Andrew Yang

Andrew Yang's 'Department of the Attention Economy' Is Why Libertarians Don't Trust Democrats

The answer to real and imagined problems is always spend more, regulate more.


For a self-styled digital native who stresses "21st century solutions" to today's problems, presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has a decidedly 20th century way of addressing what he considers to be problems: spend more, regulate more.

As Reason's Billy Binion noted, the tech entrepreneur's proposals about "Regulating Technology Firms in the 21st Century" involve a lot of unwise monkeying around with "Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the landmark legislation protects social media companies from facing certain liabilities for third-party content posted by users online." Like many other critics of online platforms (including progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and conservatives such as Josh Hawley), Yang buys into the nonexistent distinction between "publishers" and "platforms" as a means of regulating the speech and economic freedom of social media companies and website operators.

In the same document, Yang also proposes to

  • Create a Department of the Attention Economy that focuses specifically on how to responsibly design and use smartphones, social media, gaming, and chat apps. It will include overall guidelines, as well as age-based ones.
  • Provide guidance (and regulation, if needed) on design features that maximize screen time for young people, like removing autoplay video for children under 16, removing the queues that allow infinite scrolling, capping the number of recommendations per day, reducing notification signs and "like" counts, and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine when children are using devices to cap screen hours per day.
  • Establish rules and standards around kid-targeted content to protect them from inappropriate content.
  • Incentivize content production of high-quality and positive programming for kids similar to broadcast TV.
  • Require platforms to provide guidance on kid-healthy content for parents, and provide incentives for companies that work to make user data of minors available to their parents.
  • Include classes on the responsible use of technology in public school curricula and teach children how to distinguish reliable from unreliable news sources online.

It's this sort of "new" thinking that loses libertarians. In what way does a new, presumably cabinet-level, agency do anything other than expand the size, scope, and spending of government in a way that will inevitably limit speech and expression? That it's being done in the name of "the children" makes it seem like a punchline from a mid-1990s episode of The Simpsons. Yang asserts that "we are beginning to understand exactly how much of an adverse effect" social media is having on kids and that Facebook, Twitter, and the rest face no "real accountability" even as he rhapsodizes about his 20th century childhood: "I look back at my childhood and I remember riding a bike around the neighborhood, but now tablets, computers, and mobile devices have shifted the attention of youth."

Spare me the nostalgia and moral panic, which is highly reminiscent of the '90s panic over the supposed effects on kids of sex and violence on cable TV (lest we forget, Attorney General Janet Reno and other leaders threatened censorship if the menace of Beavis and Butt-head and other basic cable fare wasn't cleaned up). The social science is far from settled on any of this stuff and the first reaction to perceived problems should never be creating a series of government controls. Social media companies face all sorts of pushback in the marketplace, too, including lack of interest from users (Facebook has posted two years of declining use in the U.S.).

What would any of Yang's plans cost in terms of dollars and cents? It doesn't really matter because the visionary will pay for everything with a value-added tax on digital advertising.

Lord knows Republicans, including Donald Trump, are hardly avatars of a new way of governing, but the Democratic presidential candidates have yet to meet a problem that can't be solved by creating a whole new program or bureaucracy. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg wants to shell out $1 trillion to make housing, child care, and college more affordable. Elizabeth Warren wants to raise taxes by $26 trillion and Bernie Sanders wants national rent-control laws while washout Beto O'Rourke yammered on about the right to live close to work before bidding adieu to the 2020 race. Joe Biden wants to spend $750 billion over the next decade to deliver what Obamacare was supposed to do.

Over the last 40 years, federal spending averaged 20.4 percent of GDP while federal revenue averaged just 17.4 percent. That gap, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is only going to get wider, saddling future Americans with more and more debt, which dampens long-term economic growth, among other bad outcomes.

The federal government spent about $4.4 trillion in fiscal year 2019 (while posting a $1 trillion deficit). Surely there is more than enough savings to be found in that massive sum before proposing big new programs that will be layered on top of a seemingly infinite number of existing efforts to fix all the big and small problems of the world. It shouldn't be too much to insist that all candidates for president (and every other federal office) explain how they are going to bring revenues and outlays into some sort of balance. But at the very least, we shouldn't stand for yet more spending and regulation that simply gets layered on top of what is already there.

NEXT: Trump and Obama Each Break Records on Bad Immigration Policy

Andrew Yang Election 2020 Technology Section 230 Regulation Media Regulation

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64 responses to “Andrew Yang's 'Department of the Attention Economy' Is Why Libertarians Don't Trust Democrats

    1. Stupid?

      Department of Attention Economy sounds to me like it could singlehandedly provide tens of thousands of good paying jobs for comics and satirists.

  1. Andrew Yang is taking his ideas straight from China which now does all those things.

    1. The Manchurian candidate, indeed!

  2. Andrew Yang’s ‘Department of the Attention Economy’ Is Why Libertarians Don’t Trust Democrats

    The answer to real and imagined problems is always spend more, regulate more.

    …and chip away at protected rights.

