The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

February 23, 2014

5 tycoons who want to close the wealth gap

(Continued)

WASHINGTON, D.C. —

Hanauer: Helping people buy what Amazon sells

Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer believes the growing wealth gap threatens the economic system that has given him his wealth. One of the early investors in Amazon, Hanauer started the Internet company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion.

But Hanauer said he doesn’t consider himself a “job creator.” If no one can afford to buy what he’s selling, the jobs his companies create will evaporate, he reasons. In his view, what the nation needs is more money in the hands of regular consumers.

“A higher minimum wage is a very simple and elegant solution to the death spiral of falling demand that is the signature feature of our economy,” he said in an interview with the AP last summer.

Hanauer, 54, advocates raising taxes for the rich and hiking the minimum wage to the unheard-of heights of $15 an hour. He has co-authored a book and launched an organization called The True Patriot Network to help push such proposals. In 2012, he advanced his ideas in a TED talk — one of the wonky, provocative lectures that have become a required feather in the cap of web-savvy thought leaders. But TED organizers refused to post Hanauer’s lecture on the web, because they said it was too partisan.

Silberstein: The quiet advocate

Steve Silberstein made his fortune in the early days of computers by co-founding Innovative Interfaces, a software company that creates technology for hundreds of college and university libraries. He sold the company, settled in a secluded town in Marin County, Calif., and became a philanthropist.

Now, at 70, he is a low-profile member of a movement to organize institutional investors in opposing what he and others say are exorbitant executive salaries.

Silberstein advocates a policy that would tie corporate tax rates to the difference in compensation between the CEO and an average worker. A company with a CEO-to-worker-compensation ratio at the 1980 level of 50-to-1 would pay tax at the current rate of 35 percent; companies with a larger pay gap would be taxed at a higher level, and those with a narrower gap would pay a lower rate.

Silberstein took a step into the spotlight when he produced the documentary “Inequality for All,” featuring former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich. It premiered last year at the Sundance Film Festival.

“He’s one of the quiet leaders of the entire movement toward wider prosperity,” Reich said. “An increasing number of wealthy businesspeople are becoming concerned that the economy can’t function without a strong middle class to keep it going.”

Silberstein told the AP his views are not so different from that original American industrialist, Henry Ford, who famously paid his factory workers enough to purchase one of the cars that came off his assembly line.

“As a result he became rich,” Silberstein said. “If the economy goes well, everybody does well, including the wealthy.”

Like many left-leaning executives troubled by the wealth gap, Silberstein insists that his ideological views play only a small part in his concerns.

“It’s a problem, and everybody is losing as a result. It’s self-interest and the interest in my country, too,” he said.

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