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TED and inequality: The real story (tedchris.posterous.com)
471 points by Duff on May 17, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments



The response is eloquent, but I think it sidesteps the point that concerns me and many others. Yes, for the reasons stated, this talk is not the right one to be highlighted on Ted.com. It's not censorship, it's a valid editorial decision.

But I think the real point is this quote from the NJ article: "But even if the talk was rated a home run, we couldn't release it, because it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We're in the middle of an election year in the US. Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party." (attributed to Chris Anderson)

Is this quote accurate, and does Ted have an official stance of avoiding controversial issues? The fear is not that Ted is in the pocket of any particular party, rather that the bounds of public debate are being set by parties (plural) who benefit from the absence of debate. If Ted isn't independent enough to start this discussion, who is?


If you read the transcript, you get the distinct sense that what you're listening to isn't intellectual discovery based on empirical data. It reads like a speech from a political candidate. It truly is not TED worthy, and this is from someone who fully believes every word that man uttered.

TED is about sharing knowledge. Raw, unbiased, unignorable knowledge. Talks that are based entirely on anecdote and talking points have no place in the discussion.

After reading the transcript, I firmly believe they made the right choice. And it could simply be that the ambiguous nature of the study of economics prevents it from being an approached topic on TED, which is unfortunate, but I don't believe for one second they blacklist anything based on controversy alone.


His talk would have been better had it referenced the numerous studies showing that more unequal countries have worse results across the board. However, 3 minutes is an extremely short period of time - no one else speaking at TED is laboring under the requirement to fully document everything they are saying in a 3 minute speech.


I haven't heard or read this talk, and presume that Anderson made a correct editorial decision regarding its merits. My focus is on the statement "But even if the talk was rated a home run, we couldn't release it, because it would be unquestionably regarded as out and out political. We're in the middle of an election year in the US."

I'm not arguing that Ted should be pressured into publicizing this talk. But with great admiration for Ted, I think their approach to politicized topics bears further discussion. I'm stunned to think that an international organization should find it less desirable to broach certain topics due to the timing of a US election.


No one has said they will avoid any topic at any time.

Anderson has said they will avoid overtly partisan talks during an election year.

You can talk about the topic, Anderson just won't promote if if you do it in a partisan manner.


This is a great point. Not to get political myself, but if you compare this talk to Elizabeth Warren's "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class"[1] from a few years back, it's night and day. Before she made economic claims, she described her exhaustive process with government agencies to get reliable data; the ways she tested the data when it seemed implausible; the various theories she tested and rejected to explain the data ... it's gripping stuff, because she develops insights based on research and hard-nosed science. That's what TED should be about.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A


I think you have it the wrong way around. It's not that this topic isn't up for public debate, but rather that the talk was part of a debate that was already highly politicized and TED doesn't want to get into that. Once the politicos see you as a good platform from which to shout their message, you will find yourself swamped by people who just want to yell party lines at each other. If you want to remain independent of party politics, you have to keep those people away.

This is also why I'm of the opinion that Internet forums which are not explicitly about politics should explicitly ban most political discussion. Otherwise the loud partisans will eventually drown out everything else. (Remember a few years ago when it came out that there was a huge conservative voting bloc on Digg downvoting anything posted by members they suspected of being liberals, even if it was non-political? You don't want those people around.)

This isn't to say that topics one party or another might happen to like better should be off-limits, but that you should be very careful when approaching those topics not to play to the political aspects of the topic. It sounds to me like this is what TED suggests as well.


Yeah, their response said exactly what I assumed had happened happened. They, like everyone else building a brand, are trying to erase the truly antagonistic dynamics of modern culture and worship some mythical conflict-free land of bipartisanship and kittens, where smart people never disagree they just have different evidence.

That myth is what TED is selling. Not truth, not even a better world, just a world where we can believe ourselves to be better people.


> They (...) worship some mythical conflict-free land of bipartisanship and kittens, where smart people never disagree they just have different evidence.

Because that is how the world should be like and they have a mission to make it real. It's not a myth. It's a goal.


where smart people never disagree they just have different evidence

Welcome to the world of science.


There is a difference between being controversial and being partisan. The talk directly calls out Republicans. Based on what Chris Anderson said, they would welcome a talk on that controversial subject, but it couldn't call out political parties.


But that is the problem, in a nutshell.

We don't want to "call out political parties", so we will ignore the truth that one of the political parties has deviated so far off course, in its anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-equality pursuit.

But let us not speak of it.


Attacking a political party invites various cognitive biases related to tribalism - both for the people who like and dislike that party. It makes it more difficult for an audience to evaluate your arguments on their own merit.


This is an affliction by which people muddle objectivity with neutrality. One can adopt a neutral (NPOV as they say in Wikipedia land) vantage point, yet be terribly biased, even if it is simply confined to what is filtered out. One can be biased to an intellectual (or political) plank, yet be objective in evaluating arguments and evidence.

Yes, tribalism can induce such ills as well as invoke cognitive dissonance, but it is not a default setting.


No it isn't the problem, at least not according to TED, TEDs mission is not to spread the gospel about political parties. Want to spread the truth about Republicans and Democrats? Go on CNN. That's what it's there for, you can shout about how Republicans are anti-intellectual and Democrats are communists all day long on CNN, however TED doesn't want to be CNN.

There's a big difference between saying Republicans are anti-intellectual and saying anti-intellectualism is bad for the following reasons. TED is all for the latter and completely against the former.


Don't want to get "too political"? Then don't trumpet how you're in the "business of ideas"…


Non-sequitur.


ITYM "my opinion is that". When you confuse your opinion with "the truth", that's where the problem starts. And when you are so far off course that you dismiss everybody disagreeing as anti-pretty-much-everything good, pure evil they are - you might not notice that there's something wrong about it, but other people would. Not all people are suffering from partisan blindness. Some can see that on many points are many valid opinions, and while one opinion can win in the eyes of the majority over the other and define what the priorities of the policy are - that is very far from totally denying the party that disagreeing with you any shred of possibility of having real argument.


Go ahead and speak of it. Nobody's stopping you. It just won't get you on TED's website.


Anybody who actually thinks about issues in terms of the entrenched, incumbent parties in the US political system is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Virtually everything that's broken in America today is in some fashion a consequence of the bi-polar stranglehold on power the country has been subject to, more or less since its founding.


except it calls out both Republicans AND Democrats.


...to be more Democrat-ish.

And there are other parties.


I think it's sort of like the hacker news policy, don't post stuff that people can read about elsewhere.

If you talk to most people involved in a particular issue (eg. not politicians) they tend to have views that diverge from the party line, when a talk lines up perfectly with a particular party it comes off more like talking points than an engaging topic.

Imagine a talk on states rights that comes out against abortion and for the war on drugs. Sounds to me like Republican crap rather than an intelligent debate on the separation of powers in government. I think this is what TED is trying to avoid, they're all for an intelligent debate on separation of powers, but against spewing republican or democratic talking points.


Points made in an explicitly partisan manner are inherently less valuable to anyone other than the party being supported.


How many TED talks revolve around global warming, despite the fact that the right treats it not just as alarmism, but a liberal hoax? TED doesn't seem to be rushing to pull those down.

I can understand their reluctance to give Fox News ammunition to smear the TED brand. But it was the parties who chose to politicize ideas and issues which should belong to all humanity. Whatever happened to respectfully listening to people you disagree with?

Getting locked up for speaking your mind is only one way for free speech to be stifled; another is to convince people to self-censor for the sake of their reputation, and whether he admits it to himself or not, this is exactly what Chris Anderson is doing. And alas, in today's media-political landscape, one is hard-pressed to find organizations and individuals for whom this is not the norm.


I believe this particular decision was not about the message but about the way it was delivered. My hypothesis is that the same topic presented in a wikipediish NPOV style would fare much better. And symmetrically if you spiced a talk about climate change with jabs at replublicans it would share the fate of the talk in question.


Admittedly, the one reference he made to parties at the beginning was unnecessary (somehow, I hadn't even heard it). But he isn't calling out any party; he is calling out a particular policy, and the way of thinking that pre-dates it, that he feels is counter-productive. There is no way to criticize the ideas he does without being "political".

To put the shoe on the other foot: let's say someone had data which demonstrated that welfare and affirmative action are bad for the people they purport to help (just an example, I'm not making a case for or against either). How could one make that argument in a neutral, non-partisan way, when those issues have been politicized to death for decades?

You couldn't. You'd have to either state your case bluntly and take the heat, or shut up and go away. Though the talk could definitely have been better (more data, please), I'm glad the speaker chose the former, and I think he made the best attempt possible at being neutral.


> "let's say someone had data which demonstrated that [partisan policy X is] bad.... How could one make that argument in a neutral, non-partisan way"

"It is important to help [group] overcome [disadvantage]. We have new data showing that [policy], while stemming from admirable goals, is ultimately counterproductive, leading to worse outcomes than would be expected without such a policy in place." Then discuss the data, without specifically naming any politician or political party or questioning anyone's motives. Make recommendations based on the idea of doing right by those you're trying to help, rather than making accusations based on the idea of the other side being evil or stupid.

It's certainly true that some people would interpret your statement in a partisan way. Some people would assume you were secretly funded by the Association of Partisan Conspirators. But by focusing on data rather than partisan cheap shots, you would give them little to go on, and you would be more engaging to those who are honestly interested in doing the right thing.


Based on what Chris Anderson said, if a talk about global warming made direct statements about political parties, they would reject it. That's the difference between controversial and partisan.


How many TED talks revolve around global warming, despite the fact that the right treats it not just as alarmism, but a liberal hoax? TED doesn't seem to be rushing to pull those down.

I've never attended Ted, but I've been to a few TedX events in San Jose as a small sponsor. For Global Warming and some other business issues, I was happily surprised that it had a lot of diverse viewpoints, and that the after event discussions indicated that people were considering these thoughtfully.

But I still fear that there is a political correctness at play, independent of the 'partisan' aspects. Al Gore is welcome as a speaker, and clearly is a partisan giving a partisan speech. That's good. But I don't know that Steve McIntyre, who has strong non-politically correct views on Global Warming but is extremely non-partisan, would be welcome.

I'm not painting Ted as being left-wing or right-wing, or unfair to either party. But I worry that if they start playing the game of avoiding topics because they are "partisan", the give up too much room to both of the major US political parties to declare topics untouchable. I'd rather they ignore the political implications, and help the search for truth.


The talk actually presents an idea that is, to some extent, a testable scientific economic claim: that the wealth of middle-class plays an important role in a feedback loop that creates jobs.

The Republican party should find this insight to be valuable, since their stated goal is job creation, right? Why might they not want to learn something about the process they are working so hard to enable?


