Nick Hanauer: The Anti-Koch Brothers

Poor Man's Plutocrat
Nick Hanauer: The Complexity of Self-Interest

Conceptions of self-interest run the gamut from total self-absorption to assisting the vulnerable as a means of achieving extra-mortal goodies. The Koch brothers in all probability see their efforts to preserve inequality  as somewhere between those 2 extremes. Certainly their efforts to redirect our politics benefit them financially as in FINANCIALLY. Yet, I assume they frame their behavior as the best avenue for achieving their vision of a better America. Their behavior is, I think, easy to understand.

But take a look at Molly Ball’s recent article in The Atlantic, “The Poor Man’s Plutocrat”, a portrait of a most remarkable billionaire–Nick Hanauer. His views are probably to the left of those of Bernie Sanders, and they are more creative than any analysis Senator Sanders either possesses or feels he can make public. Is this super rich fellow free of self-interest in any form?

Not at all. One of the reasons I wanted to urge you to become familiar with him is because he forces us to recognize the robust complexity of human behavior. He lives a life of luxury, and at the same time puts his energies and huge sums of money into assisting the middle class, constructing innovative responses to climate change, enacting the $15 minimum wage, higher taxes on the affluent, and stricter gun control.

But I am especially impressed by 2 other things:

  1. His recognition that much of his immense wealth is a matter of luck—a psychologically challenging viewpoint for those who experience successes in whatever form. The temptation to say “I worked so hard, and I am so insightful.” is enormously tempting.
  2. He holds a most unpopular viewpoint that I believe is more accurate and significant than those supposedly well-trained in such matters will acknowledge: Rich people do not create jobs; consumers do. I am not bothered at all by the hyperbole in that claim of Hanauer’s because the constant refrain of the wealthy and their acolytes is that the community must lower taxes on the wealthy, especially those with their own businesses so that they can then generate jobs.  That claim has at least 2 substantial flaws: a. The most an employer can do is create a desire for a worker. However without the public investment in creating workers who can fulfill the desires of the employer, there is no employment, just an unfilled job. So, maybe government creates jobs?? b. The job creation argument associated with lower taxes assumes that the output from the jobs (if they are created at all)  will be purchased. Starve the consumers by squelching their collective efforts to achieve rising incomes, and we will see the Nick Hanauer’s logic: Consumers create jobs. Why not pour public largess in the direction of prospective consumers?

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