  3. The added value of advertising would be zero, right?

  4. Democrats have plans for how you will live your life and how you will raise your children. That alone should be enough for libertarians (or anyone who can objectively look at the history of government activity) to reject Democrats.

    1. But, in “quid pro quo” fashion, they are dangling an expansion of human “rights” in return; if access to health care is a “right,” then why not housing? Income? The “right” to live close to wherever you work? There are legions of stupid Americans who will happily accept these bennies without a thought of what it will cost them, on a personal or public level. Vote for “X” and all of your needs will be taken care of, paid for the the evil rich billionaires and corporations, is what I am hearing. The care taking necessarily comes with directions [and directives] of course.

      1. It’s all just blah blah blah until someone starts offering the right to sex with a super model in the gender of your choice.

        I’m tired of being offered the same old rights…

        1. the right to sex with a super model in the gender of your choice.

          Where’s the gofundme for that one?

        2. “offering the right to sex with a super model in the gender of your choice.”

          I’m not sure I understand this. Would like to clarify before I back it.
          Does this mean I can pick a really hot super model and choose that she is gendered male? Could be fun. Please don’t judge.

      2. “The “right” to live close to wherever you work?”

        What if I would rather live far away and work remotely?

        1. What? You want to telework? Can’t have that! How can we monitor your behavior and make sure you’re not sexually harassing yourself, or vaping, or taking the required 30 min exercise break. Also, you are depriving service employees like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and janitors of their right to work by not reporting to the office.

    2. “Democrats have plans for how you will live your life and how you will raise your children.”

      And Republicans don’t? Get the fuck outta here!

      1. What part of De-Regulating don’t you get?
        Maybe Republicans do contain a lot of RINO’S but the platform GOP dot GOV clearly puts individual freedom as one of their core policy goals unlike the DNC platform.

        1. And you believe everything you read? Got it!

        2. Their actions since 2016 have not been consistent with that rhetoric. I make my decision based on what they’ve voted for rather than what they claim to be about.

  5. The democrats are so horrifically awful. They are such transparent panderers, I can’t think of a single position they have that runs counter to how popular culture and media thinks. As a natural contrarian I hate nearly everything about them. That being said the republicans suck so hard.

    1. Giant Douche or Turd Sandwich.

      1. That’s better than Giant Turd or Douche Sandwich, isn’t it?

    2. I kind of feel the same way. It used to be that there Democrat positions that sucked (anti-2A, socialist policies), but they had some that were good (strong 1A, 4A protections). And the Republicans had the opposite good and bads. But now, there are few, if any, Democrat positions that I find compatible with liberty. In addition to the usual anti-gun and economic control nonsense, they now are every bit as prudish as the socons, all for regulating “hate speech” (which means anything they don’t like), all for taking private property without compensation if it means saving one endangered fish or lizard, etc. I still don’t like the Republican party, but there are at least some positions that are liberty-leaning and some Rs that we at least have some common ground with.

      1. A lot of the red team reps in purplish districts are muting or entirely abandoning their support for 2A rights, and some of the knuckleheads are leading the charge on nuking the 1st. There were definitely some civil libertarians in the red team’s ranks, but the emphasis is on “were” – nearly all of them are retiring from politics, specifically because they can see what the establishment has written on the wall, and they are choosing not to be another brick in it.

  6. So he wants a Department of Propaganda?

    Not terribly surprising from a lefty, but he should just call it what it is.

    1. He wants a Ministry of Truth.

      1. Or at least a Ministry of Truthiness.

        1. and how long until the next Dem expands the scope to policing content?

          1. Last week?

  7. teach children how to distinguish reliable from unreliable news sources online.

    Hey, Andrew–How about enlightening *us* *now* how to so distinguish?

  8. “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”

    ― George Orwell, 1984

    That, in a nutshell, is the unabashedly totalitarian underbelly of the contemporary Democratic party.

    1. But we like to remind ourselves on a constant basis that they mean well, so…

      1. To shockingly many people intent means more than achieved outcomes. It remains a mystery to me how genuine those claims that intent matters and these are not the outcomes they are actually seeking . But in the end it doesn’t matter as it achieves the same outcome.

        1. In other words, “free” government sponsored entitlements [morphing into “rights”], to include health care, housing, income…sure sounds good. But of course nothing is really “free,” is it? Just as when you were a child living at home, everything you needed was provided for, but how free were you? In that environment [the government is essentially a bigger and more encompassing “parent”] there was no free speech, freedom for searches and seizures, freedom to associate…this will be no different. Just much bigger, intrusive, better organized, and much more punitive. Problem is, there are many voters who will happily stick their head in the maw in return for what they think is security and the ability to watch government stick it to others.

          1. //Problem is, there are many voters who will happily stick their head in the maw in return for what they think is security and the ability to watch government stick it to others.//

            That is because they believe that *they* will be the ones in control. It rarely occurs to people that the machinations of government will invariably be turned against them.

        2. “To shockingly many people intent means more than achieved outcomes.”

          Yup. And if you have the audacity to point this out you will be accused of bad intentions.