"Reality has a well known liberal bias."


Are actually making that claim, or is that an attempt to archly demonstrate the point being made? Because if you're seriously making that claim as others had, I can barely count the number of fallacies and debate style errors it contains with both hands.

If you weren't trying to provide an example of how explicitly partisan debates can just shut down all conversation, you still did a good job.


I actually posted it initially without the double quotes, but then realized I would see a lot of posts like yours so edited it very quickly to add the double quotes in.


The same guy who said "I dream of a world where reality and truthiness can be one."- Stephen Colbert


Jon Stewart said the other 'liberal/reality' quote


Did he say it first? The first page of Google hits is covered with Colbert saying it at the Correspondents' Dinner in 2006.

Edit: here it is, "I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias."


'Reality has a well known Google bias'


This is what I get for trying to be smart on the internet


Agreed. He made no effort to deny he or others who operate with TED have liberal minded ideas. He also gives a perfectly logical and reasonable explanation to the situation and in my opinion does nothing to deter my view of TED in any shape or form.

And to people who make this out to be a US political issue, income equality is a global issue, and always have been. It's not the issue being brushed off but the quality of the argument judged by TED.

But that said it's a really good talk.


>> "Your argument comes down firmly on the side of one party."

This would imply that climate change would also be off limits at TED, which it isn't.


It's fine as long as you don't name any political party by name I think.


Unless the lead spokesperson is a leading political figure.


>Is this quote accurate, and does Ted have an official stance of avoiding controversial issues? The fear is not that Ted is in the pocket of any particular party, rather that the bounds of public debate are being set by parties (plural) who benefit from the absence of debate. If Ted isn't independent enough to start this discussion, who is?

When money and power is involved, you don't get to be independent in the US (or a lot of other places for that matter).

You have the right to free speech as long as you talk for inconsequential issues, if you talk for anything else you are labeled a "partisan" (that goes for both republicans and democrats, and even every other stance).

You are of course free to raise very important issues for society as a whole, but not in a way that implies that the way the power/financial system works is bad in toto -- the best you can get away with is "inefficient".

That is, you have free speech as long as you don't use it for real political causes. Any other partial view is allowed (gay or anti-gay, abortion or pro-life, etc...).


There are many politicians and public figures that say exactly what you just said - that the way the financial system works is bad (actually, IIRC, no other than Obama himself reiterated that talking on the news about huge Chase loss) - and the way the political system works is bad (they even try to organize third parties and independent candidates, which inevitably result in pathetic failure at the polls) - so making it sound as it's somehow topic that no one dares to talk about for the fear of all-powerful 1% is baloney. This topic is talked about far and wide. You can publish any opinion, and even for the most outrageous ones, you get a pretty good chance for your 15 minutes of fame - actually, if it's outrageous, your chances are higher, TV shows need ratings and outrage means notoriety means ratings.

Of course, it's one thing to talk about everything being screwed up and quite another - having any practical recipe of how to fix it and being able to convince enough people to follow you. Words are wind, you know. Allowed is one thing, effectual is another. But not because there's an evil 1% conspiracy - but because mainstream is mainstream for a reason, changing people's opinions is very hard.


If true, the aggressively planned PR campaign indicates that this was more than just a politically-sensitive topic, but rather a politically-motivated talk:

    He had hired a PR firm to promote the talk to MoveOn and
    others, and the PR firm warned us . . . 
TED should allow sensitive topics, but to allow others to use TED manipulatively as a pawn in the larger political debate subverts their mission and damages their credibility.


Whether or not the talk was politically motivated, if this article is correct about what the speaker did as a result of rejection, the speaker is an attention-seeking demagogue that uses threats and deception for self-promotion.


...or, the speaker is simply passionate about a topic that he believes needs to be discussed as openly as possible.

Aren't you now committing the same mistake of guessing the speaker's motivations as everyone who criticized TED?


Perhaps, and I accept that it is possible that the facts as stated in the article are wrong. However, if we accept them as true, the speaker:

1. Hired a PR firm in an attempt to threaten TED into publishing his talk. 2. When that failed, he misrepresented TED (by selectively quoting private correspondence) to the media in order to create the subsequent firestorm.

I will accept that the speaker may be passionate about his views. However, he is not interested in open discussion, at least not if you mean honest by open. The ends does not justify the means.


> However, he is not interested in open discussion, at least not if you mean honest by open.

How do you conclude that? The only possible dishonesty I've seen is about how the talk was handled, not the content of the talk. He seems all for open discussion of the content of the talk.


Well, it's not something that I have definitely concluded, but in my opinion, the speaker has lost significant credibility. If someone is willing to lie and bully in order to voice a particular opinion, why should I not expect them to lie or bully in trying persuade me to that opinion? No, it isn't a given, but that's the way I see it.


Always assume malice.

I know it goes against the conventional wisdom, but in subjects such as politics I haven't been wrong about it yet.


Well it might not be technically okay or PC to say this but if you listen to the guy's talk I'm sure you'll get the egotistical tone. Egotistical is too strong a word but he very much seemed to like calling attention to himself. Specifically I'm talking about his self introduction where he talks about the dozens of businesses he started or helped start as well as the way he really enjoyed throwing in the thing about "job creators" being not far from "The creator". Plus there were a smattering of references to himself scattered throughout.

Based on the transcript alone my argument can be pretty weak but anyone with at least one perceptive bone in their body can see what I saw if you watch the video. I agree that no one can know a person's motivations for sure and I feel like a hypocrite for doing it myself but in some cases it's just obvious. There's more to this than just what he says, watch his body language and listen to his delivery.

I actually have experience with people like this. I often give talks to different community groups and schools and such on the topic of teen drug abuse along with a father who lost his son to an overdose. This man agrees to speak whenever asked and claims to do it for the good of the youth in our community but once he starts speaking you can easily tell his intentions have shifted and his cause has now become about him instead of educating the audience. The content of his talks are definitely educational but he always gets off the subject and pats himself on the back for some great thing he did which was related to the topic but unnecessary to say along with some heavy name dropping. This TED speaker reminded me of the guy I often talk with. (Now, does ending my commend with a personal anecdote make my comment all about me now? Haha)


Anyone having some more information on that PR firm? Could become quite hand one day.

They seem to be doing a great job at stirring up artificial controversy and laying the groundwork for a great political talk show "victim" career.


He also has a fairly recently published book[1] to promote.

I wonder if that's what the PR push is about.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Gardens-Democracy-Citizenship-Gove...


Maybe I'm politically tone deaf, but the talk didn't seem particularly partisan at all. Sure, it had a particular perspective more in alignment with one party than another, but wouldn't this talk be just as relevant in India and the UK as it is in the US, and in which case, not particularly partisan at all? Don't all TED talks have some bias to one perspective on the world or philosophy or another? I don't get why there's such furor over this.


The problem here I suspect is that there are sensible bases for the core tenets of different political points of view, and they end up being stifled because of it.


As someone who writes Democratic talking points for a living, I would like to point out that the original TED talk sounded like something I would write for work.

I do wholeheartedly agree with the central thesis, but if I were to put together a (nonpolitical) TED talk on the subject I would've been a lot lighter on the rhetoric and heavier on the case studies.


I wouldn't call this "the story behind" but rather "she said."

While I find it interesting that the author does not dispute the accuracy of the emails describing the talk as too controversial, what I find troubling is that the author insinuates that hiring a PR firm calls a person's character into question.

In 2010, the Sapling Foundation which owns TED spend more than $100,000 on PR:

http://dynamodata.fdncenter.org/990pf_pdf_archive/943/943235... [page 7].

See also "Who Owns TED?" http://www.ted.com/pages/42


At no point the author insinuates anything about how hiring a PR firm speaks of person's character. The post just simply states the facts that a) a PR firm was hired, and b) he/this firm issued threats to TED.


I find it tragic that this "storm in a teacup" instigated by a very rich and powerful person even happened.

Saying TED shy away from controversy, or even defining this talk as huge controversy is tragic.

Take this talk for example: http://www.ted.com/talks/bryan_stevenson_we_need_to_talk_abo... -- stop reading this comment -- AND GO WATCH IT. It touches on many very critical issues in our society and the USA in particular that are marginalised and forgotten. If this talk was "censored" due to the fact it deals with "minority issues" I would understand a "censorship" claim.

The "tax the mega rich" talk was not powerful enough and did not properly deal with all the surrounding issues. As a person who watched many TED talks I also feel it was not at the right level. I also find it very disingenuous that the speaker did not tell anything about his story, what is he doing to change the state of affairs (besides talking at TED).


Released video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBx2Y5HhplI

"This idea is an oracle of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by democrats." Clearly against bi-partisan and not pro-democrat.

Very bad move by TED. Also, the quality of many TED presentations is a joke so they can't pull that card.


The implication is that the Republicans are wrong and the Democrats should challenge it. In other words, "Hey, Democrats, here's an argument you should use." That's partisan.


I think that's the only sentence / segment in the whole talk that refers to one party or the other. Indeed, this talk is relevant even in countries where neither party exists. It seems a heck of a lot less partisan than what passes for news on a daily basis around these parts -- pick your cable news network of choice.


"Less bad" != "Good"


What? No. As an outsider, it is yet another example that both your parties are perfectly worthless. "Hey, Democrats, here's an argument you should use" is only partisan if there was a snowflake's chance in hell that they'd actually do something. But the Big People with their arms in the puppet on the right don't want that just as little as the ones fisting the puppet on the left.

Four years after replacing the Beast with the Smiler, and what have you learned?

"Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos"


1. You've mistranscribed. It's article not oracle of faith. Whoever heard of an oracle of faith?!

2. Calling an idea an 'article of faith' is insulting as it implies a lack of reasoning.


Believing firmly in something which is wrong often indicates a lack of reasoning.


Many of those other bad presentations don't get posted either, so why can't they pull that card?


If you place the non-TED talk's transcript next to Hans Rosling's discussion about Global Poverty [1] it's easy to see the differences.

Mr. Rosling made a seminal talk that is one of the 3 or 4 that I think of when I think of TED. It was data-driven and multi-dimensional. At the same time, you're learning about the content -- global poverty through the eyes of a top UN advisor -- you're watching world-class data visualization.

Since their inception, TED has done a tremendous job staying on message. Most talks are given by people who are up to their elbows in the subject matter that they're talking about. This entrepreneur works in the business community, so there's relevance there, but that's pretty abstract. I would much rather this point be made by a union organizer.

The core message of the non-TED talk is a good one. That is the problem. The entrepreneur and the internet grassroots that have followed him are over the moon for it and are happy with the implementation that have here. If they were a bit less resistant to the criticism they've received, they could probably find a better way to get their message out.

