Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nick Hanauer: A Reasonable Rich Guy

I was born a Midwestern, middle-class white girl. My parents rarely had trouble finding a job, and the times my dad did get laid off he was able to support our family with unemployment insurance until he got hired for the next job. My dad is a tightwad, so I wasn't spoiled with material possessions growing up, but I always had a full belly, clothes on my back, and shoes on my feet if I bothered to put them on before heading outside to play. I grew up in the suburbs with central air conditioning for when it got too hot outside, a two-car garage for my parents' cars, and zero economic worries for our family.

As a teenager I rebelled against my parents, two accountants who value a fat bank account, life insurance, health insurance, and other safety nets of the bourgeoisie. I read somewhere that money is the root of all evil, and I took it to heart. During several arguments with my dad during my rebellious teen years he called me a pinko commie, which I knew he meant as an insult, but it was a label I wore with pride. Even though the reason I hated money had more to do with Jesus than Karl Marx.

Although I was more of a flower-child myself, hippies were passe in the Eighties. It was a lonesome group of one at my high school. So I hung out with the punks. The artsy-fartsy kids, the drama kids, the gay kids, the misfits. I don't even need to take a "Which Breakfast Club Character/High School Stereotype Are You" Buzzfeed quiz to know I'd get Allison Reynolds.

"Fuck Authority!" was my nonviolent-resistance cry, along with "Fuck the Mainstream," "Fuck the Rich," and "Fuck Capitalism". The only good thing I saw coming out of Reaganomics was the punchline of a joke.

I've simmered down a bit now that I'm a middle-age, married mother, raising our child in a decent-sized ranch house in the suburbs. I see the benefits of a comfortable, safe life. We're not extravagant spenders, though. We're both concerned with over-consumption's effect on the planet. We reduce, we reuse, we recycle. We only have a one-car garage, but we do have central air in our house and few economic worries.

Even during the Great Recession, my husband Will and I have remained employed at well-paying jobs, enabling us to make our mortgage payments on time and keep our house, unlike many of our fellow Americans. We're far from rich, but compared to most of our neighbors we're well off. Our kid doesn't qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program, even though 70% of the kids at her public school do. We have too much income from our jobs and my husband's stocks, which he gets from his employer as part of his benefits package, to qualify for food stamps or housing assistance. We don't have to rely on charities or food pantries or WIC programs to feed ourselves each month.

I'm not trying to brag. I'm trying to show my gratitude for my position in life. I'm no smarter or better educated or less lazy than anyone. I just lucked out and found a job that I love that pays a living wage. Then I married a man who lucked out and found a job that he loves that pays a living wage. We might drive old clunkers and buy our clothes at the thrift store, but that has more to do with our interest in the whole reduce, reuse, recycle philosophy of living. People think because I believe all people deserve to eat, sleep, and live in relative comfort that I'm a pinko commie, but my way of living is quite conservative as in conservation.

When people ask about my political ideology, I jokingly call myself a pinko commie, or, at the very least, a bleeding-heart liberal underdog lover. I'm a registered democrat, but most of the people I end up voting for are far too-right wing for my taste, even though they're the most progressive of the limited choices. My favorite politicians are Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, too of the most socialist-leaning senators around.

But honestly, I'm not anti-capitalism. I'm just anti-capitalism-gone-wild. I believe in laws and regulations that help the middle class. That's why I love this argument for increasing the minimum wage. The crazy thing? It's written by a bazillionaire, Nick Hanauer. Damn, the teenage rebel in me is shaking her head. What's happened to me, that I've begun to agree with The Man?

Well, reason. And pragmatism. And an appreciation for a well-written argument.

Like all things, moderation is the key. If I can learn to listen to a rich capitalist, I think maybe some of my libertarian friends could learn to listen to someone espousing the benefits of government lighting fires under business owner's butts to pay their workers a living wage. How? Here are some examples:

"Republicans and Democrats in Congress can’t shrink government with wishful thinking. 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. If the consumer middle class is back, buying and shopping, then it stands to reason you won’t need as large a welfare state. And at the same time, revenues from payroll and sales taxes would rise, reducing the deficit. This is, in other words, an economic approach that can unite left and right."

"Most major social movements have seen their earliest victories at the state and municipal levels. The fight over the eight-hour workday, which ended in Washington, D.C., in 1938, began in places like Illinois and Massachusetts in the late 1800s. The movement for social security began in California in the 1930s. Even the Affordable Health Care Act—Obamacare—would have been hard to imagine without Mitt Romney’s model in Massachusetts to lead the way."

"Sadly, no Republicans and few Democrats get this. President Obama doesn’t seem to either, though his heart is in the right place. In his State of the Union speech this year, he mentioned the need for a higher minimum wage but failed to make the case that less inequality and a renewed middle class would promote faster economic growth. Instead, the arguments we hear from most Democrats are the same old social-justice claims. The only reason to help workers is because we feel sorry for them. These fairness arguments feed right into every stereotype of Obama and the Democrats as bleeding hearts. Republicans say growth. Democrats say fairness—and lose every time."

"Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t. Balancing the power of workers and billionaires by raising the minimum wage isn’t bad for capitalism. It’s an indispensable tool smart capitalists use to make capitalism stable and sustainable. And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us."

"The oldest and most important conflict in human societies is the battle over the concentration of wealth and power. The folks like us at the top have always told those at the bottom that our respective positions are righteous and good for all. Historically, we called that divine right. Today we have trickle-down economics."

Wow, just wow. Read Nick Hanauer's full article here. Then get back to work, you lazy hippie. I hope they're paying you a living wage.