In the July issue of GQ journalist and author Jon Ronson delves into income inequality - and, more specifically, the fact that the income gap is now wider than ever before in the United States, and that means different things to different people. To do this delving Ronson examines the lives of six individuals from across the country - folks representing very different places on the income spectrum. One of these people is Seattle's Nick Hanauer.
These days, in addition to being fabulously rich, doing whatever it is venture capitalist do, and involving himself with a number of philanthropic endeavors (education, land conservation and the arts have all benefited from his efforts), Hanauer spends a significant amount of time railing on the U.S. tax system, which he accuses of being horribly unfair. Hanauer has often gone on record saying wealthy people like him deserve to pay much higher taxes in this country; in the GQ story, for instance, Hanauer says he paid an 11-percent tax rate last year, and, if all was right in the world, it should have been closer to 50 percent. Hanauer has also frequently argued that the super-rich are not the job-creators they're made out to be in our economy, a topic he based a recent, much talked about TED University conference presentation on.
In the latest issue of GQ Hanauer is at it again, discussing his riches and how awesome it is to be him. As mentioned, the piece - titled "Amber Waves of Green" - examines the lives of six different people, all from different points on the income spectrum, from a dishwasher in Miami who earns $200 a week, to a guy like Hanauer, whose average yearly taxable income is "tens of millions," he tells GQ.
Whether you agree with Hanauer or not, it's hard not to admire his candidness.
From Ronson's GQ piece:
Nick and I speak via Skype. I'm in London. He's at his home in Seattle. What little I can see of it looks lovely. He's in some kind of an office-den with an electric guitar in the corner. Nick asks me about the woman beneath him on the income scale. "Is Ellen a highly paid salary person?" he wonders.
"Yes," I say.
"She has to go to work every day?"
"If she stops going to work, she's out of business?"
"She has a bit of money saved, but basically yes," I say.
Nick smiles. "While we sit here, during this charming conversation, I will make $25,000," he says.
"That's terrible," I say.
Nick roars with laughter. "That's the difference between me and her! Hahahaha!"
While honesty like that might rub some the wrong way, and taken by itself makes Hanauer come off like an evil Austin Powers character, it isn't long before the conversation turns to a familiar topic for the UW Philosophy grad, the fairness of our tax system. It's here that Hanauer is able to provide a clearer picture of where his heart is, telling Ronson he feels awful about the fact he paid so little tax last year, the way only a mindbogglingly rich dude can.
And it feels like he's not just saying it. Hanauer really does seem to feel terribly about the income gap in this country, and how he's been rewarded while so many others have suffered.
More from Ronson's GQ piece:
There's something unusual about Nick. For a multimillionaire, he doesn't have your average multimillionaire view. In fact, he's come to believe that the system he benefits so richly from is built on nonsense--specifically, the idea that "the markets are perfectly efficient and allocate benefits and burdens perfectly efficiently, based on talent and merit. So by that definition, the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor. We believe this because we have an almost insanely powerful need to self-justify."
And the biggest nonsense of all, he says, "is the idea that because the rich are the smartest, and because we're the job creators, the richer we get, the better it is for everyone. So taxes on the rich should be very, very low because we're essentially the center of the economic universe, the font of productivity." Nick pauses. "If there were a shred of truth to the claim that the rich are our nation's job creators, then given how rich the rich have gotten, America should be drowning in jobs!"
"So if the rich don't create the jobs," I ask, "who does?"
"The middle classes!" Nick roars. "A huge middle class will produce an unbelievable opportunity for capitalists."
Like him or not, it's hard not to admire Hanauer's stance. It's hard not to applaud the balls it takes for an uber-rich guy to be shamelessly candid about just how uber-rich they really are -- and how terribly unfair the system that rewarded them really is.
Most uber-rich guys don't seem to be able to do it, which makes Hanauer something of a rarity.