For instance, how much more credible would it be if there were an enterprising union leader who could talk about his or her chapter's strategies, and who has measured the boost that their union members' employment has brought to their local community? In this age when many employers can't afford to invest in training employees who will leave their firms in 5 years, a union that provided job security to its members through training partnerships with local community colleges, and provided quality assurance to employers through licenses, and certifications in order to close the skills gap would be an inspiring organization. If they were providing each other with unemployment insurance and allowing the federal government to spend less money, that's a bi-partisan win!

An approach like that works at TED. One that can't be cobbled together in a weekend. These talks are almost always personal, representing years of on-the-ground activity. If they aren't given by the leader in the field they're given by someone with a unique perspective, like Jill Bolte Taylor, the stroke victim/neuroscientist who talked about the stroke she had.

This entrepreneur has a compelling message, one that I agree with, but his standpoint isn't special and his content hasn't progressed further than a well fleshed-out idea.

1. http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_reveals_new_insights_o...


I watched the video after reading TED's response, and I'm skeptical of some of their claims, but I can also see why they didn't initially choose to publish it on their site.

The video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBx2Y5HhplI

Since it's short, I'll go over it point-by-point.

    1. "It is astounding how significantly one idea can
       shape a society and its policies. Consider this one:
       if taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go
       down. This idea is an article of faith for
       Republicans, and seldom challenged by Democrats, and
       has indeed shaped much of the economic landscape."
The first line of his talk is a bit fluffy, but I don't see anything else here that isn't objectively true. Supply-side economics and increased benefits for the rich are a major part of the Republican platform, and because this idea has been accepted as true by society at large, it is not being directly challenged by the Democrats. (Who, arguably, want just as much to protect the interests of the rich & powerful as the Republicans do.)

    2. "But sometimes the ideas that we are certain are
       true, are dead wrong. Consider that for thousands of
       years, humans believed that the Earth was the center
       of the universe. It's not, and an astronomer who
       still believed that it was, would do some pretty
       terrible astronomy. Likewise, a policymaker who
       believes that the rich are job creators and therefore 
       should not be taxed, will do equally terrible
       policy."
This is just bad rhetoric and bad logic, IMO. I get the point he's trying to make, but he's not making it well -- and this is where I begin to really understand TED's decision not to highlight his video on their front page.

    3. "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 had to
       sell, all those companies, and all those jobs, would
       have evaporated."
I can't agree more with this. I think this should be obvious to anybody that thinks about economics at all, and I think this is the absolutely massive achilles' heel for supply-side economics, the elephant in the room that people don't want to talk about.

    4. "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. In this sense, 
       an ordinary consumer is more of a job creator than a
       capitalist like me. That's why when business people
       take credit for creating jobs, it's a little bit like 
       squirrels taking credit for evolution. (audience
       chuckles) It's actually the other way around. Anyone
       who's ever run a business knows that hiring more
       people is a course of last resort for capitalists.
       It's what we do if and only if rising consumer demand 
       requires it. And in this sense, calling ourselves job 
       creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous."
Again, the delivery here is terrible, IMO, but I think his overall point is largely correct. But, there are exceptions. It would be hard to argue that PG, for example, isn't a "job creator" -- or at least a wealth creator. He, and others like him, are lowering the barriers to opportunity for many people and businesses. However, there still needs to be demand for the products and services those businesses offer -- as PG himself would tell you.

Would you, for example, deploy 100 times more servers than you thought you actually needed to meet demand for your SAAS or PAAS? No? Then why would somebody running a large corporation hire more people than they thought would be needed to meet consumer demand?

    5. "That's why our existing policies are so upside-down. 
       When the biggest tax exemptions, and lowest tax
       rates, benefit the richest, all in the name of job
       creation, all that happens is that the rich get
       richer. Since 1980, the share of income for the top
       1% of Americans has more than tripled while our
       effective tax rates have gone down by 50%. If it was
       true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth
       for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would
       be drowning in jobs. (audience laughter and applause) 
       and yet unemployment and underemployment is at record 
       highs."
Again he kills an overall good point with a terrible statement -- unemployment and underemployment are high, yes, but nowhere near record highs.

    6. "Another reason that this idea is so wrong-headed is
       that there can never be enough super-rich people to
       power a great economy. Somebody like me makes
       hundreds or thousands of times as much as the median
       American, but I don't buy hundreds or thousands of
       times as much stuff. My family owns 3 cars, not 
       3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and shirts a year
       like most American men, occasionally we go out to eat 
       with friends. I can't buy enough of anything to make
       up for the fact that millions of unemployed and
       underemployed Americans can't buy any new cars, any
       clothes, or enjoy any meals out. Nor can I make up
       for the falling consumption of the vast majority of
       middle-class families that are barely squeaking by,
       buried by spiraling costs, and trapped by stagnant or 
       declining wages."

    7. "Here's an incredible fact: that if the typical
       American family still retained the same share of
       income that they did in 1970, they'd earn like
       $45,000 more a year. Imagine what our economy would
       be like if that were the case."

    8. "Significant privileges have come to people like me,
       capitalists, for being perceived as job creators at
       the center of the economic universe, and the language 
       and metaphors we use to defend the current economic
       and social arrangements is telling. It's a small jump 
       from 'job creator' to 'The Creator'. (audience
       laughter) This language wasn't chosen by accident,
       and it's only honest to admit that when somebody like 
       me calls themselves a job creator, we're not just
       describing how the economy works, but more
       particularly we're making a claim on status and
       privileges that we deserve."
While perhaps true, I think that this part really detracts from his talk.

    9. "Speaking of special privileges, the extraordinary
       differential between the 15% tax rate that
       capitalists pay on carried interest, dividends, and
       capital gains, and the 35% top marginal rate on work
       that ordinary Americans pay, is kind of hard to
       justify without a touch of deification."
Man, this is just so bad right here. He really ruins his talk with this. Stick to the points, stick to the points, stick to the points.

    10. "We've had it backwards for the last 30 years. Rich
        people like me don't create jobs. Jobs are a
        consequence of an eco-systemic feedback loop between 
        customers and businesses. And, when the middle-class 
        thrives, businesses grow and hire, and owners
        profit. That's why taxing the rich to pay for
        investments that benefit all is such a fantastic
        deal for the middle class and the rich. So, ladies
        and gentlemen, here's an idea worth spreading: in a
        capitalist economy, the true job creators are
        middle-class consumers, and taxing the rich to make
        investments to make the middle class grow and thrive 
        is the single shrewdest thing we can do for the
        middle class, for the poor, and for the rich. Thank
        you."
I really think his conclusion here is a little bit overwrought. Again, I agree with what he's saying, but the delivery, especially the references to TED's "ideas worth spreading", is just unnecessary and superfluous.

As for TED's response, they justified their decision not to post the video with several points: that it was unnecessarily partisan, that it was unconvincing, and that it was mediocre.

I do not see that it was unnecessarily partisan at all. He mentions political parties exactly once, at the beginning of his talk, and I don't think he said anything there that wasn't true.

But, I could agree that his talk was unconvincing to anyone who steadfastly believes in supply-side economics. He didn't present facts well enough, and his talk was salted and peppered with too much opinion, hyperbole, and fluff.

And, I agree wholeheartedly that it was mediocre. Compared to the talks featured on TED's home page, it just doesn't have the substance, the impact, the original research, or the delivery that those talks have. It's just not good enough of a talk. He's got good points. He clearly has something to say, and I would love nothing more than to hear more discussion like this in our national politics, instead of continuing to take a cargo-cult approach towards heaping benefits on the wealthiest class. However, he's a terrible speaker, and his talk in general needs a lot of work.

(39 comments on this thread when I started writing this, and none actually discussing the content of the video -- tsk.)

(edit: formatting.)


His talk makes the mistake that spending money is what drives the economy. This is a fundamental error.

What drives the economy is people creating value. When people have created value, they can exchange that value for things they want from other people who have created value.

Simply handing people money to spend is not stimulative because it does not create value. Put another way, taking money from A and giving it to B so B can buy things from A does not (and cannot) make A wealthier.

The route to greater wealth for A and B is that both A and B specialize in creating things that the other wants. Then, they trade, and each winds up with a higher standard of living than if each tried to do both. Economies are built on the greater efficiency that comes from specialization, and the resulting trade.


I don't think its fair to describe that as a fundamental error. Rather, your explanation while OK as far as it goes is overly simplistic. Yes, its the real value not the currency that we are after, but you also have to take into account secondary effects like 'aggregate demand'. Perhaps that's an ideological bent of yours or perhaps just omission?

Either way, the process of creating 'real value' on both sides cannot get started in some cases because neither A nor B has any confidence (or capital to support their confidence) that the other side will have the currency to buy the real value they intend to create.

Sure, the currency itself just goes around in circles, and only acts as a catalyst to creation of the 'real value' we are after. But by injecting actual currency to one side or the other (through tax cuts or other means) we increase the aggregate demand and thus amount of flow of this currency in the economy as a whole. This could then (hopefully) increase the confidence of A and B that the other will buy their real value and thus is a way to restart the circular flows of productivity that ultimately creates jobs (and real value).

His talk sort of just assumes you are aware of all the above. His actual point is that by giving tax cuts to the wealthy instead of workers a greater percentage of the stimulus / tax cut stays in bank accounts and thus the effect on aggregate demand is less.


Money in bank accounts is not idle. It is loaned out - and nobody is going to borrow unless they have plans to spend it.

(As eloquently put by Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life".)


Value can be measured in currency. When the target audience of some product has no currency, you could say that economically it has no value. Whereas if you ask these penniless people, they will tell you that it has enormous value to them.

Therefore, placing currency in the hands of the masses can and will drive value creation, because it will assign economic value to what brings value to the masses.


It really is much more complicated than that. Money in bank accounts give the banks the right to create a proportional amount of money, under the assumption that value will be created to match that amount.


> Simply handing people money to spend is not stimulative because it does not create value. Put another way, taking money from A and giving it to B so B can buy things from A does not (and cannot) make A wealthier.

Sure they can, according to some models.

Here's the argument: Say A and B produce goods for each other, and so A might buy something from B for $5, and B might come back and buy something from A with the same $5. They are happily creating value, trading back and forth. Now, say something scares A so that he wants to save some of his money instead of spend. Then B is getting less income from A, and so she also becomes worried about her future income and spends less. Then A gets even less money, and is even less willing to spend. As you can see there is a feedback cycle where A and B produce (and spend) less and less. This is a recession.

