As the country grapples with income inequality, a lack of affordable housing, and a potential labor crisis brought on by technological advancements like artificial intelligence and automation, Y Combinator president Sam Altman is launching a new initiative to try and create political solutions in his home state and potentially the nation.
For the past year or more, Altman has been dabbling in this realm with political experiments on the local and national level.
The president of the wildly successful accelerator — which has backed startups like Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe — has launched a basic minimum income initiative in Oakland, traveled across the country to take its political pulse, and toyed with the idea of running for Governor in California. Those efforts have culminated in Altman’s United Slate for California and, potentially, America.
The new initiative, which Altman launched today, is a combination of a political platform and a call for candidates that the 32-year-old tech millionaire can support in their bids for governor, lieutenant governor, and Congress.
Altman tells me he chose that potential slate because those races had a long enough lead-time for his participation to make a difference. Beyond the electoral focus, Altman also had a rationale for his initial concentration on the state of California.
In an era where the Federal government is relegating more responsibilities to the states, California, as the world’s sixth largest economy and the most populous state in the country, can have an outsized role on impacting the national political landscape, Altman says.
At the same time, the call for congressional candidates places Altman’s political vision in the national conversation for things that require federal support, like universal medicare and improved access to education.
For Altman, both parties have become calcified in a mindset that pits economic growth against economic fairness, and he hopes to unify those two competing principles. Beyond that, there are certain areas, such as support for science and technology, where Altman feels like the Democratic Party can do more.
Looking past the call for candidates, Altman is also hoping to introduce a ballot initiative to tackle the state’s housing crisis.
In a statement on the new United Slate website, Altman lays out the problems the country faces:
Today, we have massive wealth inequality, little economic growth, a system that works for people born lucky, and a cost of living that is spiraling out of control. Most young people think their lives will be worse than their parents’ lives, which should set off alarm bells for us all.
Most people’s lives are not what they pictured—they feel like they have great potential that is being wasted.
We are in the middle of a massive technological shift—the automation revolution will be as big as the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution. We need to figure out a new social contract, and to ensure that everyone benefits from the coming changes.
We need to get back to a functioning government. If the process can work again, we have a chance to solve our biggest problems.
Interestingly, Altman’s slate of potential policy goals wouldn’t look out of place on a Bernie Sanders political platform.
Specifically, Altman lays out ten broad policy objectives including:
- Lowering the cost of living, especially housing
- Moving to universal Medicare coverage by gradually reducing the age of eligibility
- Setting a target of 90% clean energy in the country by 2050
- Reforming education to improve access
- Reforming the tax system
- Shifting 10% of the defense budget to research and development of future technologies
- Reforming trade and employment regulations
- Expanding the social safety net through universal basic income
- Improving our representational government
- Promoting world-class infrastructure development in the U.S.
While Altman had previously considered running for governor, he now thinks that creating a broad-based coalition supporting his agenda is perhaps a better way to approach instituting policies he believes the state will need to continue being successful on the global stage.
“I think there are a number of good group doing this in other states. I want to focus on one particular election cycle in one particular state,” Altman tells me. “I want to do really well on one specific ballot in one specific year and I want to tie that to one specific ballot initiative.”
Altman also sees this as the first step along a much longer political road to reshape American politics along lines that can see the country succeed in the long term. He writes:
I was one of the last children of the American Century. I’m not quite ready to let it go. If we don’t take action now, the US will be surpassed as the world superpower. I’d like to get back to the values that made our country the envy of the world. I still believe in American exceptionalism, and even with Trump in the White House, my proudest identity of all is being American.