Jonathan Brun

Why Andrew Yang is the best candidate to beat Donald Trump

Andrew Yang was the first person to announce his run for the Democratic ticket. An entrepreneur of Asian descent, he often starts his stump speeches by asking “What is the opposite of Donald Trump?” and then replied, “An Asian man who loves math!”. Who could disagree with that? The one person who can beat Donald Trump in 2020 is a down to earth, normal person who speaks coherently and truthfully about the challenges facing America and the world.

Yang’s principle policy is a Freedom Dividend – a $1000 monthly cash transfer to all US citizens. Yang is proposing to institute a true basic income in the United States which would establish an economic foundation under the feet of 300 million people. A $1000 a month is not enough to live off of or stop work, but it is certainly enough to return to school, search for better employment, help your family and invest in your future. For the past six years, I have been involved in the basic income movement in Canada and the science and the politics are clear – we need a basic income to offset the precarity of the modern economy and provide more freedom to all citizens.

Yang has already received the endorsement of Elon Musk, our generation’s greatest technical visionary and entrepreneur. The proponents of basic income span the political spectrum from Martin Luther King Jr. to Milton Friedman. Basic income or a freedom dividend is a policy brings together former Trump supporters who are frustrated with their economic precarity and it also attracts left-wing progressives who want economic justice for all. A freedom dividend is a policy deeply is rooted in the American identify of individual independence and autonomy. Basic income was first proposed by Thomas Paine, an American revolutionary. With a $1000 per month, you would be free to make the choices you know will improve your life and of those close to you.

Financial precarity is a huge determinant of our mental health. Living paycheck to paycheck takes a massive toll on our brains and increases our stress. Yang advocates for a massive investment in the mental health of all citizens through a Freedom Dividend, but also through access to marriage counseling and mental health experts. In short, he proposes a return to a more humane society where we set up the tools and systems to allow people to reduce their mental stress and build a better future.

The other Democratic candidates are professional politicians. You can see it in their schedules, in the way they talk and in the way they spin things. Yang is anything but a politician. For better or for worse, he is willing to tell us the truth. He explains that it is too late to stop global warming and we need to think about mitigation, he explains that mental health is in freefall across the US and that the only way to transition to a brighter future is with a massive cash transfer. Like Trump, Yang speaks from his (very different) heart.

Yang also proposes concrete action on gun reform, universal health care and a suite of other policies. Just watch his recent breakdown (available on YouTube) during a gun reform event where a woman who lost her 4-year-old to a stray bullet asked Yang what he would do. Yang, a father of two young children, could not keep the tears back and anyone could see he was a genuine father who has had enough of gun violence in the United States. Yang is a real person we can all relate to. The United States has a history of swinging the presidencies between radically different people. From Lincoln to Johnson and Nixon to Carter, America has a dual identity it is constantly vacillating between. Yang is the opposite of Trump in every way. If we want radical change and a return to sanity, Andrew Yang is the best pick for the democratic ticket and the future or our southern neighbour.


I have no affiliation with the Yang Campaign and I am not a US Citizen. This is a personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of the organisations I represent.

Published on August 23, 2019

Xi Jiping: The Backlash – Review

Xi Jiping: The Backlash by Rory McGregor is the best (short) overview of the current geopolitical situation between China, the smaller powers (Canada, Singapore, Australia) and the larger powers (Germany, USA). He accurately diagnoses the challenges of smaller powers and China’s internal challenges. It seems Xi has a tight grip on power and the loyalty of the party, along with few rivals. The track China seems to be on is a return to authoritarian rule by party officials, with less respect of the rule of law. The use of trumped up charges to imprison Canadians, the picking and choosing of which imports they allow and other terribly mercantile behaviours does not bode well for China in the long-term.