Now give B some money, possibly even taken from A. Now B is getting a more reliable income, an is more willing to spend on A, who thus earns more and becomes more willing to spend on B, and so on in positive feedback.

This is basically Krugman's "Babysitting Co-op" scenario.


This is only true if you believe recessions are caused by a lack of confidence, rather than by negative returns on bad choices.

It also assumes that A stuffs the money into the mattress rather than lending it to C, who uses the money to create something that B wants to buy.

It's a very simplistic two-part scenario and has a lot of problems, not in the least what the 'something scares A' part of it. It also assumes that nobody else wants to buy products from B.

In fact the more I read it, the less I am convinced it has any merit at all.


In fact the more I read it, the less I am convinced it has any merit at all.

Which? The model ealloc describes or the Babysitting Co-op scenario? They aren't actually the same.


I believe the Babysitting Co-op scenario is a little different. The solution there was not to redistribute the scrip but to print more.


Nevermind its simplicity, that model is just not an accurate representation of why economic transactions take place. I will only pay you $5 if I value the goods I'm getting in return more than my money, and likewise you will only accept it if you value the money more than the goods. The "babysitting co-op" scenario would only happen if everyone involved ultimately values everything equally, which of course they don't.


I cannot up vote this enough. Value creation is key. One new theory I've been exploring lately is that, while people can value good and bad things (moral and immoral, sustaining and destructive, etc), the creator of value has a responsibility not only to give people what they want, but actually what they deserve. The distinction this makes can be explained with an example:

John makes software for law firms. His software has lots of bugs. John justifies this because he can make more money by adding features and isn't at risk of losing his cash flow because there are no competitors in his space. IMHO, John has an obligation to write better software simply because his constituents deserve it. I also think it could be warranted that he charge even more for it at this point. While I'm not sure bug-free software is a universal good, there are definitely products that ought to be better or not exist (pornography and cigarettes come to mind). The government should not have to regulate these.


Value creation is bullshit. You create job when a. you need a service b. you can't do it with the resource you have c. you can't automate with a machine d. you can afford hiring someone d. the income you generate can support it

Value does not exists per se.

You are so simplicistic here, guys, when you talk about rich and poor.

I know you are not so young, but sometimes it seems you are a group of small kids talking about life.


Thats a good point. Wouldn't the logical conclusion to that point be that it is a mistake to think that a businesses purpose is to create jobs (as opposed to value)?


Yes. Fundamentally, the goal of a business is to create value, in the form of lower prices or better services.

The reason there is so much political emphasis on job creation is that the unemployed are a small but vocal minority, who's political decisions may rest almost entirely on job growth. Whereas value benefits a lot of people in a small way, but value alone probably will not be enough to sway someone's voting decision.


(Not trying to be snarky) Who ever said (or honestly believed) that the purpose of a business is to create jobs?


I've heard it said by several politicians in political speeches. (Not to start a partisan battle, but it my recollection, they were primarily U.S.-ian Democrats.) It's typically couched as a social responsibility to hire, or a responsibility to hire locally rather than outsource/offshore.


Business lives in a community of people , a State. We, as the People, can decide the rules.

Economy has no rules outside the square we create. So, there's no such thing as Economy per se.

You have to remember that the reason a group of people doesn't go out and take what they want is that there is a State, there are laws, there is a monopoly of legitimate force (the police): all of this can survive only if there is a contract between state and the people. All the people, not just the rich or who has a job or <put a category here>


I'm guessing you are from a part of the world that is/was recently totalitarian.

The community of people is far, far more than the State. Cultural/religious norms shape the State and the rules. If corruption is tolerated, for example, it doesn't matter what the official State rules are.

Furthermore, economics are baked in to human nature. Indeed, gender differences are a kind of specialization of labor. Economic activity and surplus allows the creation of the State, not the other way around. In fact, while certain State activities like protecting property rights advances the Economy, most activity by the State is parasitic on the Economy.


if you think economy lives outside a state, you are not paying attention to the number of laws you have to respect. And, by the way, there is no economy without States.

Well, if you think fishing and hunting are economy, go with that.


Your last statement goes against basically all of human history. Economy is the exchange of value (i.e. trade). Trade has always existed, and for nearly all of human history, it existed outside of the state (since there were no states). Even during the age when states began to form, loads of trade took place outside the state's borders (i.e. likely as much trade took place on the silk road as it did at each terminus).

States can certainly make trade easier and safer (though it doesn't always do so), but to say trade cannot exist without the state is simply wrong.


Of course. Hiring people is only done in the service of creating value.


And only if the target audience of that value has currency.


Says Law says it all. No consumption without production first.


I don't see how the necessity of demand is the 'elephant in the room' - it seems pretty obvious that you need both supply and demand in order for ongoing commerce to take place.

Yes, there has to be a customer; but identifying that customer, discovering his desires, and satisfying them in a way that creates net value for all parties is the role of the entrepreneur. Doing that successfully is not a trivial task, and entails substantial risk. Saying that this isn't a value-added activity is like saying that scientific research doesn't create value because the physical world already is what it is, or that explorers and cartographers are useless because the land that they're mapping already exists.

And entrepreneurs and investors do create jobs: if a venture fails because it turns out that the demand wasn't there to begin with, the employees of the venture still get paid - not by the customer, but by the investors, out of the capital that they've risked and lost.


You are missing the piece that all conservative economists miss: access to the medium of exchange. It doesn't matter how well you identify the customer, satisfy their desires and add net value for all parties involved: if that customer doesn't have a job that gives them cash to buy your product the economy grinds to a halt.

It can be summed up by the famous if possibly apocryphal line by Ford: "I pay my employees enough to afford to buy my cars."


You are missing the piece that most amateur liberal economists miss: money is only a valid medium of exchange as long as it represents real value. When you forcibly redistribute too much of it, you aren't helping people buy things and "stimulate the economy" except maybe over the very short term. You're just destroying that value that it would otherwise represent.


While that is true, you would have to forcibly redistribute quite a lot of money to destroy more value than you help create.

When the masses have no currency, in effect, that's signaling to the economy that their needs are of no value. Therefore, businesses that solve the masses' problems gain no economic value from it, and will not generate real value.

So currency has no intrinsic value, but it does signal to the economy which needs are more valuable. And currently, one of the claims is that the middle class and poor's needs are valued so low, that it is creating economic stagnation, and there's little incentive to solve their problems.


Gee, I was hoping to just take the time to transcribe the video and add a couple of comments here and there without having to defend its content.

The necessity of demand is the 'elephant in the room' because so much of the political argument so far has revolved around increasing benefits for the suppliers, rather than increasing demand. The argument has been, "we're supposed to make the wealthy wealthier, and then -- magically -- they will create more jobs."

If the necessity of demand isn't the elephant in the room, then why isn't there broad political support for higher tax rates on the wealthy? Why isn't there broad political support for economic stimulus packages? Why isn't there broad political support for universal health care, a significant expense for poor and middle-class Americans? Why isn't there broad political support for lowering taxes on the poor? Why, instead, do I keep hearing such balderdash as, "The poor pay no taxes at all"?

Nobody's saying that business people don't add value to the economy. What people like this guy -- and me -- are saying is that they don't add value all by themselves. And, if that's a point that people can agree on, then the very next question is naturally, "Why do the bulk of our economic strategies focus only on benefiting them then?"

If a venture fails due to low demand, yes, some investor and some capitalist assumed risk and have presumably lost something. But, worse still, are all those other people -- those employees -- who didn't have anything to risk in the first place, and are now back to looking for work again. In your scenario, there wasn't any net job creation, there were just some positions temporarily filled.

And, anyway, if the business people do the market research they're supposed to do first, and the demand isn't there, they won't bother starting anyway.

Let's stop making up fairytale scenarios. Let's start getting specific. Let's look at things like leveling-off or falling consumer demand for gasoline [1], and then let's look at the tax breaks afforded to oil companies [2], and let's ask ourselves: if we're doing everything right, if we're granting these companies record profits [3], then why haven't they lowered gas prices to increase demand like the magic formula says they will?

[1]: http://soberlook.com/2012/03/us-consumer-is-saying-no-to-hig...

[2]: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/how-much-do-o...

[3]: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/02/08/421061/big-oil-h...


'Increasing demand' is itself a supplier-directed activity; it's one of the primary functions of marketing. It seems baffling to consider this from a political/macroeconomic perspective; how would you increase demand but through marketing activity, without your methods becoming coercive or oppressive?

> If the necessity of demand isn't the elephant in the room, then why isn't there broad political support for higher tax rates on the wealthy?

Because the two concepts have nothing to do with each other, and support for higher taxes on the wealthy - or anyone else - has antecedents in much more basic underlying principles that many do not share, and often strongly oppose in their own right.

> Why isn't there broad political support for economic stimulus packages? Why isn't there broad political support for universal health care, a significant expense for poor and middle-class Americans?

It's because people oppose these ideas in their own right, and see them as being unjustifiable means even if they could achieve their stated ends.

Many people do not want macro-level attempts to manipulate their economic situation at all. Many people do not want to outsource responsibility for their health to external institutions at all. Many people resent that these intimate and personal aspects of their lives are being politicized and turned into public questions in the first place.

> Why isn't there broad political support for lowering taxes on the poor? Why, instead, do I keep hearing such balderdash as, "The poor pay no taxes at all"?

I'm not sure where you've heard that, but I assume that you and whomever you were discussing the matter with had two very different definitions of the term 'poor'.

> What people like this guy -- and me -- are saying is that they don't add value all by themselves.

Nothing ever does. The very concept of value implies that there exists at least two distinct entities: the thing being valued and the being doing the valuing. In commerce, there are at least two valuers and two 'valuees' in every transaction.

This is basic and obvious, and I don't see how it generates any new or significant perspective on any question.

> But, worse still, are all those other people -- those employees -- who didn't have anything to risk in the first place, and are now back to looking for work again.

Since you're intent on analyzing everything from a macro-level perspective, consider that if a certain proportion of all startup ventures are doomed to failure from the outset, and that these ventures provide a certain aggregate number of jobs, then those jobs represent an ongoing pool of jobs that is not supported by market demand.

In other words, some proportion of total jobs is always being subsidized by capital losses, rather than by aggregate demand.

But to your point of this being 'worse', I'd ask "worse than what?" If you choose to support yourself by taking a job working for a third party rather than applying your labor to the direct satisfaction of your needs and desires, then the risk of losing your job is always present, regardless of whether or not the business you work for is sustainable in its own right by market demand. The only way to eliminate this risk is to avoid being dependent on a single external source of income in the first place (which, in my opinion, everyone ought to do to whatever extent they can).

