Tuesday, September 12, 2017

276. Time to band together

Nick Hanauer is a billionaire who exemplifies the American dream.

He worked hard, started businesses, made wise investments. Yet, despite his personal success, he has expressed his concern about the growing inequalities in our country. He is brash and controversial, but asserts his beliefs and opinions without apology.

In 2014, Hanauer wrote “The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats,” for Politico and then recently reiterated his concerns in “To My Fellow Plutocrats: You Can Cure Trumpism.”

The use of “pitchforks” provides the imagery:

“But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”

Our economy is so large, it is easy to get lost in it. There is economic theory and political interest, for example. There are exaggerations, simplifications, red herrings, and lies. It is easy to laud the successful and demonize the unsuccessful. It is easy to blame the government, lobbyists, and legislatures.

However, “us against them,” that is the 99 percent versus the one percent, is rarely united. There was Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, but the opponents differed.

Imagine that you were one of 300 people on a wealthy island. On this island, there was plenty of money and luxuries for everyone, but 20 percent of it is controlled by just three individuals. Of the $1 million in assets available, three people owned $200,000 of it. Of course, in truth, they control the other people through the essentials, like housing, labor, and food. The bottom 150 would be forced to share $80,000.

So while the island had enough for everyone to have $3,333 each, half the people would only have $533. The “middle class” would get $1,866, while the three on the top each get $66,666 each.

Why would the 150 people living on $533 not simply band together and take out the three individuals on the top and share the $200,000?

This is what Hanauer is referencing. Eventually the people on the bottom will get tired of fighting each other for scraps and seek a more equitable society. He wrote:

“And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.”

The stakes are rising.

People keep fighting for the $15 minimum wage (which Hanauer is an advocate for), overtime rules were recently overturned, and President Donald Trump and the Republicans want to reform taxes. In response, Hanauer started a Change.org petition against the tax cuts for the wealthy: “I believe that not one penny in tax cuts should go to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations. Everyone knows that the biggest lie in economics is that tax cuts for the rich create growth and jobs. When Republicans talk about tax reform, they’re really talking about trickle down nonsense.”

I have been warning about the growing inequalities for years. But when I say it, I am a socialist. When poor people say it, they are told to work harder. Maybe people will listen when a rich person says it.

The economy thrives when people earn sustainable wages. Hanauer agrees, “In plain English, the real economy is you: Raise wages, and one increases demand. Increase demand and one increases jobs, wages, and innovation. The real economy is simply the interplay between consumers and businesses.”

The 99 percent needs to unite and say enough is enough. There is a difference between success and greed, and the top one percent has been very greedy for a long time. Put aside your partisan politics and join forces with your family, neighbors, and co-workers to demand a life better for all of us. The wealthy need to pay more taxes — much more in taxes. Corporations need to pay a sustainable minimum wage, pay overtime, stop catering to their wealthy shareholders, and stop hiding money overseas.

Hanauer was recently on the wonderful program, “1A” with Joshua Johnson, to talk about his viewpoints. He said, “I assume that there are a third of the people in this country my message can never reach, there are third of the people who are too dumb to understand, or who are so tribalized.”

When Johnson pointed out that people might not like being called dumb, Hanauer responded, “Luckily, I am not running for anything, so it doesn’t matter. I think we can create a consensus with the more rational two-thirds of the country.”