Nick Hanauer
Nick Hanauer

Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer — an early investor in and aQuantive — certainly has strong opinions on economics and politics. And that’s one of the reasons why he was invited to give a TED talk a few months ago, sharing his pointed views on why the wealthiest Americans should pay more in taxes.

“Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs,” Hanauer said in his talk. “Rather they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.”

The remarks were similar to what we’ve reported on in the past, illuminating concepts that Hanauer hammered home during the debate over Initiative 1098, a failed measure that would have imposed an income tax on the wealthiest citizens of Washington state.

But now Hanauer’s TED talk is sparking controversy for other reasons. The National Journal reports that TED curator Chris Anderson recently backed away from distributing the video of it, saying it was too political in nature.

“Many of the talks given at the conference or at TED-U are not released,” Anderson wrote in an email to The National Journal. “We only release one a day on and there’s a backlog of amazing talks from all over the world. We do not comment publicly on reasons to release or not release [a] talk. It’s unfair on the speakers concerned. But we have a general policy to avoid talks that are overtly partisan, and to avoid talks that have received mediocre audience ratings.”

We asked Hanauer about the decision not to distribute his talk, and here’s what he had to say:

Although I am disappointed in Chris’s decision not to run my talk, I certainly accept his decision. He owns TED and it is up to him to decide what they share. I have great respect for him and the entire TED organization.

But I do disagree that my talk was too political or controversial to run. I got a sensational reaction to the talk at the conference itself, including a big standing ovation. Even the people who I spoke to who disagreed were intrigued and moved by the eco-systemic argument. And many of the talks at the conference and on the TED website are similarly controversial. That’s what makes them interesting.

Further, if it was too political, why have me do it in the first place? They knew months in advance what I would speak about and I gave the talk word for word.

My arguments threaten an economic orthodoxy and political structure that many powerful people have a huge stake in defending. They will not go easily.

The National Journal has posted the full text of the speech here.

FOLLOW UPTED curator shoots back at Hanauer, calls out Seattle VC and posts controversial talk


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  • Guest

    I understand and respect both men’s decisions. What confuses me is why, if Nick’s talk is indeed as profound as he thinks it is, he hasn’t performed it to any other audience and videotaped it.

    Come on, Nick. You’re in Seattle. Find yourself an audience, get someone to videotape you doing your thing, and pop it on YouTube. Put “THE VIDEO TED DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE!” in the title. You’d be an instant celebrity!

    • Guest

      Good suggestion.

  • jimbojamesiv

    Let me explain something so that it’s clear.

    Any group that withholds knowledge is guilty.

    I’ve known for a while that TED is not so enlightened as it likes to pretend, but is more of the same with the elite peddling their nonsense. That’s all TED is and it’s certainly not devoted to spreading information–case in point, this article–because knowledge is power. 

    • Joe the coder

      Sorry, Jim, but your argument has several fallacies.  You are presuming that Nick’s talk is knowledge when it is actually opinion and subject to controversy, as such.  Also, if you claim his talk is knowledge then what is to stop a racist, creationist, holocaust denier and so on from making similar claims?  Oh, yeah, because they don’t agree with your politics.  Hmm, I do sense a slippery slope coming…

      Frankly, TED made the right decision to avoid politicizing their forum.  I am so tired of politics invading most of our lives. Plus, must you quote 60s political slogans?  I don’t think that furthers your case of presenting the talk as knowledge.

      • Lisa S

        It’s unfair to dismiss Hanauer’s talk as pure opinion as it includes plenty of data showing income and taxation trends.

        There’s plenty of knowledge to be gained when you look at charts showing the gains since 1979 in the average household income for the top 1 percent versus other fractions of the population, or the disproportionate changes in federal tax rates for the different income brackets. 

        • MagBill

          The “growth in income inequality” is largely a myth.

          An inconvenient truth: the after-tax income of the 1% peaked in 2007 but has since dropped back to early-1980’s levels.

          In addition, most studies fail to look at WHO comprises “the 1%”. The rise in “disparity” is largely mythical, as a significant amount of what is now declared as personal income is
          actually income from businesses that are now taxed as individuals, due to the shift of business tax structures towards partnerships, LLCs and S-corps.

          Finally, the composition of *households* has shifted significantly since 1979, skewing the data. If you look at individual earnings instead, earning power has increased at all levels, including low-income and the middle-class.

  • MagBill

    I’ve seen Nick’s talk and found it to be overtly partisan and substantively moronic. Some data was presented, selectively, but he didn’t bother with counterarguments or alternative interpretations. And the level of condescension was off the charts. This is a guy who made a couple lucky bets and is now convinced he’s a genius on all subjects. Just ask him.

  • Michael
  • johnhcook

    Thanks for all of the comments. TED curator Chris Anderson has shot back at Hanauer for intentionally sparking the controversy, and he’s posted the full talk. Check it out here:

  • Ian Morris

    Whether you agree with Nick or not, anyone who is fortunate enough to have worked with him knows that his ideas are always worth hearing.  Whether TED wants to publish this talk or not is completely their call, and I respect that.  But Nick’s often contrarian viewpoints and the passion with which he advocates them are a very good thing and something we need more of.  For those interested in the talk itself, here is a link: 

  • Ali Daniali

    Talk has been posted on YouTube

  • theleftmakesmegag

    Nick simply likes to hear himself talk and see his name in print.  Fine–another rich guy with a large ego–a dime a dozen around here and silly valley, with many more to come with the facebook ipo.

    Nick has spurred a conversation about wealth, income disparity and income tax burden, which is both good and healthy and his thoughts on it are worth discussing.  Plus being from lefty Seattle, he knows he has a ready made audience of class warriors who will rah-rah his calls for a state income tax/higher federal income taxes.

    What will be interesting is if he continues to fund the campaigns of his Democratic pals who have backtracked on improving education, falling back into line with the WEA.  If he is really serious he will back McKenna for gov as the WEA and SEIU are pouring our tax money through forced union dues into a large PAC to do massive anti-McKenna campaigning.

  • Peter H

    This guy needs to shut up until he’s given his money to the government and put his money where his mouth is.

    I am not rich, but absolutely trying to become so.  The idea that once you work so hard to earn it, Nick just wants to take it all away, is maddening.

    Why does this guy get so much airtime?  He doesn’t believe in what he says.

    • Daniel Luechtefeld

      Moving from 35% back to 39% marginal tax rates != “taking it all”. Review your tax history:

    • Reality

      Nick wants to take it all away… Is it really what you got out of this guy’s (Nick’s) presentation?
      You should keep playing lottery, working hard may not work for you with this level of analytical and critical thinking skills.

    • Barbiebearden

      Obviously you need to listen again. That is not what he is saying but rather it takes all of us to make it work but the system is biased against the workers who must be present to help make the wealthy who invest in them wealthier–in other words it works for everyone then. How can you have a problem with that?

  • Barbiebearden

    Keep the conversation going at
    posted on the TED conversations section. Quite lively and hopefully will be extended. 

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