> And, anyway, if the business people do the market research they're supposed to do first, and the demand isn't there, they won't bother starting anyway.

Market research is hardly an exact science. Accurately gauging market demand is extremely difficult, and ventures fail all the time. The core problem of economics is one of epistemology.

> then why haven't they lowered gas prices to increase demand like the magic formula says they will?

What magic formula are you talking about? What problem, exactly, is the profitability of oil companies an indicator of in the first place?


'Increasing demand' is itself a supplier-directed activity; it's one of the primary functions of marketing. It seems baffling to consider this from a political/macroeconomic perspective; how would you increase demand but through marketing activity, without your methods becoming coercive or oppressive?

Wow, seriously?

As an extreme example, and something no one is proposing: give all unemployed people a $1 million cash payment. They'll spend at least some of that money, which will create demand.

More seriously as an actual example that happened, in December 2008 (during the worst of the GFC) the Australian government made cash stimulus payments to most Australian families. This is credited with stimulating spending (ie, demand) during the Christmas period[1], which of course keeps retail employment high, which in turn puts money in employed peoples pockets etc etc. A second cash payment was made in April 2009.

The Australian government also spent large amounts of money on infrastructure projects. Being government, this took longer to spend, so most of that spending occurred right as the effects of the cash stimulus was wearing off. Construction is a big employer, so that helped support employment too.

Finally, the (huge) Chinese stimulus[2] kept the Chinese economy growing, which in turn increased demand for Australian exports.

The outcome was mostly positive: Australia was one of the few developed nations to avoid recession in 2008-2010. Unemployment is at historically low levels and inflation is also low.

Note that NONE of this was supplier initiated. Businesses were worried and were laying people off, and it was increases in demand via economic stimulus that reversed that trend.

[1] http://www.canstar.com.au/global-financial-crisis/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_economic_stimulus_progr...


I believe you're misrepresenting the Australian situation. While it is true they experienced less of a slowdown that other nations, it's not entirely clear that the stimulus had anything to do with it. A few points:

(1) The data (when compared to the recession forecast) doesn't support the idea that household spending is what boosted the economy. Instead, business investment and exports appeared to prop up the Australian economy.

(2) The Rudd government didn't try anything (broad stimulus, cash payments, home rebates, auto stimulus) that wasn't tried in the United States. If you believe these things succeeded in AUS, you'd have to have a convincing argument as to why they didn't in the US.

Obviously this is a tough nut to crack and there are really too many sourced to cite. Here is an article that talks a little bit about the data:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/how-mining-...


The article you linked to started:

NO doubt the Rudd government's big budget stimulus helped keep Australia out of recession last year. But mining was at least as important in producing the unexpectedly good performance.

I agree 100% with that conclusion.

Also, at odds to your point (1) above the same article says:

So the stimulus cash handouts and capital works look to have done most of the work by pumping up consumer and government spending. Treasury suggests budget stimulus added 2 percentage points to GDP growth last year.

It goes on to point out that this was insufficient in itself to explain the growth in the economy.

Clearly, demand stimulus by government hand-outs isn't a sustainable, long term model to grow an economy. BUT contra-cycle government spending can be an important tool to stimulate growth, especially through periods of uncertainty. (To make it clear this isn't a political point: Australia was able to do this because of large surplus budgets run in the period up to 2008/09 by the previous government. That was good policy during that period, and the stimulus was good policy during the crisis).

Note that in the US the stimulus package was radically smaller (compared to the size of the US economy) vs the Australian package. Additionally, it actually did reduce unemployment[1]. It is unfortunate that the US didn't follow that up, and instead made things worse via austerity measures.

[1] http://www.cbo.gov/publication/42715


In 2001, the U.S. passed a tax cut bill that immediately sent rebate checks out to most households. It produced a modest, short-lived bump in the economy but did not increase sustainable demand or create long-term growth. It certainly didn't prevent the recession after 9/11 or the financial meltdown.

Government-funded spending does spur economic activity--true. However it is merely temporary and is essentially borrowing money from the future to buy fake economic growth today--which is why governments reserve it for truly crisis situations like the ones you list above.


Exactly.

My point is that money-in-pockets stimulated demand, not marketing...


> 'Increasing demand' is itself a supplier-directed activity; it's one of the primary functions of marketing. It seems baffling to consider this from a political/macroeconomic perspective; how would you increase demand but through marketing activity...?

You assume here that demand is possible, it just needs to be created through marketing. I get that that's what marketing does -- I really do. I read a great article recently about the rise of marketing in the U.S. as a way to get people to buy things that they didn't know they needed, as a consequence of the industrial revolution creating a surplus of products.

But that's not what we're talking about here.

We're talking about an economic environment in which people don't have enough money to spend. And the solution to that -- and, it seems, your solution as well -- seems to be to give more incentives to the people who do have money to spend.

So that's what I'm trying to point out to you. I don't think it should be a revelation; I'm surprised it's even a point of debate. I've done a couple of quick searches online for citations for some of my arguments elsethread -- there are a ton of other citations which I could bring which could be altogether summed up as, "companies have more money than ever before, and consumer demand is still low and consumers still don't have money to spend."

So, at what point should we step back and say, "OK, this strategy isn't working"?

You object to my macro-level perspective on economics. I object to the idea of managing a system as complex as economics at anything other than the macro level. I honestly do not understand why any economic strategy should not involve the entire economic ecosystem.

> Because the two concepts have nothing to do with each other...

Granted, but I was leading into that with the next couple of questions. Taken out of context, no, they're not related. In context, yes, they are.

> It's because people oppose these ideas in their own right, and see them as being unjustifiable means even if they could achieve their stated ends.

But, seriously, achieving their stated ends would justify their means. You seem to be saying here, "Sure, those are solutions to the problems, but people don't support them even if they do solve the problems." ...OK, so, why? Seriously, why are economic stimulus packages unjustifiable, but austerity is not? There are quite a few Greeks asking this same question right now...

> Many people do not want ... Many people do not want ... Many people resent ...

I hate to do this, but "many people" is not a good counter-point. I'm trying to stick either to specifics, or to things that I could produce citations for, or to things which (I hope) are clearly opinion. Would you mind doing the same? Otherwise, we're just making things up.

For example, you say, "Many people resent that these intimate and personal aspects of their lives are being politicized and turned into public questions in the first place." OK, I'm one of those people. Let me explain: I've worked hard, for years, to claw my way from poverty -- actual homelessness, not enough money for food, all that good stuff -- up to lower-middle-class, and I'm working hard to at least stay there. I'm also the owner of a small business.

So, I should be one of the darlings of the Republican constituency, right? I wish it were so.

I resent that our country is still arguing about health care and tax breaks for huge corporations and tax breaks for wealthy people, while making it sound like these are all things which benefit me, when they don't. I am living this. It's not politics to me, it's life.

My company builds long-term relationships with its customers. A year ago, my biggest client had their research funding canceled. There is a ton of work they would love to pay my company to do, but they can't. Not because they're choosing to save it instead, but because they don't have the money.

My company recently enjoyed its highest-ever billing cycle, just last month. Great news, especially when my overall trend has been pretty good. But, right now, I have $30 in my accounts, because my company is also right now suffering through its slowest recent month in actually receiving our invoices, since so many of our clients are running a little short on money right now.

I have, for better or for worse, a middle class mentality. I don't care as much about accumulating money as I do about doing things with it. I have lots of projects and hobbies. I have a truck that I'd like to finish the R&R on. Better yet, I'd love to pay someone to finish a huge chunk of it for me, to get it done faster. But, I can't afford it. I would have liked to go climbing last Saturday, like I do every Saturday, but, I couldn't afford it.

I would like to hire a sysadmin/junior developer, to ease my workload and free me up to work on some of the other long-term projects we have instead. But, I can't afford it.

Now, this is the part where I'm supposed to say -- if I were wealthy or if my business were bigger -- that it's all the fault of those mean old taxes.

But it's not.

The biggest problem facing my business right now is that my customers don't have any money.

So why are we still debating the supply side of economics when it's the demand side that is suffering so badly?

> I'm not sure where you've heard that

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/05/31/980891/-The-poor-pa... http://progressive-charlestown.blogspot.com/2012/02/is-it-tr... etc.

If you would like to pay my hourly rate, I would be happy to do more Google searches for you. :-) (Meant just in good humor, no offense intended.)


> We're talking about an economic environment in which people don't have enough money to spend. And the solution to that -- and, it seems, your solution as well -- seems to be to give more incentives to the people who do have money to spend.

If they don't have enough money to spend, what's with all of the money that's circulating every day? What's with the (admittedly contrived) metric of GDP indicating that there's about of $13 trillion of value being generated via economic transactions in the United States each year.

You're also neglecting the fact that money isn't actually worth anything intrinsically; it's entirely a token of exchange that merely represents the actual utility value of the goods and services that are available for trade in the market. If the money supply remains constant but the real economy expands, then each dollar is worth more; i.e. if what you were saying is true, we'd see deflation. The fact that prices of goods seem to gradually increase suggests that, if anything, there's more money in the economy than is proportionate to the real demand that exists in the market.

The bottom line is that if there's real value to be obtained via trade, then trade will take place, and the value of the unit of exchange will simply fluctuate in response to the real value that exists in the market.

What you're really complaining about here is that people aren't spending money in the way that you expect/desire them to. You're treating the results of actual people's manifest choices as though they're a problem that needs to be corrected, as though people pursuing their own goals in life are obligated to conform to your expectations in doing so.

> So, at what point should we step back and say, "OK, this strategy isn't working"?

Why don't we take it a step further back, and consider whether and when it's appropriate and efficacious to design and implement any top-down strategies for what fundamentally amount to other people's lives. That's what economies are, after all, no matter how many layers of abstraction and aggregation you pile on top of your understanding.

> You object to my macro-level perspective on economics. I object to the idea of managing a system as complex as economics at anything other than the macro level.

Right, that's the fundamental disagreement. You've got it in your head that economies are somehow predictable systems that conform to well-understood models, and which can be managed via carefully-calculated planning.

The reality, of course, is that economies are vastly complex emergent phenomena whose patterns form from the individual decisions of billions of human beings in real time, and which follow no consistent and predictable rules at the macro level, and indeed may adhere to no fixed set of rules whatsoever, and for which, in any case, no theoretical model can even be tested in a controlled and scientific way.

I don't intend to be dismissive or condescending here, but I unfortunately can't think of a more descriptive summarization here: you're just wrong.

> I hate to do this, but "many people" is not a good counter-point. I'm trying to stick either to specifics, or to things that I could produce citations for, or to things which (I hope) are clearly opinion. Would you mind doing the same? Otherwise, we're just making things up.

