TED describes itself as “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.” In case that was unclear, their statement of purpose is just four lean words: “Our mission: Spreading ideas.” But as Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has learned, that mission comes with an unwritten caveat: “Unless the ideas might offend one party or the other.”
In November, Hanauer wrote a column for Bloomberg View taking direct aim at the conventional wisdom on taxation and job creation.
“I’m a very rich person,” he wrote. “As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Amazon.com Inc.”
“Even so, I’ve never been a ‘job creator.’ I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.”
“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 the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.”
And for that reason, Hanauer said, taxes on the rich would create jobs. “It is mathematically impossible to invest enough in our economy and our country to sustain the middle class (our customers) without taxing the top 1 percent at reasonable levels again. Shifting the burden from the 99 percent to the 1 percent is the surest and best way to get our consumer-based economy rolling again.”
In March, Hanauer was asked to give a TED talk on the subject. The talk went well. “I want to put this talk out into the world!” one excited TED official told Hanauer.
But as the National Journal’s Jim Tankersley reports, Hanauer’s talk never quite made it out into the world. In an e-mail to Hanauer, Chris Anderson, director of TED, wrote that he wouldn’t post the talk because “it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We’re in the middle of an election year in the US. Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party.”
The speech itself mostly rehashes Hanauers op-ed. The conclusion, though, is tailored directly to the TED mission — or, at least, what Hanauer thought was the TED mission.
“So here’s an idea worth spreading,” says Hanauer. “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.”
Whether the idea is “worth spreading” or not is up to you to judge. But TED won’t be spreading it. Because as we know, the history of ideas worth spreading is that they never offend society’s entrenched interests.
Update: TED has released Hanauer’s talk. You can view it here.