On Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council voted to raise the minimum wage for workers at the city’s big hotels to more than $15 an hour.
To Nick Hanauer, that means his message is being heard.
Hanauer is a Seattle businessman, tech entrepreneur and early Amazon .com investor – a self-proclaimed “0.1 percenter” – who has warned of the dangers of income inequality and advocated for a $15 minimum wage in books, opinion pieces, TED talks and speeches.
He’ll give two talks in Eastern Washington on Thursday on behalf of Washington State University’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service.
In an interview Thursday, he noted that Los Angeles’ move is part of a trend – Seattle and the city of SeaTac, Washington, both have taken action to raise minimum wages to $15.
San Francisco voters will consider a $15 minimum wage in November.
“It’s happening everywhere,” he said. “I don’t want to over claim credit, but I think it’s more than a coincidence that people are doing these things.”
In a treatise published as an open letter to the mega wealthy in Politico magazine this summer, Hanauer wrote that he sees pitchforks in the nation’s future. “At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country – the 99.99 percent – is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast,” he said.
Hanauer said Thursday that it wasn’t hyperbole; he really does expect armed revolt if things don’t change.
“If you don’t believe me just remind yourself what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri,” he said. “Folks that are disenfranchised, got nothing to lose, are pissed off. Before you know it that sort of stuff’s going to happen in Spokane.”
Consider the math, he said. The share of U.S. income controlled by the top 1 percent has risen from 8 percent to 20 percent in the past 30 years.
Income controlled by the bottom 50 percent has fallen from 18 percent to 12 percent in that time. It’s only going to continue to decline if nothing changes, he said.
Hanauer argues that raising the minimum wage turns workers into better consumers, benefiting society as well as his “fellow zillionaires.”
“We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too,” he wrote.
He said he’s lost friends among his peer group because of his views. But he said there are very few people among the very wealthy who don’t recognize that income inequality is a problem.
“I think there’s broader and broader agreement that this is a real issue that faces our society, that it’s getting worse, that if we let it continue to get worse it’ll be bad for everyone, and that we have to tackle it.”
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