Nick Hanauer is a smart guy. As one of the original investors in Amazon, he is a gazillionaire and can do whatever he wants. What he wants is to convince the world that the middle class, not the wealthy, are the true job creators and that the health of a nation depends on the health of its middle class.
Recently, Hanauer did a TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design, though topics are broader) talk on this subject. After telling him the video of his talk would be posted on their web site, TED changed their minds and said the video was too controversial. Hanauer did not take this news quietly and complained of censorship. TED said that Hanauer’s video was too partisan and wasn’t good enough to qualify as one of the few they post on their site. Hanauer said that TED bowed to pressure, and TED said that Hanauer turned their rejection into a censorship controversy to get publicity.
What they did together was get everybody talking about income inequality and economic fundamentals again. Tweets urged people to the video or script with “You know that TED talk you weren’t supposed to see? Here it is.” All the articles about the controversy (including this one) have stoked the media fire. In other words, a Democrat is driving the media machine the way we’ve seen Republicans do.
Hanauer’s presentation is short and easy for anyone to understand. The video , script and slides don’t present any new ideas. The few statistics are easily verified. Hanauer doesn’t suggest radical change as others do. Like Warren Buffet, he is urging the government to tax wealthy people like him more.
Yet TED curator Chris Anderson said that Hanauer’s piece “probably ranks as one of the most politically controversial talks we’ve ever run…” and “even if the talk was rated a home run, we couldn’t release it, because it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We’re in the middle of an election year in the US. Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party. And you even reference that at the start of the talk. ”
The bit at the beginning—the only reference to politics in the whole piece—says that the idea that raising taxes on the rich will cause job creation to go down is “an article of faith for Republicans and seldom challenged by Democrats….” That doesn’t sound like he likes either party’s handling of it.
So what is all this political controversy Anderson fears? I have an idea.
You know that expression, “facts have a liberal bias”?
In reality, they shouldn’t, should they? Facts should be equally available and equally valid regardless of political ideology. Facts should be the basis, the “given” in any political ideology, not points of contention. And yet some are contested, and Hanauer uses or references some of these in his short talk.
First, the whole premise of his talk is that the wealthy are not job creators, the middle class is. Although he provides plenty of evidence to support this claim, only one party agrees with him. Therefore, this is a partisan premise.
After the reference to political parties, he uses science as an analogy, concluding with:
So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it’s a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.
But in this day and age, evolution is no longer a simple fact; it has become a political position. Therefore, this is a partisan statement.
Later, he says:
Significant privileges have come to capitalists like me for being perceived as “job creators” at the center of the economic universe, and the language and metaphors we use to defend the fairness of the current social and economic arrangements is telling. For instance, it is a small step from “job creator” to “The Creator.” We did not accidentally choose this language. It is only honest to admit that calling oneself a “job creator” is both an assertion about how economics works and a claim on status and privileges.
Everybody agrees that people create jobs; they just don’t agree on which people. Therefore, the concept of job creators is not itself partisan, but to argue that the wealthy have coined the term job creator to inappropriately tie the concept to their class status is the same as taking sides on who creates jobs. Next he says:
The extraordinary differential between a 15% tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 35% top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is a privilege that is hard to justify without just a touch of deification.
Perhaps we’re also treading into blasphemy territory—at least some pious capitalists might say so. But probably the most dangerous thing about this presentation from a conservative’s point of view is the fact that it is so very easy to understand.
If the typical American family still got today the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would earn about 25% more and have an astounding $13,000 more a year. Where would the economy be if that were the case?
Conservatives have indeed spent 30+ years framing our discussion of economics in a partisan way. They say that the wealthy are job creators. They say that the wealthy have earned everything they have. They call taxes stealing and say that the economy would function better without them. This is partisan, yet it is not generally considered controversial.
But say that the middle class has the power of job creation, that the wealthy have more than their fair share, that their extra income came from the pockets of the rest of us, and that taxes not only support better quality of life but a stronger economy—well, those facts are “controversial.”
Because after all, facts have a liberal bias.
Update 6:09 PM: Title updated to reflect Nick Hanauer’s broader experience as venture capitalist and clarify his position as original investor at Amazon rather than founder.