The Mentifuge

Ersatz analysis on the cheap

Month: May, 2012

Nick Hanauer, Engine of Employment


Business-people–you know who I’m talking about when I say business-people.

One of the great dividers of humanity is the manner in which they approach far-mode conversation.  Academics at their best take it as an opportunity to explore ideas; hacks take conversation as an opportunity to signal; assholes, to win; and business-people to make a pitch.  Perhaps there are other types of people in this world, or maybe all of these groups are signalling, and hacks are just particularly sloppy at covering their tracks.

Nick Hanauer is a venture capitalist, a capo of the business community–not a Made Man, but one of the Men Who Makes Men Made.  Nick Hanauer is in a lather about the status we afford people like him:

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 remarkable thing about his talk is its pristine awfulness.  It’s not just that Hanauer fails to understand basic concepts of macroeconomics and associated data*; as one of my old bosses noted, economics is hard, and strident pieces about subjects outside ones’ bailiwick are the bread-and-butter of the Internet.  But Hanauer has infused his essay with a certain sublime incoherence.  For example, tease out the reason from this Friedmanesque sentence.  I defy you to find it.

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.

In spite of the quality of the talk, it seems to be getting a lot of play in certain corners of the blagoblog.  Why is anyone bothering to defend this dreck?  Politics, probably.  Hanauer is attempting to lower the status of wealthy people, a perennial (and I think ugly) goal of the political left; more, he’s wealthy and high-status himself, making his writing more notable than if it had been penned by an equally-eloquent, bemohawked dropout.  Finally, the whiff of censorship brought the Streisand Effect down, but good.  I don’t blame the TED folks for not wanting to associate with Hanauer’s writing but they probably would have done better to let it die on  its merits rather than make it the latest cause célèbre for the OWS constituency.

Nick Hanauer won today.  He won by countersignalling hard:  he’s so high-status he doesn’t need to be acknowledged as high-status.  (He probably wears a hoodie to board meetings, the bastard.)  And he won by writing a piece that instantly attracted a constituency with an interest in defending it.

Kids, don’t let yourself be suckered in by the likes of Nick Hanauer.  Before you accept or advance any argument, ask yourself whether you want to just agree with the conclusions.  If you want to believe, you probably shouldn’t.

If the box contains a diamond,
I desire to believe that the box contains a diamond;
If the box does not contain a diamond,
I desire to believe that the box does not contain a diamond;
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

The Litany of Tarski

*I’ll address any questions about Hanauer’s economic claims in the comments.


The Rose Smells Subtly Changed, In Fact

by Alexis Radcliff

What’s in a name? I was reading through some of the blogs that meander steadily into my Google Reader when I came across this interesting post by the newly dubbed Ms. Cliff Pervocracy. In the post she discusses changing her pen name for a variety of reasons, the most interesting of which is that she’ll appear to be male to casual readers and they’re likely to react differently.

If you happen to identify male and you’ve never tried posting as an (obvious) girl on the internet, try it sometime. On most sites, a community will give your views less credence and you have less assumed authority than if your audience perceives you as male, regardless of information. It’s a fascinating social snapshot of human behavior on the internet at work. Or if you consider yourself a lady, try posting with a male or gender-neutral pseudonym for a while. You might be shocked at the results. It’s subtle but pervasive and pretty consistent.

Gender aside, names themselves are hugely important. They affect how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one name is as good as another: they can convey perceptions of class, wealth, nobility, credibility, authority, et cetera, usually in line with existing name trends in populations believed to possess those traits. You say you’ve never seen white privilege in action? Take a look at employment callback rates when the same resume is presented with a white and black name.

I’ve had the opportunity as an adult to completely change my name and pick a new one. I chose a name in line with the traits I wanted to represent to new parties, and with a relatively high status for the year I was born, and I’ve been really happy with it. Since then, I’ve had numerous people compliment me on having an awesome name (which never happened with my original name). It was an interesting experience that I’d actually recommend to people. I was amused by Ms. Pervocracy’s suggestion in her post that people should get to choose their name upon reaching adulthood, or once every ten years reset it. She writes:

In my despotic utopian fantasies, everyone would have to change their name (or consciously and explicitly choose to keep their birth name) upon reaching adulthood.  (Or better yet, every ten years.  This would result in a lot of middle-schoolers named Rocketship Dinosaur McExplosion and that’s awesome.)  It’s such a big and important part of your identity, it seems odd to just go with whatever you were handed.

Especially with what you were handed as a baby, when your parents couldn’t know the sort of person you’d grow up to be.  Certain names fit certain sorts of people, and it’s hard to predict that fit from a newborn.

This strikes me as not a terribly bad idea. Our names really do define us. If you named a Rose a “Urinecone” it probably would not smell sweet when presented to people who knew the new name. It’s empowering to select a name that fits the image we have of ourselves, rather than allowing our name to define us in the minds of others.

I’m also drawn to Cliff’s assertion that we should do more things that make us self-fulfilled and happy, rather than deny ourselves things because they’re “silly” or because we “shouldn’t do them.” If choosing a new name does that, than why not?

As an amusing aside, one of the best (and only) places I’ve seen to find out what people think about your name is Urban Dictionary, although it tends to be overly flattering. But you can see descriptions of names you search and how people vote for or against them, which provides some interesting insight into common perceptions people have about a given name.