An Idea Worth Spreading (Despite What Uncle TED Might Say)


31/01/2014 by Don Quijones

TED Talks, the global conference organiser whose ubiquitous talks have been seen by over a billion people worldwide prides itself on being a platform for “ideas worth spreading”. However, in light of the organisation’s recent attempts to censor certain talks, some ideas, it seems, are more worth spreading than others.

One talk that didn’t quite make the cut was a five-minute speech by Nick Hanauer in March 2012 (see video below). The focus of the talk was the inequities, injustice and simple bad economics of the current tax system in the U.S (and for that matter, most of the rest of the world). According to Hanauer, an American venture capitalist worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the claim that the rich are job creators and therefore should not be taxed is demonstrably false:

I have started or helped start dozens of companies and initially hired lots of people. But if there was no one around who could afford to buy what we have to sell, all those companies 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. Jobs are a consequence of 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.

Whether you agree or not with Hanauer’s argument, there can be no doubting that the issue he raised in his TED Talk is one worthy of serious, open discussion. However, TED’s curator Chris Anderson decided that the talk did not warrant inclusion on TED’s website. As such, the discussion would be constrained to the confines of the conference hall (until, that is, someone decided to repost it on YouTube).

The two reasons Anderson gave for blocking the content was that it was “mediocre” and “too partisan” — a curious claim given that: a) the talk was given a standing ovation by the audience and since being reposted on YouTube has attracted millions of viewers; and b) apart from a 10-second sentence at the beginning of the talk on how trickle-down economics is “an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by Democrats” (hardly a controversial claim), Hanauer’s talk was predominantly focused on the economic and social consequences of taxing (or rather, not taxing) the rich, with barely a mention of its political implications.

What’s more, TED has hardly shied away from offering a platform for some extremely divisive, partisan topics and figures in the past — figures that include Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who put forth an explanation of the psychological differences between Republicans and Democrats.

So, if the official reasons TED has stumped up for not featuring the talk are difficult to believe, what other motive could they have?

Money, Money, Money

Perhaps it has something to do with their financial interests. As Scott Nesler, a TED member, remarked on a comment board, “a media group has the right to ban the visibility of a thought if the thought is contrary to the purpose of the media. TED has a financial purpose. What individuals have to say in this media can conflict with TED’s purpose and potential for financial gain.”

And this, I believe, is the crux of the issue. After all, it’s one thing for a sociologist or political activist to bemoan the injustice of tax laws that allow the world’s richest individuals and corporations to pay next to nothing on their vast incomes, revenues and wealth, while at the same time soaking cash-strapped middle classes; it’s quite another when the speaker is himself a member of the so-called “one percent”.

You see, criticism of the super rich from outside their bubble is perfectly okay since it can be quickly dispelled on grounds of envy. Conversely, self-criticism from within the ranks of the super rich is tantamount to heresy and represents a much greater threat to the feebily constructed tenets of trickle-down economics.

The Rise of Class Euthanasia 

It’s for this reason that Hanauer’s speech is so important: it hits directly at the core of an inherently flawed belief system that continues to go largely unchallenged in the mainstream, despite having wreaked untold damage across the globe.

We now live in a world where vast sums of new money are conjured into existence on a daily basis by central bank alchemists, and almost all of it ends up in the bottomless pockets of the richest 0.1 percent. Then, when the taxman’s not looking, that money is quickly funneled into tax havens and real assets such as land, housing and commodities, thus driving up the prices of essential resources for everyone else.

The result has been unprecedented levels of inequality. As the U.S. blogger Wolf Richter wrote in a post featured on this site, a new study by Oxfam International shows that the 85 unnamed richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people combined.

If anything, this situation is likely to deteriorate further as the unholy alliance between our national governments, supranational organizations (read: IMF, EU, ECB and EC), TBTF banks and their agents in the central banks continue to execute policies geared at tearing to pieces what little remains of the West’s middle classes.

Not only is this new (a)moral crusade socially devastating, but it actually makes zero economics sense, for the simple reason that it’s today’s middle classes that keep the slow-beating heart of the consumer economy going. As the old adage goes, as goes the middle classes, so goes the economy — a point that was not lost on the late, great George Carlin:

The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there… just to scare the shit out of the middle class, keep ‘em showing up at those jobs.

To keep people showing up at those all-important jobs, even as their standards of living continue their precipitous decline, the lies and propaganda must be turned up full blast. It’s bad enough that we have to swallow, day in, day out, the status-quo reinforcing bullshit peddled as “economic science” by the mainstream financial media. But when an institution that prides itself on sharing ideas that matter puts the interests of its financial backers before the foundational principles of free academic debate, you know things are truly messed up.


2 thoughts on “An Idea Worth Spreading (Despite What Uncle TED Might Say)

  1. Warren Cross says:

    I thought Nick Hanauer”s talk made a lot of sense . It is well documented that the middle class in the US, has been “hollowed out ” in the last 10 years.

    • Don Quijones says:

      Thanks for the comment, Warren. I agree entirely with what you say: there needs to be a much broader, deeper discussion about how the tax system works, both within and far beyond U.S, borders. For many years now we have had the most regressive form of taxation imaginable, and one of the results (no doubt intended) has been the hollowing out of the middle classes — especially those in the mid to lower range.

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