It’s never too early to start looking down the road at the 2020 Presidential election, so from time to time stories crop up worth nothing. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been on some kind of “listening tour” in all fifty states this year. Many analysts and commentators have wondered if this tour is the precursor to the possibility of Zuckerberg running for president, perhaps in 2020 or 2024.
Business Insider reports on the latest news of Zuckerberg’s cross-country jaunt in Alaska, where he spent time extolling the state’s fund that pays citizens directly from proceeds of oil drilling:
While in Alaska as part of his 2017 challenge to see every US state, Zuckerberg called universal basic income a “bipartisan idea” worth exploring for the rest of the country.
In Alaska, a state-owned program called the Permanent Fund Dividend pays citizens a percentage of the state’s oil revenue. The fund paid every qualified Alaskan $1,022 in 2016, a reduced amount from the prior year that reflects the state’s growing budget deficit and decreasing revenue from oil.
“This is a novel approach to basic income in a few ways,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post on his Facebook page Tuesday. “First, it’s funded by natural resources rather than raising taxes. Second, it comes from conservative principles of smaller government, rather than progressive principles of a larger safety net. This shows basic income is a bipartisan idea.”
The world’s fifth-richest man also pointed to how Native American reservations in the state paid annual dividends to their landowners as another example of universal basic income working in the US.
Zuckerberg introduced his support for “universal basic income” at a commencement speech this past Spring, at his alma mater of Harvard. As Zuckerberg said back in May:
“We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” Zuckerberg told the crowd. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”
This article from The Week gives some more background on Zuckerberg’s blooming political platform:
“Mark Zuckerberg has said he’s not running for president. And maybe he’s not,” said Alex Kantrowitz at BuzzFeed. But nobody would blame you for thinking that he has aspirations for higher office after hearing the 33-year-old Facebook CEO’s Harvard commencement speech last month. The university’s most famous dropout used the occasion to outline an unmistakable political platform, “preaching a form of compassionate globalism.” Perhaps most radically, Zuckerberg proposed that the U.S. explore a universal basic income, an unconditional stipend distributed to all Americans to provide a cushion against globalization and technological disruption. Dressed in a suit and tie instead of his signature gray T-shirt, the usually wooden Zuckerberg was surprisingly emotive, even choking back tears while describing an undocumented student he once mentored. If candidate Zuckerberg ever happens, he “will almost certainly” look like the man we just saw at Harvard.
“If Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want people to think he’s running for president, he hasn’t been all that convincing,” said Maya Kosoff at Vanity Fair. Last year, he pressed the Facebook board to approve a clause that would allow him to retain control of the company if he ever took a leave of absence to serve in government. He hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, to help run his philanthropy, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. But “perhaps the most obvious sign of his potential ambitions was his decision to challenge himself to meet ordinary Americans in every U.S. state.” Zuckerberg has spent the past few months rubbing shoulders with farmers, factory workers, and NASCAR drivers. He’s planted a community garden in Texas and fed a calf at a family farm in Wisconsin. “It’s hard to imagine that any of that was by accident.”
Billionaires sometimes do some things simply for the reason that, well, basically they can do whatever they want. Zuckerberg could be visiting all fifty states because it keeps him in the news to help his company, or his charitable work, or because he’s laying groundwork for a political run. In the day of President Donald Trump, we’ve noted that many celebrities and business moguls, like Mark Cuban for example, have taken note that nowadays, almost anyone with money and name recognition can run for President and have a decent shot.
Zuckerberg is only 33 years old, so he’s still a couple years shy of the requirement that the president be at least 35 years of age. This would put him more in line with a run in 2024 rather than 2020 I’d imagine. He’d face some steep criticism for his age and inexperience, but again, in the age of Trump, does the experience argument hold merit any longer if a candidate catches fire with voters? Either way, we’re in for some interesting election cycles ahead that might put 2016 to shame in terms of surprises and uncertainty.