TED turns stupid

As readers here will know, I like TED talks. TED provides a great forum for lively, pithy presentations on “ideas worth spreading.”

Apparently, the organizers of TED have decided that the idea that widening income inequality is harming America is not an idea worth spreading.

National Journal reports: TED organizers invited a multimillionaire Seattle venture capitalist named Nick Hanauer – the first nonfamily investor in Amazon.com – to give a speech on March 1 at their TED University conference. Inequality was the topic – specifically, Hanauer’s contention that the middle class, and not wealthy innovators like himself, are America’s true “job creators.”

“We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years,” he said. “Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an ecosystemic feedback loop animated by middle-class consumers, and when they thrive, businesses grow and hire, and owners profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.”

You can’t find that speech online. TED officials told Hanauer initially they were eager to distribute it. “I want to put this talk out into the world!” one of them wrote him in an e-mail in late April. But early this month they changed course, telling Hanauer that his remarks were too “political” and too controversial for posting.

Not only was this decision dumb — it was also bizarre.

Just six months ago TED posted Richard Wilkinson’s talk: “How economic inequality harms societies.”

Wilkinson is the co-author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger which documents in great detail how inequality worsens social problems and equality promotes social health — ideas worth spreading in 2011 but not 2012?

Hopefully TED will review their decision on Hanauer’s talk and acknowledge that what they did was dumb — that would be the smart thing to do. After all, Hanauer just appeared on Charlie Rose and he’s been on NPR, neither of which can be described as venues for political radicalism.

Hanauer was interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition in December:

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3 thoughts on “TED turns stupid

  1. DE Teodoru

    The biggest lie is that “you need it.” So, people borrow to meet the “need” TV installed in their minds for goods made by Chinese slave labor. What does our economy gain from Apple? Microsoft? Why is Best Buy going out of business? Can we come up with better priorities than gadgets?

    So, America needs consumers….people who pay for piecemeal rape of the planet?

    How about austerity and reading of text and debating it rather than compile videos and photos so we can make new “e-friends.” We need to distinguish between what we need and what we want because somone put it in our heads.

    America is a big lie, calling lying “advertizing” and advertizing “free speech.” Meanwhile we rape the real so we can play mindlessly in the virtual. We are all e-Greeks….brilliant nation, those Greeks, sure that they could get lots of public services and jobs without paying taxes because the EU will take care of it. That’s the philosophy of pigs: Portugal; Italy; Greece; Spain. EU was such a great idea, dreamed up by people who work hard and take care together of individual catastrophes (the safety net). Then came the Southern Tier that said: if the Americans can bilk these Euros for $trillions, we should be able to do it for a few $billions. Now the least among the people in the PIGS lands are left to starve in the street while our bankers are into round two. I smell world war, a la late 1930s.

  2. Rich Berger

    You’ve all been played by the big PR firm Nick Hanuaer hired to push out this story. Nick was never on the main stage of TED – he pitched and gave a TEDUniversity talk the day before, NOT a main stage talk. Why was Richard Wilkinson’s talk posted earlier? Because he was a REAL main stage speaker. Do your homework.

    Nick Hanauer gave a mediocre talk at TEDUniversity where few talks are posted to TED.com. When Nick didn’t get his way, he hired a big PR firm to pitch the story everywhere and smear TED. What a brat.

  3. Paul Woodward

    It could be true that I and others got played by Nick Hanauer’s PR firm. Was it a big PR firm? TED’s Chris Anderson just describes it as a PR firm. Anderson didn’t actually claim that Hanauer had hired the PR firm after getting rejected. Hanauer’s been promoting his book for months and I would imagine that it was for that purpose that he originally hired his PR firm. Perhaps you have additional information. Since you apparently didn’t see my follow-up post on this story, I’ll repeat the comment I made there:

    The way Anderson tells the story it sounds simply like a case of someone getting turned down at an audition and then not being willing to accept a rejection. But given that Anderson describes this as an account of “what actually happened,” he fails to explain what appears to be a key component of the story: that he had written to Hanauer telling him that his talk “probably ranks as one of the most politically controversial talks we’ve ever run, and we need to be really careful when” to post it. He wrote “when” not “if” but later backtracked.

    No doubt Anderson and the other folks at TED don’t appreciate the way Hanauer and his PR representatives have handled this and his talk certainly doesn’t rank as one of the most inspired TED talks, but was it really so politically controversial?

    Hanauer’s a brat? Well that’s the way Anderson has spun the story. Frankly, I don’t think either Hanauer or TED came out looking good.

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