Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Too Hot for TED" Speech: The Benefits of Taxing the Rich

UPDATE: As it turns out, this story is a hoax fabricated for PR reasons. THIS will take you directly to the Statement from TED-Curator Chris Anderson regarding this story, which pretty much dismantles all accusations of censorship and sets the record straight.
THIS link will take you to my apology for failing to some basic fact-checking before I posted this. I stand corrected, and such a blunder shall not happen again.

If you haven't heard of TED, here's a short breakdown: The three letters stand for "Technology, Entertainment, Design", and name what started out as an annual conference in Palm Springs, dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading". They invite speakers from all kinds of fields, scientists, artists, philantropists - and give them twenty minutes to explain their most profound insights, epiphanies, and world-changing ideas. Each conference is uploaded, one talk per day, onto their homepage - free for the world to see.
All talks except one, that is. Most recently, Nick Hanauer gave a talk about income equality - and though TED is no stranger to highly controversial political ideas and uncomfortable truths, they deemed this particular talk "too controversial" to be released to the public. It is a strange move for them to make, especially since these are people who have so far understood how the internet works. And now they censor a talk, presumably knowing fully well that it will pop up all over the internet, on pages like the one you're reading now. I can think for two explanations for that, but before that, here's what you most likely came here for: The full text of the idea that was too hot even for TED.

It is astounding how significantly one idea can shape a society and
its policies. Consider this one.

If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged
by democrats and has shaped much of today's economic landscape.

But sometimes the ideas that we know to be true are dead wrong. For
thousands of years people were sure that earth was at the center of
the universe. It's not, and an astronomer who still believed that it
was, would do some lousy astronomy.

In the same way, a policy maker who believed that the rich and
businesses are "job creators" and therefore should not be taxed, would
make equally bad policy.

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially
hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we
had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs
would have evaporated.

That's why I can say with confidence that rich people don't create
jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more
employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers
and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous
cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary
middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist
like me.

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.

Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a
capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when
increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling
ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.

That's why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a
tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates
benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens
is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than
tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy
would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in
jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be
enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual
earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times
greater than those of the median American, but we don't buy hundreds
or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not
3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like
most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends
and family only occasionally.

I can't buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions
of unemployed and underemployed Americans can't buy any new clothes or
cars or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing
consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely
squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or
declining wages.
Here's an incredible fact. 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?

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 the a claim on status and privileges.

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

We've had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like
me don't create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic
feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they
thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That's why taxing
the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for
both the middle class and the rich.

So here's an idea worth spreading.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the
middle class. And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the
middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle
class, the poor and the rich.

Thank You.

What Nick Hanauer proposes here is essentially Socialism: Taking from those who have more than they need, in order to benefit society as a whole. Nothing shockingly new there. So why on earth did TED deceide not to publish this? What are they afraid of? As I said, I can think of two possible explainations:
a) They fear the reaction of their sponsors. TED has become very popular, and sponsoring TED has become a way for Companies to be perceived as future-oriented, innovative and even gain a connotation as being interested in the good of humankind.
So one possibility is that some very huge sponsors are throwing a tantrum and threatening to withdraw their support, and the TED organizers are caving in to that threat.
b) The other possibility is that this is a briliant PR move to get the idea out. As I said, so far these people have left the impression that they understood the internet. a bunch of tech-nerds working towards Utopia. They must have known that keeping this speech from their homepage, singling it out from all the highly controversial content as the one idea that is too controversial must generate a huge interest, and that the talk would spread through the entire web within the blink of an eye, reaching even people who have never heard of TED nor ever considered Socialism.

I cannot tell you how much I hope that the latter is the case.