Web 3 pushing me on liquid democracy, and people being able to essentially have other people vote on their behalf for different types of issues, which I think is an intriguing idea. I would contrast what’s happening in Web 3 with what’s happening in the American political system, where you have this ossified set of bureaucracies that people are losing confidence in.
My goal is to demonstrate to people what can be done when you have the right group of people using cutting-edge tools, in part to demonstrate that we should expect better. But I’m also someone who just wants to build as quickly as possible so we can open more people’s eyes.
Many people in crypto are now becoming really interested in politics and how to best advance crypto-related issues in Congress. Is there anything the crypto industry could be doing better to get Washington more interested in collaborating?
Yang: In Washington, D.C., the messenger counts as much as the message. That’s something I think that Web 3 should adjust and adapt to. What’s funny is the folks I know in Web 3 tend to be very, very rational and efficient. The problem is that Washington would not readily be described as any of those things. So it requires a bit of calibration. It’s an environment where relationships matter a great deal, where having access to a certain set of individuals has an enormous market.
There are ways to improve the climate, there are ways that we can solve the problems that many political figures publicly proclaim their passion for solving. If we can demonstrate that these tools are a force for good and can improve people’s lives in a way that political figures regularly support, then we can see to it that the environment remains one where America can be the hub for a lot of this energy and human capital and innovation that we all believe is possible.
Imagine an anti-poverty implementation of digital wallets in a poor neighborhood that right now is being exploited by moneylenders and pawn shops. If you can show, “Look, we’ve given rise to a different way for people to access buying power and financial services,” that’s the kind of thing that a lot of people want to see, and we can do it.
How do you view crypto, personally?
Yang: Crypto is like a lot of other things – it’s what you make of it. People talk about “DAOs this, DAOs that.” The fact is if you get the right group of people together, DAOs can be a transformative force for governance and a different way to activate people. It’s up to us to make these things what we want to see in the world.
If we succeed in that, then other people will see the same things. Right now, there are a lot of folks that are somewhat skeptical or dubious, it’s up to us to open up and if we do open up, I think we will open up a lot of people’s hearts and minds.
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