Daring to Speak the Truth About Job Creation Gets Venture Capitalist Shunned


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.

7 Replies to “Daring to Speak the Truth About Job Creation Gets Venture Capitalist Shunned”

  1. What was was so controversial? Warren Buffet and Robert Reich have been saying the same thing…..Ummm Hello, wake up America.

  2. A gazillionaire who doesn’t share his gazillions with those who are in need is EVIL. A billionaire who shares millions with others is a true friend indeed.

  3. we have let them get away with it too. We have let them get away with taking more and more of a share of the value of our money.

    it’s okay if they didn’t show his video, let him show it and let it be seen wherever he can show it. If John Boehner isn’t noticing the riots and protests against the same practices he’s trying to institute here around the world that he’s just as dumb as I thought he was. We need grown-ups in the Congress

  4. This is old left thinking, that we should give directly to those in need. In another time and place, that could be enough, but Hanauer is leveraging his fortune to drive systemic change,

    1) so that ALL rich people participate
    2) to reinforce the moral and economic philosophy behind it.

    This is how conservatives have changed the world in a few decades: they leveraged their money to create systemic change with moral and economic underpinnings. It’s very effective, and I’m glad someone on our side gets it.

  5. The whole “liberal media” meme is drummed into the public and they are allowed to get away with it in spades because the media is mostly owned by rich conservatives. We need to fix that.
    Here are some stories that have been totally buried by the MSM, at least the television MSM:
    Gov. Christie and the Tunnel Project
    Published: April 12, 2012
    Scott Walker Describes ‘Divide and Conquer’ Strategy against Public Unions in New Documentary. No coverage on ABC, CBS, or NBC on Friday when the story broke, and none on Saturday either, in fact I have yet to see a single mention of it. What’s wrong with this picture, everything!
    There is a new book out titled “It’s even worse than it looks” that has received almost no press coverage.
    ….Mann and Ornstein rightly blame the news media for doing a mediocre job covering the most important political story of the last three decades: the transformation of the Republican Party. They are critical of the conventions of mainstream journalism that lead to the evenhandedness they have now abandoned themselves. They see a “reflexive tendency of many in the mainstream press to use false equivalence to explain outcome, “when Republican obstructionism and Republican rejection of science and basic facts have no Democratic equivalents. It’s much easier to write stories “that convey an impression that the two sides are equally implicated.”

    The Only Beltway White Guy Pundits Too Hot for the Sunday Shows?
    That was then, this is now, I doubt he would give the same answer today.
    We need to have someone show the courage that Tamron Hall displayed in this interview:
    You need to watch the whole interview to see the context of the exchange.
    You can see it here:
    Fox cuts off the Dems all of the time and nobody blinks an eye. But let a progressive host call out a GOP lackey (with class and grace, correctly) for spewing talking points and refuse to answer the question and it’s an OMG moment?
    Well I hope she fixed that problem for good!

  6. That is why we are here.
    All one needs to do is look up the owners of our media and to whom they donate. It is not the blatant “Fox News” style media that endangers our society but the subtle non-reporting of our main stream media.

    The FCC rules were changed and now we have government contractors and energy stock holders running 90% of our media.

  7. Mr Hanauer, Thank you;

    TED Talks has had a long standing policy of not allowing partisan politics and conversations that have a central political theme.

    Mr Hanauer should have seen this coming and adjusted his message for this audience.

    Many TED Talks certainly point to political party politics and concepts that are left and right in our political arena. At TED, you assume that the audience can draw their own conclusions.

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