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Yang thinks he’s tapped into a new strain of politics. He insists he’s not a fatalist or a nihilist. He figures himself to be an optimist, just one who sees how terrible things are and how much worse they can get, and he believes that the only way to get to the light is to acknowledge the darkness. “When you accept the circumstances that we’re going to be competing against technologies that have a marginal cost of near zero,” Yang told me, “then quickly you have to say, ‘Okay, how are we going to start valuing our time?’ Like, what does a 21st-century economy look like, in a way that actually serves our interests, and not the capital-efficiency machine?”

This is the message coming from a 44-year-old former corporate lawyer from New York who spent years running a nonprofit investment firm. He has zero political experience and doesn’t pretend otherwise. “If you’re a politician, your incentives are to make with the happy talk and then get elected—and then solving the problems is secondary, because you have to raise money to try and get reelected, but no one ever back-checks you,” Yang told me. “The incentives are to say, ‘We can do this; we can do that. We can do the other thing.’ And then, meanwhile, society falls apart.”

Yang says that former Vice President Joe Biden is living in a fantasy of returning America to the way he remembers it. “We have to turn the clock forward,” Yang told me. He believes that no matter what Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont propose, there’s no real way to fight against corporate investment or technological advancement.