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.