I'm not making a counterpoint; I'm answering your question. You inquired as to why so many people seem to oppose your list of policy positions. This is why. You're seeing the dispute as one over which means best pursue uncontroversial ends. In reality, most of the opposition is the result of people opposing the intended ends of those policies.

> So, I should be one of the darlings of the Republican constituency, right? I wish it were so.

Either them or the Democrats. Both parties seem to have a philosophy similar to what you're advocating here.

> It's not politics to me, it's life.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. Why do you resent that other people have opposing positions to yours? I don't mean to sound condescending, but I really don't understand how the description of your personal circumstances relates to the discussion. What was it intended to be an example of?

> I have, for better or for worse, a middle class mentality.

What does this mean? What does it mean to have any kind of a class mentality?

> Now, this is the part where I'm supposed to say -- if I were wealthy or if my business were bigger -- that it's all the fault of those mean old taxes.

Of course it's not. Not for large-scale business anyway; capital-intensive ventures with external investors calculate their tax burden as a cost of doing business, and we can't quantify how many businesses never launched because the tax burden would have pushed them into unprofitability. And although it's possible that cost and complexity of taxes actually do prevent many very small businesses - e.g. those run by families or individuals - from being sustainable, even this isn't the crux of the objection.

The problem is that taxes provide revenue to the government, and what those taxes are spent on is almost invariably destructive. Tax 'the wealthy' so we can have more foreign wars, TSA strip-searches, email surveillance and drug wars? No thanks. Tax 'the wealthy' so we can implement more policies that treat people's lives as instantiations of presumptive socioeconomic categories and shoehorn them into patterns of behavior irrespective of their own goals and intentions? No thanks. Tax 'the wealthy' so we further politicize deeply personal value judgement relating to matters such as health care and education, simply to make the macro-level picture look pretty? No thanks. Tax 'the wealthy' so we can artificially create more customers for your business? No thanks - tweak your business model, not the world around you.

I'd love to live in a world without taxes. In this world, I prefer for my taxes to go into pork-barrel projects, the pockets of corrupt lobbyists, and general waste, anything really, that prevents taxes from funding the grandiose ambitions of people who want to remake society and people's lives from the top down, and especially those who prefer for everyone to outsource their happiness and security to outside institutions and abstract 'systems'.


Brilliantly said, Sir Gormo.

For anyone who really has no idea what Gormo is expressing opposition to here but is truly open to at least understanding "the other side" -- might I suggest borrowing a copy of Ameritopia[1] by Mark Levin from the library? Mr. Levin attempts to go through some of the philosophical history of the debate between those advocating top-down "Utopian" solutions vs those advocating bottom-up "Individualistic" solutions.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Ameritopia-Unmaking-Mark-R-Levin/dp/14...

It can be a little dry and the author never apologizes or backs away from which side of the debate he believes is right; but he does make a solid attempt to get at the root of this whole contention.

All this talk of taxing the rich and the various wars on women, college loan recipients, etc... is really just a distraction or at best a side-effect of the real issue of the Individual vs the State.


You're really losing me here. I'm not sure where most of your comment came from. It's clear that I stepped on some kind of personal sensitivity for you, and I think I can see that you have some particular socio-economic ideologies of your own -- usually the kind I hear from big-L libertarians. So, I doubt I'll be able to change your mind on any of this, and I'm not sure why we're even having this discussion. I'll keep my final reply short and sweet.

> If they don't have enough money to spend, what's with all of the money that's circulating every day?

The amount of money in circulation has very little to do with how it's distributed or where it's circulating.

> Why don't we take it a step further back, and consider whether and when it's appropriate and efficacious to design and implement any top-down strategies for what fundamentally amount to other people's lives. That's what economies are, after all, no matter how many layers of abstraction and aggregation you pile on top of your understanding.

This is particularly ironic given that not much further down in my previous comment, I said exactly the same thing -- that economies amount to people's lives -- and I gave my own life as an example, and you didn't understand my point. You are very much lecturing to the choir here.

> You've got it in your head that economies are somehow predictable systems that conform to well-understood models, and which can be managed via carefully-calculated planning.

1. Please point out where I said that.

2. "Managing" -- really, influencing -- economies is in fact one of the roles of government, by definition.

3. Only a couple of short paragraphs above, you said: "If the money supply remains constant but the real economy expands, then each dollar is worth more; i.e. if what you were saying is true, we'd see deflation." This is a rule. If it is true, then we have a system of rules, and, while it may not be absolutely predictable, it is still a system which is subject to predictable behavior. You can't have it both ways. You can't say in one breath that you can use a constant money supply and an expanding economy to predict deflation, and then in the next breath say that the system isn't predictable. So, if someone like me comes along and says, "I don't think that continuing supply-side policies are leading to a healthy economy" -- which, again, was the only point of all of this -- then perhaps instead of saying, "you're wrong because it's unpredictable", you might point out which rules are being broken.

> The problem is that taxes provide revenue to the government, and what those taxes are spent on is almost invariably destructive. Tax 'the wealthy' so we can have more foreign wars...

Why are you bringing this into the discussion? I never once even brushed past the Federal budget, or how taxes are being spent. If you could set aside your own prejudices for just a moment, I think you'd find that you and I would agree on a lot of points here. But, that's not what we were talking about.

The most charitable reading I can give your comment here is that you're suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater. That, because taxes are sometimes, even often, used for evil things, that they are inherently evil. I think it is sufficient to say that I disagree with that.

> ...anything really, that prevents taxes from funding the grandiose ambitions of people who want to remake society and people's lives from the top down, and especially those who prefer for everyone to outsource their happiness and security to outside institutions and abstract 'systems'.

And this is when I knew we couldn't continue to have a discussion.

This all started from a video and some brief commentary on it. To summarize the points: tax policy in the U.S. has in recent years favored large corporations and wealthy individuals; those favors have been justified by an ideological belief that those businesses and individuals will use their advantages to create more wealth; and that empirically does not seem to be happening as we are seeing falling savings, widening income gaps, continued unemployment and underemployment, continued stagnant consumer spending, weak investment markets, and an overall sluggish and stubborn economy.

How did we get from those points to "funding the grandiose ambitions of people who want to remake society and people's lives from the top down"??


Best of luck in your future endeavours. :)


Some quick pie based economics.

Marketing only increases the amount of pie you get when compared to no marketing at all, it doesn't increase the amount of pie available to get however. The problem is not in grabbing more pie than everyone else, the problem is a shortage of pie being made available because certain people collect pies as a hobby and they are doing rather well these days and have fantastic new methods to collect and store pies, so leaving less pie around for everybody else.


And what do they do with the 'pies' they collect?


They lend some of them out to people, but only on the promise of getting even more pies back. And sometimes their children are really bad at pie collecting and so the pies get returned when the pie collector dies.


> And, anyway, if the business people do the market research they're supposed to do first, and the demand isn't there, they won't bother starting anyway.

If that's so I can tell you quite a number of very successful companies that should never have been started. ;)


"And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring."

When a consumer chooses not to buy something, i.e. commerce does not take place, saving occurs. Savings means there will be money available in the future. Money available for a small business loan. Money available to buy shares in a company, freeing up capital from the person you bought the shares from. That capital could actually end up in a new venture that makes it cheaper to produce X, or make X last twice as long, producing more savings in the economy.

That decision by the consume NOT to purchase something tells the producer that they better figure out some way to reduce the price, or go under. Capital, including human capital, frees up for more productive uses. Occasionally imbalances (e.g. too much capital tied up in housing) cause a massive recession, but most of the time this process is relatively benign. Victims of this cheap-credit fueled bubble and recession don't have money to save and invest right now, but innovation will provide jobs again one day. It happens every recession, sometimes longer than others.

Creative Destruction: it's the primary reason why we're all not planting seeds or hunting right now.


Respectfully, I think you are making an unfounded assumption about why consumers aren't buying things. I heard a news story just the other day about U.S. family savings being lower than recent history. This isn't it, but here's a similar article: http://www.standard.net/stories/2012/05/17/our-view-recessio...

i.e., consumers aren't "choosing" not to buy because they're saving the money instead, they're "choosing" not to buy because they don't have any money.

This is exactly why it is so, so important to foster a healthy middle class: they love to spend money. Give them $10,000, and they'll spend $9,000 of it.

We do not right now have a healthy middle class, and I'm super interested in whether or not our economy will recover without addressing that.


Respectfully, I think you are making an unfounded assumption about why consumers aren't buying things. I heard a news story just the other day about U.S. family savings being lower than recent history. This isn't it, but here's a similar article: http://www.standard.net/stories/2012/05/17/our-view-recessio....

i.e., consumers aren't "choosing" not to buy because they're saving the money instead, they're "choosing" not to buy because they don't have any money.

I don't see how your argument is necessarily justified by article. It seems entirely possible that families are trying to put food on the table, whenever possible, rather than save for the future.

This is exactly why it is so, so important to foster a healthy middle class: they love to spend money. Give them $10,000, and they'll spend $9,000 of it.

We do not right now have a healthy middle class, and I'm super interested in whether or not our economy will recover without addressing that.

How do you know if the middle class is healthy? Can you define middle class?


> It seems entirely possible that families are trying to put food on the table, whenever possible, rather than save for the future.

That's actually what I was trying to say, I probably just wasn't clear. I was responding to webXL's opening sentence, "When a consumer chooses not to buy something, i.e. commerce does not take place, saving occurs." I don't think that saving is occurring, I think that people are trying to put food on the table right now, as you say.

> How do you know if the middle class is healthy? Can you define middle class?

To be fair, I'm not aware of a strict definition of "middle class" -- it's one of those amorphous abstractions that everyone refers to without ever bothering to see if they're talking about the same thing.

However, if we define some basic properties of "middle class" -- owns a home (probably with mortgage), has some savings, has reasonable credit, owns two vehicles (for a family) of recent vintage and in decent condition, college educated, etc. -- I think it's pretty easy to see from the news of the last several years that they aren't doing too well these days. Their mortgage is likely upside-down if they bought their home in the last decade; their car is probably requiring more frequent repair; their credit probably isn't as good as it used to be; their savings are diminished; and tuition is expensive.

If you can find any recent good news for U.S. middle class families, I would honestly love to read it. :-)


As an aside: are mortgages even a good thing? They seem to create their own market.

I.e. if there are no mortgages, people buy what they can afford and housing prices remain low. If there are mortgages, suddenly house prices skyrocket since buyers can afford vastly higher prices, making mortgages a requirement for owning a home.

A good position to be in if you're a bank; now you get a big slice of all action.


