tldr: The Pitchforks Are Coming…

This article by Nick Hanauer is pretty cool. Presented as a letter to fellow zillionaires, he talks about wealth and politics and inequality, and he warns that the current situation is unsustainable. He expects that if current trends continue we’re heading for a French style revolution. And he suggests that using the minimum wage as Seattle has, to empower workers and consumers, is the best way to fix the problem. It’s a good read.

It’s also pretty long, so I wanted to highlight a few pieces that caught my eye:

We’ve had 75 years of complaints from big business—when the minimum wage was instituted, when women had to be paid equitable amounts, when child labor laws were created. Every time the capitalists said exactly the same thing in the same way: We’re all going to go bankrupt. I’ll have to close. I’ll have to lay everyone off. It hasn’t happened.

This one struck me for it’s clear (intentional?) similarity to Atlas Shrugged. There are countless examples of the wealthy threatening to “go Galt.” There are few, if any, examples of it actually happening. It’s a fantasy.

The most insidious thing about trickle-down economics isn’t believing that if the rich get richer, it’s good for the economy. It’s believing that if the poor get richer, it’s bad for the economy.

I don’t think I’d ever noticed before that this was an implication of trickle down economics. There’s an implicit claim that when the non-rich succeed (as a class, not as individuals) it is harmful to the economy. Likely most proponents of trickle down economics would object, would say that they don’t mean that. They’re right that they’d never say they want a large class of working poor, but it is an expected, maybe even necessary, element of the economic system they champion.

In order for us to have an economy that works for everyone, we should compel all retailers to pay living wages—not just ask politely.

That the minimum wage exists at all is testament to it’s necessity. Asking isn’t enough, if it were we wouldn’t need a law in the first place. We should spend a lot more time and effort figuring out what the optimal level for it is, and we should be careful not to listen to those who don’t think it should exist in the first place.

The only way to slash government for real is to go back to basic economic principles: You have to reduce the demand for government. If people are getting $15 an hour or more, they don’t need food stamps. They don’t need rent assistance. They don’t need you and me to pay for their medical care.

This is a fantastic way to present this idea. I’m not sure it’s completely new, but I’ve never seen it presented quite this way, and it’s very insightful. And hopefully putting it in those terms will help conservatives to better understand it. Welfare exists, and will exist, as long as there are no alternatives. People will be much less defensive of welfare programs if they actually can get a job that supports their family.

I look at the average Joe on the street, and I say, “There but for the grace of Jeff go I.”

(Jeff, as in Bezos, founder of Amazon) This is one of the big tipping points for me, about capitalism and fairness and taxes and the entire idea of laissez-faire economics. Nick isn’t a billionaire because he worked hard. He did work hard. But he also worked less hard than a lot of people who aren’t rich. And he isn’t a billionaire because of his hard work: he’s a billionaire because of Jeff Bezos.


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