      2. Well, as Orwell observed, many do mean well, or at least put on a good show of meaning well.
        And honestly, I do believe a lot do mean well. Of course, meaning well is worth jack shit when your policies are destructive or stupid (and conversely, being motivated by greed or self interest is not something we should worry about when it leads to positive policies and developments).

  9. Come on, we all have a fundamental right of happiness. Says so in the Constitution of Independence, or whatever. The mommy-state will make it so.

    1. Yup, and reading things you don’t agree with on the internet makes you unhappy, so the only logical response is to send men with guns to make sure no one writes anything that might hurt your feelings.

    2. LOl….. “Constitution of Independence” — I’ve seen that argument far too many times coming from the left 🙂

  10. Notgonnabepresidentanyway.

  11. Yeah but the “libertarians” here trust the Republicans all too often too, so much so. So I’m not likely to trust their opinion in the least anyhow.

    “We’ll lower spending!” Yeah right..

    1. Heffalumps are like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day. Donkeys are like a clock that has been smashed to bits, no use whatsoever.

  12. As authorized by Article what of the Constitution?

    Commerce clause? Uh…. no.

    Not authorized.


  13. This is a pretty good start, but it needs to go farther and have a department of content. Only then will we be able to silence the clings and keep them out of polite society.

    1. And, of course, extermination camps. The clingers are not dying fast enough.

    2. And you need to make those clingers open wider, damn-it!

  14. Despite his support of lowering the voting age, Yang’s paternalistic desire to control young people’s online behavior makes him an enemy of youth rights.

    1. Seriously? I’m just going to assume that the National Youth Rights Association is fully funded by NAMBLA and I ain’t going to go looking into it.

      1. I’m just going to assume … and I ain’t going to go looking into it.

        And yet, ironically, it’s young people, not their elders, who are stereotyped as thinking they already know everything.

    2. Voting age should be the same as the minimum age to hold the office being voted for.

      1. I’m tempted to snap back with “OK, boomer,” but that would be historically unfair. Boomers can remember the prospect of being forced to go to Vietnam at eighteen by politicians whom they weren’t allowed to hold accountable at the ballot box.

        And yet, supposedly, older voters have the wisdom of experience.

        1. There should also be no draft ever, if that helps.
          And I’m only 41. Fuck it, make the voting age 50. It’s not about me. I don’t even vote for national offices.
          And not entirely serious. Though I think maybe 21 was a better voting age (though I understand the push for 18 at the time).

          1. make the voting age 50

            That’s what Plato advocated.

            1. Plato’s ideal society is not a place I would choose to live in.

  15. Include classes on the responsible use of technology in public school curricula

    Because if there is one thing that defines youth is doing what adults tell you to do.

  16. Yang was at LibertyCon this year, and he’s invited back next year for a reason. He’s not like other democrats. Many techies are calling for some guardrails. Teen suicide and depression have skyrocketed since 2006.

    His economic knowledge and vision leans libertarian. A mental health crisis in our kids though, when viewing the data, guard rails may help. When techies themselves are calling for some help, Yang’s non-idealogical approach is to listen and view the data with pragmatism and an open mind. Ideologues would do well to follow that example.

    LibertyCon 2019 video:

    1. Teen depression and suicide are not problems caused by an unregulated internet. It’s a much deeper issue that government can’t solve. There has also been a huge drop in religious affiliation in the same time period, so should the government start requiring everyone to attend church/synagogue/mosque/Wiccan ceremonies?

  17. Gillespie is trying to peddle the superiority of good but limited government over not good and not limited government. That’s a debate not worth the trouble. All government actors who exercise force and power, are corrupted by that exercise.
    The problem with government is that it is predicated on the use of force, violence – i.e., power. And power always corrupts. There isn’t anyone in Congress, or any President in history, who has escaped that corruption. And no one ever will.
    If you want to be free, you have to stop supporting coercion.

    1. Is this hpearce’s more dedicated sock? I applaud the higher level of effort here at least.

      But again, libertarians aren’t anarchists, however much we would like them to be.

  18. ‘involve a lot of unwise monkeying around with “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the landmark legislation protects social media companies from facing certain liabilities for third-party content posted by users online.” ‘

    Nick objects to “monkeying around” with crony capitalist legislation that monkeyed around with publishing liability law to give internet companies special exemptions from existing publishing liability law.

    Because nothing says “free markets” like crony capitalist legal exemptions.

    Another “Libertarian Moment” brought to you by the new Woke Reason.

  19. Bedankt voor je informatie. Het is erg nuttig en handig. Briljant blog.

  20. Really? I haven’t trusted Democrats long before I ever heard of Yang or some of his silly ideas.

  21. I don’t know what you used as your source for your graph of federal income and outlays, but it’s completely off-base, both in real dollars, and considering inflation. Income to the government doubled in the 80’s; spending outpaced the increase.

  22. Whether or not the new agency does anything is beside the point. It will create a big new agency, staffed by employees who will be members of the government employees union, who will be paid with money collected from taxpayers, a portion of which then be kicked in to the union who will donate it to the Democratic Party so that its members can be elected to give the employees raises so that they can give even MORE money to the union. And it keeps on going.

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