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One percenter businessman warns: 'The pitchforks are coming . . . for us plutocrats'

Hanauer: “Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution.”
By JC Sevcik   |   June 27, 2014 at 6:45 PM   |   Comments

SEATTLE, June 27 (UPI) -- A one percenter from Seattle named Nick Hanauer published a piece in Politico Friday warning his "fellow zillionaires" that a revolution à la France 1789 is coming to the United States if America's wealthiest don't take drastic steps to reduce inequality.

Hanauer, who started out in business selling pillows -- and had the good fortune and foresight to get in on buddy Jeff Bezo's small startup called Amazon back when the Internet was a baby -- is now a billionaire who owns several homes, cars, and a yacht and earns "earn about 1,000 times the median American annually."

"I'm not the smartest guy you've ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I'm not technical at all -- I can't write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship," says Hanauer.

"And what do I see in our future now?" he asks. "I see pitchforks."

Hanauer highlights how bad the situation has gotten in recent years, noting that "the divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent."

Hanauer's article compares the incredible inequality in America to pre-revolution France and argues that throughout history, this sort of wealth divide has only ever ended poorly for those on top.

"The problem isn't that we have inequality," Hanauer writes. "Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day."

"Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society," he warns. "Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution."

"And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won't last," he portends.

Hanauer's prescient article goes on to argue that if America's economic elite don't act to balance out inequality and fast, the people will revolt.

"No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn't eventually come out," Hanauer cautions his fellow rich. "You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It's not if, it's when."

Hanauer says the the revolution will happen so fast the super-rich won't even have a chance to jump on their jets or hide out on their yachts.

So how can the one percent prevent the ninety-nine from staging an economic coup?

Hanauer harkens back to FDR's New Deal and Henry Ford's bold move of paying his factory workers more, knowing they would put the money right back in his pocket by buying one of his model T's. In short, Hanauer argues that raising the minimum wage and giving the middle class more purchasing power is absolutely the only way to self-correct the economy's nosedive.

"The fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers," Hanauer says.

Hanauer, who puts his money where his mouth is, has been at the forefront of the minimum wage movement, giving banned Ted Talks on the subject and publishing controversial articles that argue "a thriving middle class is the source of American prosperity, not a consequence of it," like this piece in Bloomberg.

"The two cities in the nation with the highest rate of job growth by small businesses are San Francisco and Seattle. Guess which cities have the highest minimum wage? San Francisco and Seattle. The fastest-growing big city in America? Seattle," Hanauer says.

"Fifteen dollars isn't a risky untried policy for us. It's doubling down on the strategy that's already allowing our city to kick your city's ass," he boasts.

Hanauer goes on to criticize Reaganomics, saying "the most insidious thing about trickle-down economics isn't believing that if the rich get richer, it's good for the economy. It's believing that if the poor get richer, it's bad for the economy," before reifying the need for capitalism -- which he calls "the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies" -- to be checked before it "tends toward concentration and collapse."

Hanauer admits his argument is ultimately self-serving and ultimately in the interest of preserving the status-quo that allows the economic elite to concentrate so much of the country's wealth, but he argues that it's in everyone's best interest to spread the wealth around to avoid the upheaval.

"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," his piece in Politico concludes. "And no one has a bigger stake in that than zillionaires like us."

Follow @JCSevcik and @UPI on Twitter.
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