I'm undecided on that one. The theory of course is that it makes it possible for a family which can't quite make the up-front cost for a home to still buy a home, which consequently helps keep rents reasonable, which helps poorer classes get by.

But there are also the unintended consequences: people buy things they can't actually afford, like you said, and people begin to qualify for buying homes as investment vehicles, which really screws with things.

So I'm not smart enough to figure that one out.


> it makes it possible for a family which can't quite make the up-front cost for a home to still buy a home

But does it actually have that effect? Once everyone is using mortgages, everyone is back in the same place as before mortgages.

To put it more concretely: before mortgages, houses might average around $100K because the average person simply cannot afford any higher. Once mortgages arrive, houses might spike to $300K, because your average person can afford that mortgage. So while the example family might not have been able to afford the $100K house because they had $80K, a mortgage won't help because now houses are around $300K.

So I don't quite grasp how this would affect rents. That seems to be an orthogonal issue.


Savings means there will be money available in the future. Money available for a small business loan. Money available to buy shares in a company, freeing up capital from the person you bought the shares from.

While your statement is not entirely false, it paints a misleading picture of how the economy at large works. Outside of venture capitalism, credit for running businesses tends to be provided by banks, and banks just create the necessary money out of thin air whenever they find a creditworthy borrower, i.e. a business with a solid business plan and with a reasonable expectation of sufficient demand for its product.

When the overall savings rate rises, it becomes less reasonable to expect sufficient demand for products, which means less creditworthy borrowers, which means less loans given out by banks.

Occasionally imbalances (e.g. too much capital tied up in housing) cause a massive recession

Not quite. The recession isn't caused by capital being tied up in housing. "Putting capital into housing" is just economics-jargon for spending money on houses. And that tends to create jobs in the construction sector.

The recession comes about when private households can no longer use their houses as collateral for loans to fuel demand because the value of those houses is reassessed.

Creative Destruction: it's the primary reason why we're all not planting seeds or hunting right now.

I think you'll find that the primary reason why most of us are not doing these things is actually creative construction. The destruction part is only really beneficial when one gets stuck in a local optimum.


>banks just create the necessary money out of thin air

This activity is ultimately underwritten by deposits.

It should also be noted that paying down debt is counted as saving from a statistical perspective. It just means value is being transported back in time versus forwards.


This activity is ultimately underwritten by deposits.

Yes and no. First of all, deposits are created whenever a bank gives out a loan. So it is not the deposit that makes loan creation possible, but rather the reverse: creation of loans is where money in deposits comes from in the first place. Without loans there would be no deposits.

Now the outstanding loans given by the bank are on the asset side of its balance sheet and there must be something corresponding on the liabilities side. For most banks, deposits are indeed a large part of liabilities.

However, the liability may just be a loan from the central bank or from other banks instead. It's not strictly necessary for banks to have deposits at all (and there are banks which specialize in such a way).

The only reason why it makes sense for banks to attract deposits is that they typically pay less interest on those deposits than they would have to pay for other refinancing options.

And again, all this doesn't say anything about the dynamics of the system, i.e. it doesn't say anything about loan creation. It's not like there is some process where the banks say "Look, we have X more deposits than loans, so let's give out some more loans". Some banks operate with more deposits than loans, others operate with less. In the end, they give loans whenever they find a creditworthy borrower.

In the overall system, i.e. when summing over all banks, the sum of loans is roughly the same as the sum of deposits, because loans are where deposits come from in the first place. (I say roughly because owners of deposits can transform them into other types of assets such as bonds.)


with a reasonable expectation of sufficient demand for its product.

What determines sufficient demand? It's the chicken and the egg. Or is it: Profits lead to innovation. Innovation leads to cheaper goods. What's left over is new demand? Or demand dries up for product X, and demand is available for product Y?


I was watching Steve Keene's talks on what's wrong with Neoclassical Economics (one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZKjQtrgdVY) as he shows why economists get all this wrong. Its strange to me that economists make assumptions tat each marginal dollar gets spent the same way regardless of who it is given to....


The logical flaw is equating consumer demand with aggregate demand. There are other economies, e.g. Germany (industrial economy) and China (state economy, albeit transitioning), that aren't as reliant on consumer demand as America (consumer economy).

His entire argument flows from this assumption.


Funny you cite Germany as not as reliant on consumer demand; one of the things that keeps being cited as hurting Germany right now is that the rest of the Eurozone is its major customers, and they can't afford German goods on account of depression.


I didn't say not reliant - I said not as reliant. At 57% of GDP, Germany's economy is still very reliant on consumption compared to, say, China at 35% [1]. Note that many government expenditures, e.g. Medicare, are counted as consumer spending.

The speaker's argument revolves around inequality, by leading to lower consumption by the lower classes, making an economy unsustainable. This assumes domestic lower class consumption is the driving force behind GDP, which further assumes a diminishing consumption function (consumption as a function of household income). The consumption function is, in fact, quite linear [2]. The speaker also ignores investment, public sector spending, industrial investment (firms buying from other firms), and export industries.

Thus, the notion of consumers being the only pillar of economic activity and by proxy job creation is faulty.

A better argument would be wealth concentration compromises meritocracy and the social trust that binds society together. This isn't a new argument. So the speaker elevates novelty over accuracy in pursuit of a perception of profundity, fallacy be damned.

[1] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.CON.PETC.ZS?order=wba... (2010 countries ranked by consumption/GDP)

[2] http://wps.aw.com/aw_miller_econtoday_12/0,7965,904285-,00.h...


Thanks for providing the transcript. I listened to this and the guy is not a good presenter. Both the content and the delivery need serious work. What's worse is you can tell he has rehearsed this thing ad nauseum. And it's still really stiff and awkward.

Now, in some way he, being as lame as he is in this presentation, has proven his own argument.

A lot of wisdom is imparted on the wealthy to be leaders of the economy. But not everyone who is wealthy is actually very wise. They have succeeded in making money. But that in itself does not elevate them to God status. Don't believe me? Let us look at Exhibit A:

Rich guy from Seattle who has "started _dozens_ of companies."

Roll presentation.

And what's with use of the term "capitalist"? Are there lots of socialists in America now? Are American workers not capitalists?


> And what's with use of the term "capitalist"? Are there lots of socialists in America now? Are American workers not capitalists?

Workers (as in people who work for a wage) aren't Capitalists (as in the Noun).

You don't have to be a Socialist if you are not a Capitalist. There are not 'a lot' of Capitalists anywhere (proportional to the overall population).


That's not what Webster's dictionary says. A capitalist is someone who has capital for investment. Would you agree with that definition? It certainly does not imply that a salaried worker is not a capitalist. Every person with a 401k is a capitalist by this definition.

It's true you don't have to be a socialist if you are not a capitalist. But in terms of `ist's, what else would an American likely be? A communist?


The first error is the assumption that creation of jobs is somehow desirable. Personally I have the goal of not needing a job anymore, for example by automating everything. I think the whole economy is working towards that goal in the end.

Likewise "more consumption" is not a goal in itself. Wellbeing of people is a goal, consumption might be a way to achieve it. But because you should be careful what you measure, trying to increase consumption is probably bound for disaster.

The problem is not creating more jobs, it is distribution of wellbeing.


NB: appreciate the post, but HN really needs a better quoting markdown hack than monospace/code blocks (all of which displays with a horizontal scroll slider on my laptop).


Thanks for transcribing and commenting. Insightful.


some of us are fine talking about "the elephant in the room" for supply-side econ as you put it.

Here's the thing, you can't force people to be productive enough to be able to consume at the optimal level. All you can do is provide an environment where being productive is easier.


If everyone spent all their time being productive then there'd be no time to consume. The point of this is that supply and demand need to be in balance. If you look at Ford's thinking behind the 40 hour work week and increased pay it's to create a market for the product he is supplying.

I think that guys like Ford are job creators, but most capitalists don't have the foresight to enact such bold policies.


Whether his talk makes a point and TED refuses to publish this talk are two different stories.


What's up with the editorializing of the title? If you're going to post stuff that's on the edge of being too political for HN I think leaving the headline intact is the best approach.

edit it's been fixed, but for reference the original title had something in it about "astroturfing in action"


Yeah I agree. For reference, 'astroturfing' is not what happened here. Astroturfing is when a large entity funds what looks like a grassroots, anti-establishment movement. Astroturfing is about orchestrating grassroots tactics to give the appearance of a genuine movement.

None of that happened here. Instead what happend was someone posted and article to the internet, the internet got outraged, and someone else issued an apology. Same cycle that happens every day.


> The audience at TED who heard it live... gave it, on average, mediocre ratings.

Without disputing the 'ratings' (whatever these may be), its pretty obvious from the youtube video that the actual audience response is very positive rather than mediocre (the majority of the audience seem to give a standing ovation and there is pretty emphatic applause all around).


First and foremost, from the video that was posted, the talk in question was not good at all. As a speaker, Nick Hanauer is not very polished and has this halting manner of speaking that is fairly irritating. It sounds like a speech that a high school student would make.

This was too easy of a decision to not run this, because it was really terrible. Instead of bitching and moaning about censorship, get a better speaker to talk about income equality. Get a more dynamic speaker to present a better-researched and better written speech, and then see what happens. But THIS particular speech is not something that people should be rallying behind, because it's really bad.


Its amazing what a little truth sheds on an otherwise perfect angry mob. After hearing from both sides I hope those who accused TED of censorship will be kind enough to apologise.


"Censorship" is the wrong word, but I'll stand by my accusations of cowardliness. If what he said was an irrelevant ad hominem attack (like "Republicans smell and are ugly") I'd understand their reluctance, but it was an accurate description of the actions of a political party. By ruling such topics off limits, they are intellectually hobbling the discussions that can be had. We can not address the problems they are so enamored of without addressing the forces that have a vested interest in maintaining them.

Their current position is like an agnostic who says, "well, we can never know..." when what they mean is "of course the idea of a divine being is a human invention, but if I say that some people might not like me as much." They are cowards, and I have little respect for cowards.


Not getting into arguments with children about whether the easter bunny or santa claus are real doesn't make a person a coward it makes them intelligent. If they want to believe in those things then it's fine, I don't need to explain to them the irrationality of it, and often times it's just more fun to go along with it.

You try explaining to a group of children on Christmas morning that Santa isn't real and there aren't going to be any presents this year.

If instead you tell the children you will put in a good word for them with Santa Claus and then Santa Claus brings them the stuff they wanted then they'll be amazed by your pull with Santa.

Think of it this way, every week 2 billion people give up 10% of their wages just so Santa's intercessors can give them a little wine and some rice paper.


