Wealthy Will Laugh All the Way to the Bank If I-1098 Tax Measure Fails, Says Investor and Activist Nick Hanauer

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the extra millions he would pay in state tax each year.

“Money is the lifeblood of the economy. But exactly in the same way as the human body, circulation is everything,” he says. “If blood coagulates, you die.” Hanauer points out that in 1980, the top 1 percent of Americans earned 8.5 percent of the total income, while the bottom 50 percent earned 18 percent. Today, the top 1 percent earn about 23 percent and the bottom 50 percent earn just 12.5 percent. He warns that this ever-widening gap between rich and poor could lead to economic collapse, and a “revolution” that could destabilize the country.

On the flip side, he argues, “Apple [or Amazon] could be twice as big a company if the average American were more prosperous…True self interest is mutual interest.”

Of course, opponents argue that government is wasteful and shouldn’t get any more taxpayer dollars. Hanauer admits that inefficiency is always an issue, but says the measure’s wealthy opponents won’t propose better ways to pay their fair share. “What I can guarantee is that the people who funded the opposition to 1098 will not organize a campaign for tax reform which includes the wealthy paying their fair share,” he says. “It will not happen.”

Clearly, Hanauer was agitated when we met, as recent polls indicate his argument will probably lose. I think the whole thing boils down to personal feelings about social justice and the role of government—as well as the prospect of change in a difficult economy. Granted, I’m just a guy from Taxachusetts who lived in Seattle for a few years. But I was surprised that Washington has no income tax. There are only six other states like that—Texas, Wyoming, Alaska, Nevada, Florida, and South Dakota (New Hampshire and Tennessee tax dividends and interest income). In my view, these places are known more for their frontier mentality than their progressive innovation hubs. Is that good company to keep? You be the judge.

Had he been running the campaign for I-1098, Hanauer says he would have appealed to the one emotion that trumps fear—and that is anger. If the measure fails, he says, the wealthy “will be laughing all the way to the bank.” But Hanauer won’t be one of them.

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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