A China that punishes those who defy it will likely contribute to an isolation and separation of China from many potentially friendly powers. Having spent two years of my life in China and having met many amazing Chinese people, I am concerned the country is headed back towards arbitrary rules that will create uncertainty for individuals, families and businesses. My Canadian friend who is based in Hong Kong, married to a Chinese woman with two children and speaks fluent Mandarin is quite skeptical on the stability of the communist party. Despite Xi’s efforts to avoid the collapse seen in the Soviet Union and the following appropriation of resources by the Oligarchs, it is unclear how China can simultaneously develop a thriving market economy and employ arbitrary rulings to cajole countries, people and businesses into compliance.

I love the Chinese people and the country, but there is a very dark trend emerging in China – whether it is the police state they have built with 24/7 global surveillance, the internment of Xinjiang Muslims, or the international actions they are taking to pressure smaller countries and dump product into foreign markets. The Chinese people are both nationalistic and revolutionary. If you put them into a corner, they fight. Just look at Hong Kong. With the economy still growing at 6% a year, it seems unlikely that the party will lose popular support in the short term. The longer term issues that will undermine the rule of the communist party can be summarized as demographic, liberty and rule of law.

The demographics in China are already negative and getting worse. They have very low birth rates and the working population is already decreasing in absolute and relative size. With less workers and less babies, housing values will decrease and a tremendous amount of the Chinese assets are built on property valuations. This carries from the individual families who feel they are wealthy due to owning apartments to the provincial and city governments who derive taxes from property values. Property value is fundamentally tied to demographics. If your population decreases, property values decrease. It can quickly turn into a chain reaction.

All people want freedom. They want freedom to choose their mates, their careers and their future. If Chine continues to restrict emigration and movement this will frustrate the people. It is unclear how much they will do this. Over 100 million Chinese already leave the mainland on trips and return every year. The question will be centred around the upper middle class Chinese and how they view the future of their own freedom. If they are concerned it will be heavily restricted, you will see an outflow of people and money to other countries and a potential large-scale rescinding of Chinese nationality. This is hard to predict and it remains a major threat to the stability of the party. Without the entrepreneurial middle class, the Chinese economy does not work (nor does any other for that matter).

Similarly, the steps backwards on the rule of law internationally will likely lead to similar issues internally. If China is willing to punish Canadian farmers and Swedish salmon farms because of international politics, it seems clear they will use arbitrary rulings to control their own people. No country can develop in the long-term without a reasonable rule of law. Without it, businesses leave, people leave, morale is killed and people will not invest.

Building an empire is all about faith. It requires the country’s leaders and its people to have faith that they are on a divine mission. They must believe that the future will be better if they are active and invest in the country. Empires collapse because people lose faith. It is fare more fragile than we might imaging. With their actions and their challenges, China is running a real risk of losing the faith of the international community, the business world and its own people. If two of these pillars tumble, China will not be able to achieve its dream of a becoming a regional (maybe global) power and welcoming Taiwan back into its fold. Only time will tell, but I highly recommend this book to understand some of the challenges China currently faces.

Published on August 10, 2019

Citizen Dividend vs. Basic Income

The biggest problem with basic income is its name. Andrew Yang, the candidate for the Democratic Party of the United States, has been touring the US and advocating for the establishment of a Freedom Dividend. The re-framing of a basic income as a dividend is absolutely critical to its success in the public discourse. A dividend is defined as “A dividend is the distribution of reward from a portion of the company’s earnings and is paid to a class of its shareholders”. I would argue that we are all shareholders in the society’s we live in.

While the ultimate objective of a dividend and a basic income remain the same, the critical difference is the structure of the program. In general, basic income advocates position the program as a new form of wealth redistribution that is simpler, fairer and easier to administer. The huge challenge with making the sales pitch in that way is quite simple. Citizens do not want more social programs. Of course, certain citizens do want more social programs, but it is a small minority of the overall population and they are typically activists on the fringes. The vast majority of the voting population has no interest in more taxes and more programs. A dividend allows you to avoid this massive roadblock to implementation.

Peter Barnes wrote an excellent book on the subject, With Liberty and Dividends for All. He basically argues for a dividend that is funded on “public assets”. This would include items that are, in theory, the property of society and not the property of individuals or corporations. That way, we can avoid the perception and counter-attack by the right that this is yet another tax and spend program. We could apply taxes and levies on environmental permits (which allow pollution into our common air, water, soil,…), taxes on the sale of wireless spectrum, land taxes (not property taxes), levies on natural resource extraction, tourism taxes, etc. These revenues could be put into a fund and invested. Part of the returns of this fund would then be distributed as a basic income (oops!) – a dividend to all members of society.