    And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to
    descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting
    people can find every day elsewhere in the media.
I read that as "it is controversial, so we don't want to talk about that." If some new science showed that human consciousness begins at X days after conception, would that not be aired because it is a hot-button topic too?


Why should he post a talk about that? You could get that information from any other source.

Whereas TED is the only place I can find a talk about taking criminals bicycling, the importance of the washing machine and why we should eat insects (that one does have a few doses of liberal morality though).


The TED audience seemed to like it and think it's appropriate. Watch it to the end, half of the audience gives a standing ovation. I've seen front page TED talks that don't get standing ovations.


Science is science, and can be discussed without descending into a political debate. Discussions about 'inequality' are entirely political, and have little value outside of polemic.


> Discussions about 'inequality' are entirely political

I really doubt that. Given that a Google for "study of effects of inequality" returns 13 million results, a citation of the absence of relevant citations is needed.


> Discussions about 'inequality' are entirely political

Disagree. If the result of certain economic practices result in social inequality, is that entirely political? Economics is a social science, so why should some results be only political? It's not as black and white as you make it sound.


> Disagree. If the result of certain economic practices result in social inequality, is that entirely political?

The concept of social inequality is inherently political. You can formulate methods of quantifying anything, but if what you're quantifying is inherently political in the first place, it doesn't make it any more objective or empirical.

> Economics is a social science

Exactly. Most social sciences are based upon subjective value systems and not objective empirical data; they're not really sciences in the same sense as physics, chemistry, or biology.


If I understand your point then, it's that nothing other than empirical data should be presented at TED? Then I should suggest you stop watching TED videos then, because this talk isn't a first to touch on political subjects.


I'm not saying that at all - I'm just responding to the comparison involving some new scientific concept having potentially controversial implications.

TED conferences are discussions of ideas, and ideas are often engender controversy; some of them might influence people toward one political position or another, but that doesn't mean that the ideas don't have some relevance or value outside of politics.

In this case, though, I can't blame the TED organizers for eschewing the discussion of ideas that are entirely political, and which are ultimately only about engaging the controversy itself.


> ideas that are entirely political, and which are ultimately only about engaging the controversy itself.

If you read the same article I did, that's not the reason they claimed, so I don't know where you're getting that from. Here's the relevant portion:

> And we try to steer clear of talks that are bound to descend into the same dismal partisan head-butting people can find every day elsewhere in the media.

It says nothing about the talk being only about engaging controversy, nor about the idea being entirely political. The reason was that it had potential to rile people up. You are confusing an idea that will unavoidably rile people up with an idea that is intended to rile people up. They are not the same.


If there was enough evidence, I guess it would. What differs TED from "elsewhere in the media" is that the former has content, the latter usually not so much.


"TED: politically safe ideas worth spreading."


Relevant pg essay: http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html

The power of PR can be pretty amazing sometimes. Especially scary given the susceptibility of the masses (ie, the Reddit firestorm).


Going out of the way to not seem partisan has the same effect as being partisan.


It turns the conversation into a tribal pissing match? I don't think that's what taking an even-handed and nonconfrontational approach does.


As always, lie travels 10 times around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on. I've encountered dozens of references already that Powers That Be and their minions at TED were afraid to talk about something that might piss of the all-powerful 1%, and that of course proves all conspiracy theories out there and gives birth to a dozen of new ones. But I wonder if any of these people will ever hear the real story.


It's kind of funny to hear wealthy individuals complaining about not taxing their class proportionally. As if they are saying "This is wrong. But unless the government tells us we have to pay, we're still not going to pay."

Why don't these individuals, e.g. Buffett, this TED speaker, and others, just lead by example. Overpay their taxes to amount to whatever they think is fair.

Why do they have to wait for the government to tell them they must pay?

Or they say they will pay more only if other wealthy individuals do the same.

Either they believe in paying a bigger share or they don't.

This "I'm not going to do it unless he does too" attitude is child-like behaviour.


>Either they believe in paying a bigger share or they don't.

First, They believe in rules to enforce everyone paying a bigger share, and are lobbying to bring that about. There's nothing inconsistent in doing that whilst not individually making a bigger voluntary contribution. One might think that one's efforts are far better spent lobbying for a general rule then individually donating.

Second, people like Buffett have commitments to philantropy that I think would easily count as making a bigger contribution.


I'd say the "every man for himself" mentality you embody is what's child-like.


Here is a wonderful little quote from the article:

"Also, for the record, we have never sought advice from any of our advertisers on what we carry editorially. To anyone who knows how TED operates, or who has observed the noncommercial look and feel of the website, the notion that we would is laughable."

For anybody that knows how to read press releases, this speaks volumes. It is indignant and righteous and yet at the same time it clearly leaves a loophole one can use to back out of the statement at a later date. Hint: one does not always have to seek advise to receive it. Sometimes the "advice" just comes to you.


Both parties are at fault here.

* The attendee for hiring a PR firm to create commotion

* TED for not being transparent

TED's decision, based on the elections or quality is superfluous. The fact is they weren't up front about it. If TED took its reputation seriously it would be transparent in all aspects of video selection. If it isn't censorship, they wouldn't be in this situation. Personally the slides I read were thought provoking, which is what TED was about (despite some graphs not labeling their Y access correctly).

Hiring a PR firm for a smear campaign on a non profit is simply a dick move. I shouldn't have to elaborate on that.


I continue to be amazed that folks continue to claim a rich man with a published book who makes the rounds on cable news networks is somehow being "censored" by virtue of his mediocre talk not being highlighted by an independent foundation. Seriously, this does a serious disservice to the word censorship and people across the globe who suffer from actual censorship.


Ted is a circle jerk for rich people of course they don't want to hear about inequality.


Especially when the person lecturing them about inequality uses blatant, easily-debunked lies to do it. ("When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest...")


This was an issue on Reddit and elsewhere. Ticket prices to a TED talk are at least $6k apparently http://www.ted.com/conversations/1950/ted_s_6000_price_tag_l...

One ticket went for $33k http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/next/archives/2008/01/a...


How much is a ticket to their youtube channel?


(free, of course)

But the whole point is they only put the talks they want you to hear on YouTube. Rich people hearing about income inequality is nothing new, but it's downright scary when they limit the non-rich hearing about it.


I see your point, but I think the point of the complaint was that that kind of networking is only available to the wealthy.


astroturfing (ˈæstrəʊˌtɜːfɪŋ)

— n a PR tactic used in politics and advertising in which actors are paid to display overt and apparently spontaneous grassroots support for a particular product, policy, or event


FWIW, Richard Wilkinson's TED talk "How economic inequality harms societies"[1] makes a far superior argument. It's laden with original research, data, and graphs, lots of graphs. :D

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html


Why was he even pitching this talk to TED, a conference about rich people, for other rich people?

That would be like me pitching a show to Fox News about how white christian males are scum and should be burned for fuel. It's the wrong message, for the wrong audience.


I think you hit the nail on the head, and find it very interesting people are down voting you.

This has shown TED doesn't want to spread the word about controversial issues that actually impact the vast majority of people's lives. I stand by the accusations of them being cowardly.

But of course, a society by the rich, for the rich is nothing new.


> and find it very interesting people are down voting you.

People are downvoting him for making assumptions about the motivations of actual, specific people, based on little more than their presumptive membership in arbitrary and subjective categories. And, for what it's worth, you're doing the same thing.


It seems to me that TED was embarassed by this talk, not because they disagree with the conclusions, but just because the speaker was so unbearable to watch, and TED probably felt that he came off a little weird.


All this non productive discussion aside, Can Hackers solve this problem ? Entrepreneurs take risk and should be rewarded accordingly. However not all Rich people are Entrepreneurs. Some just keep their money in the bank and stagnate the economy.

How about creating Soft-Tax system, where Rich people are taxed Soft-Tax in addition to regular Tax. Soft-Tax would be a separate bank account where Rich must transfer their capital for Entrepreneurial work. If they don't use that money for funding new businesses Soft-Tax would turn into regular Tax after some deadline.


The abdication of duty to truth in favor of balancing competing ideas is a disease. Sometimes some ideas are just empirically more correct and some are just empirically more incorrect. If some partisans happen to hold the more correct view, and others happen hold the more incorrect view, then to speak the correct view cannot avoid being incidentally partisan. To therefore preclude that speech as "partisan" is ridiculous.


I didn't think the talk itself was needlessly partisan. Only reason I'd say it shouldn't be posted is that a basic intro to keynesian economics isn't particularly new or noteworthy.

If I gave a TED talk that just was a fisher-price version of Bastiat's broken window, should it be aired? Should I call it censorship if it wasn't?


Isn't it up to "me" to decide what is partisan and what is or is not convincing?

Heh, I suppose the devil's "quality" control argument slides right in.


Youtube's slow update of view counts + a video that goes very and is very controversial very quickly =

303 views

2,115 likes, 837 dislikes


Brilliant move by both parties to make this talk more popular than if it had just been released normally.

Yes his presentation is not up to snuff as the typical TED speaker. So a quiet YouTube release and shitstorm of trumped up controversy work out great for getting the message out:

"In a consumption driven economy, the middle class is more important than the elite class."


This story is too hot for Safari on iPad. Every time I click the link, it crashes.


$6000 dollar ticket price. That it is the real inequality.


TED claims the talk in question was "needlessly partisan".

That's almost right; just change "less" to "full".

When a problem has overwhelmingly been created by one party, then yeah, of course you're going to have to be "partisan" to address it.


tl;dr; Unpolished speaker is right.


Censorship is censorship. End of story.


If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by democrats and has shaped much of today's economic landscape.

What's so f*cking partisan about it?


It sounds like a case of activist journalism, or a reporter got duped into thinking some injustice was carried out by TED. The power of media at play, folks.

Maybe i'll have to go back and actually watch the speech now. Funny, though, how this fellow, if he did feel slighted by TED and sought to get his speech publicized, is now getting all this attention ... Seems he's the beneficiary of a lot of interest at TED's expense.


This sounds like the typical hogwash from any other politically aligned media outlet. Am I reading a Fox News editorial? Just post the video and let "the internet" make the decision. If you think you think you can censor opinion in the modern world then you are flat-out wrong.


The content in the video is available since day 1. The very article contains link to TED's version, which would be obvious to anyone reading the whole article, which makes me wonder - did you? The whole point is not about the talk ideas being somehow unavailable - but about the author feeling entitled to being promoted by TED and when TED does not provide that for him launching into PR campaign about "censorship". Nobody tried to "censor" anybody's opinion. But some people love having opinions without even bothering with the facts. I don't know anything more flat-out wrong than that.


"Astroturfing"?

Come on, use real words that mean something.


Astroturfing is a real word with meaning that has been used since the 80s...




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