Can the venture capitalist Nick Hanauer convince rich people that it’s in their interest to raise the minimum wage?
THE SEATTLE-BASED tech entrepreneur Nick Hanauer was riding in a black Uber SUV to the private-jet terminal at Dulles Inter national Airport, outside Washington, D.C., when I asked him whether he really thought his was the best face for the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15. He was on his way to New York for dinner with Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning liberal economist known for his critiques of globalization and free-market economics. Hanauer is generally un impressed by politicians, who have been begging him for money for many years, but the prospect of dining with Stiglitz had him giddy. “He’s, like, God,” Hanauer said.
At my question, Hanauer, who is 56, with blunt features and a pouf of dark hair, paused to collect his thoughts, then leaned forward in his leather seat. “A guy like me—a very successful capitalist, somebody who knows all the rich people— is the best face for the message of reforming capitalism, right?” he said. People might dismiss the argument coming from a fast-food worker or a labor leader. “I’m the one who can say, ‘It doesn’t have to be that way,’ ” he continued. “When they say that the better profits are, the better it will be for everybody, I’m the one who can say ‘That’s a lie.’ ”
Plenty of rich guys set out to change the world; Hanauer is faring better than most. He has managed, from his perch in Seattle, to build a formidable political operation, backing a series of winning candidates and ballot initiatives. He helped set in motion the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15, which has already succeeded in several cities and is making progress in others. He spearheaded a new gun-control measure in Washington State that is inspiring similar eff orts across the U.S. Rob Stein, the founder of the Democracy Alliance, a liberal donors’ network on whose board Hanauer sits, told me, “I don’t think anybody in America in the last fi ve or six or seven years has been as successful at this brand of philanthropic activism as Nick has been.”
Hanauer could be described as a guns-and-inequality-obsessed analogue to Tom Steyer, the San Francisco hedge-fund tycoon who’s spent millions advocating for new climate-change policies, or a Democratic counterpart to the right-wing Koch brothers. “Every battle he has waged that I’m aware of— education, guns, the minimum wage, overtime, his economic framework—on every one he has had tangible success,” Stein said.
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