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Nick Hanauer and the Pitchforks

Nick Hanauer, an exceedingly wealthy Seattle entrepreneur, venture capitalist and self-described member of the top one-tenth of one percent club wrote an extraordinary article in Politico the other day.

The thrust of it is pretty straightforward and reflects the economic perspective that most progressives and leading economists like Nobelists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have argued for — increase the minimum wage, tax the wealthy at a higher rate, tax inherited wealth, empower unions and reduce CEO salaries.

The article is chock-a-block with great lines and insights that might illuminate the minds of conservatives willing to listen; among them: inequality kills, trickle-down economics was and is a sham, the top one-percenters are not the job-creators, boosting the minimum wage does not bankrupt companies, union membership does not damage companies, unfettered capitalism cannot work and, importantly, if we don’t grasp these truths damn soon we’re going to find ourselves in a revolution and it will not be pretty. The article, interestingly, is titled “The Pitchforks are Coming … For Us Plutocrats.”

Hanauer also has grasped the deep message in Malcolm Gladwell’s remarkable book “Outliers” which can be compressed into one sentence: Most top performers are good but good ain’t enough… you also gotta get lucky.

Hanauer readily acknowledges that he got ridiculously lucky. Through a series of flukes he met Jeff Bezos and was one of the very first to buy into Amazon when it was just a glimmer in Bezos’ eye. No flukes, no Bezos, no gob-smacking bankroll. As Hanauer notes, if he and Bezos and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and ____  and ____ (you fill in the blanks) weren’t born where they were, when they were but, say, in Uganda or Somalia, they, with all their talents and drive, would be scraping out a living selling fruit out of a roadside stand.

But Hanauer’s statements should not be taken as socialist coddling or nanny-state pampering. He’s a capitalist and makes no bones about it. Capitalism works. But it must be regulated and its excesses restrained or it kills itself. I am fully behind him here — though there are nuanced elements that he doesn’t touch on in this piece where our opinions might diverge.

The article, and Hanauer’s other writings, talks and presentations are getting a good bit of attention. Some of it, predictably, is from the right like the Wall Street Journal who sees him as some kind of crazy (kind of like the way they feel about another renegade billionaire, Warren Buffett). Some of it is just shrill nonsense belched by morons who’ve bought into Laffable curves and other economic bullpoppy. Of course, much of the attention has come from the progressive, liberal lefties who are shipping Hanauer-url’s around the Internet with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for YouTubes of cute kittens.

But no one on either side of the political spectrum, so far as I’ve seen, has touched on the key political message in the Politico piece. It’s here:

“… the arguments we hear from most Democrats are the same old social-justice claims. The only reason to help workers is because we feel sorry for them. These fairness arguments feed right into every stereotype of Obama and the Democrats as bleeding hearts. Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness—and lose every time.”

He’s spot on. You don’t raise the minimum wage because it’s the honorable thing to do. You raise it because it works. It increases the quality of life of the workers. They have more money. They spend it. The manufacturers who make the things they buy do better. They hire more people — who are paid a decent wage…. and so it continues. You don’t extend unemployment benefits because you’re a bleeding heart liberal. You do it because you know that every dollar received by an out-of-work laborer produces between $1.10 and $1.20 in the GDP. You pay your employees well because, as Henry Ford realized, when you do they can afford to buy Fords!

Oddly, this kind of thinking used to be what the Republican Party was all about, back when it was the Grand Old Party. But not now. Not anymore. Not since Reagan bought into those Laffable curves and was beguiled by “trickle down” economics.  

The Democrats and my fellow progressives need to listen here … closely. People do not want to be coddled. They do not want to be supported by the state or their family. They don’t want to be on welfare. They want jobs. They want to work, contribute to society, their families, their communities. They want to come home tired, dirty stinking from honest sweat or creaky from sitting at a desk or weary from tracking down clients or proud they spent eight hours behind a counter and never snapped at a rude customer. They want decent wages for this. They want the fucking American Dream that’s been stolen away. They want to be part of the middle class that’s been shredded, diminished, bled dry. They want a reasonable shot at the life that used to be on the horizon here but has been pushed away, into the vast wasteland that the right wingers are turning this country into.

Thanks for the message Nick. I just hope my friends here on the left can hear it — even if it comes from a capitalist.

Reader Comments (2)

>> You don’t raise the minimum wage because it’s the honorable thing to do. You raise it because it works.

This kind of disregard of "honor" or morality or kindness or any kind of human values really bugs me. People all over there world developed religion to help people understand the hows and whys of doing the right thing. Then, over time we figured out how if you understand how any system works and you have the right access you can undermine it and corrupt it.

Somehow, doing the right thing for the right thing's sake has become so laughable that we see constructs like that pay homage to that ... don't do the right thing because it's right do it because you will satiate your lust for greed, power and wealth better - which first of all is a weak argument because the 1% really does not need more and will not get more, they know, and you know and I know they are preying on society because they get more. Essentially this is an incorrect, but also irrelevant statement.

The argument here is that for most people letting the 1% prey on them is a losing proposition ... this is not an argument for the 1% to do the right thing, they will not, and if they are driven by their lusts they will not anyway.

It's possible that in the US the 1%'s greatest tool is their ability to get a sufficient number of the right people under them to buy into their world view to sustain the system as it is and indeed make it worse, so harking back to always follow your own self-interest is just the wrong thing to say the way I read it.

July 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBP Kline

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, BP. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to it. Hope you find this.

Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been. I wasn't saying that Progressives should disregard arguments that various social and economic policies weren't "honorable." I was saying that emphasizing this in the public domain isn't a particularly savvy political move. Focus on the economic gains and you'll pull in more moderates who are wary of appeals to socialist principles. Pure pragmatism.

July 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArthur

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