By implementing a citizen dividend, we would achieve most of the objectives of a basic income, but we would bypass the insurmountable mountain of political barriers to a traditional basic income program. Who could argue with a citizen dividend on public goods? When you are born into a society, you typically receive citizenship and certain fundamental rights. A dividend would become a fundamental right you receive upon membership. You would benefit from the increased wealth of your society and you would be offered the financial freedom to invest in your future, help your family and contribute to the further enrichment of your society. With a citizen dividend, all citizens’ interests would be better aligned and we could start to move forward towards a fairer and freer society.

Published on August 3, 2019

On Unbridled Free Speech

In University I met Gil Troy, a right wing law processor who supported George W. Bush and the Iraq War. His many bad ideas included his respect and preference for complete free speech. I asked him if he believed in “Free speech or in free speech“. The latter being a somewhat controlled version of the US version. He responded that he preferred no limitations on free speech. I think that his belief stemmed from a trust that if you offer free speech, the truth will emerge and the control of free speech was too dangerous to sit within the jurisdiction of a state bureaucracy.

The problem with complete unbridled free speech is that it has been weaponized by online platforms. This year, the famous TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference took the courageous step of inviting a journalist to directly confront the tech platforms and call out their hypocrisy. The talk is a powerful indictment of their crimes.

This powerful talk does not go into detail. It barely mentions the crimes against humanity in Myanmar that were facilitated by Facebook. It does not mention the online abuse and bullying that is occurring on a variety of platforms or the blackmailing of all sorts of people, from ex-girlfriends with “revenge porn” to activists fighting for Palestinian human rights. In short, Carole Cadwalladr outlines how the internet is an amazing technology, but it has been weaponized and our governments have not had the courage to act.

Part of our failure to act stems from our love of freedom of speech. We have a very deeply held believe that the freer the speech, the better our societies will be. This was generally true in the past, where the cost of spreading disinformation and lies was substantial – you had to print pamphlets, newspapers, create radio stations and television stations. The costs did not stop hate from being propagated against all sorts of groups, but the setup costs at least allowed us some measure of control over these groups. We could monitor, tax and potentially levy penalties. Companies such as Fox News allowed the George W. Bush administration to propagate lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths. The other cable networks and many newspapers went along for the ride. Nevertheless, online platforms have something no one has ever had: detailed psychological information on most citizens. That information is being weaponized in new and very powerful ways. In today’s online world, information and its consumption simply moves too fast for us to police in our traditional ways.

H.G. Wells famously said, “Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. ” But, it seems that spreading truth is not enough. We need to actively police and fight disinformation and lies that are leading people towards political movements and parties that have very dangerous undertones. The solution cannot be a lock down of freedom of speech or the creation of firewalls as we see in China. However, we also cannot let the world’s most profitable corporations have free run to make profits on our worst human inclinations.

Published on April 21, 2019

Books are beautiful

A book is a beautiful thing. Dedicating 200 to 600 pages to a subject gives you the time to focus and dive into a concept, idea or world. In our distraction driven world, it is harder and harder for us to take the time to focus on a bigger thought and give ourselves enough time to absorb the context. In contrast to distractions such as Facebook, Twitter or blogs, a good book will leave a much deeper impression on your brain due to the time you must devote to it. As someone once said, there is no book that doesn’t have something to teach you.

Nearly all the online mediums have one sole purpose. They exist to grab your attention and time to then serve you ads, sell your data and make money. The Romans had the gladiators, the Victorians had their opium, and we have our phones. There are few options except disconnection. Turn off all notifications, shutdown the devices and read something long, then think about it.

What makes a book so beautiful is its generosity. A book requires time, but it asks nothing in return. No ads, no interactions, just read me and learn something.

Published on March 23, 2019