One of the authors of the new $15 minimum wage that seems to be taking the West Side of our state by storm was in Spokane Wednesday, talking about how most of what we think we know about the economy is wrong, about the welfare queen that is Wal-Mart and about demand for soft, fluffy pillows.
Nick Hanauer shared his thoughts on income inequality to more than 100 people at the Davenport Hotel — ironically, pointed out event sponsor and local business owner Ron Reed, in the Marie Antoinette Room. Hanauer is a surprising messenger, since he’s a card-carrying member of the 1 percent, having helped the startup of Amazon.com, among many other successful businesses.
“I am the problem,” he said, “rich guys like me.”
Hanauer — a devoted capitalist and noted TED talker — worries that too much greed is shrinking the middle class and will spell doom for many American businesses, like our own Coldwater Creek, which recently closed. He talked about his family’s first business, Pacific Coast Feather — makers of fine pillows. He says business is tough right now because fewer people can afford a high-quality headrest. “Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, they just need one pillow,” he said. A healthy middle class, however, needs lots and lots of pillows.
Last June, after five years of working the issue, his silver-bullet solution was published in a story in Bloomberg News: The $15 minimum wage. Crazy. Insane. Un-American. That was the reaction among the usual Forbes/Wall Street Journal/Republican Party axis. But guess what? The City of Sea-Tac passed the idea into law, and Hanauer says it’s looking 95 percent likely the city of Seattle will do the same very soon.
With more money to spend, lower-wage workers can buy more pillows — and taxpayers can stop buying food stamps for workers at Wal-Mart, which pays their employees below a living wage and leaves it to all of us to fund the difference.
Bill Clinton used to say the best social program is a job, but in recent years, as the chasm between the rich and poor has become ridiculous, there’s been a pretty big caveat added to that sound-bite. A crappy, low-paying job creates even more social problems, but a well-paying job is, indeed, a very good social program.
In an expensive place to live like Seattle, that means $15 an hour; or, as Hanauer put it, “maybe $12 an hour here in Spokane.”
OK local progressives, a citywide $12 minimum wage: You have your mission, should you choose to accept it.