Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Barack Obama: Human Capitalist

Is the election of 2012 as simple as Obama the Human Capitalist vs Romney the Financial Capitalist? I caught a bit of the Martin Bashir show on MSNBC earlier this week. One of his guests was Jonathan Alter. I was not paying full attention, but something Alter said caught my attention and I rewound (thank FSM for Tivo) to hear it again. I liked what he had to say…the way he framed the contest between Obama and Romney. I liked it a lot.

Having now read his recent Bloomberg article (“Obama Versus Romney Offers a Clash of Capitalisms“), it is evident he was just touching upon the ideas presented there…but, imo, in a more succinct and clear manner. It has been running through my head now for days…so I figured I would put it out ‘here’ to hear your opinions on it.


Join me below to see/hear what caught my ear.

After a bit of hunting I was able to pinpoint and clip the wee bit of the show that captured my interest:

Alter: To me this campaign is about the difference between a Financial Capitalist, Mitt Romney, and a Human Capitalist, Barack Obama. Human Capitalists invest in people, in education, in health care, in construction jobs. Real people to work. Financial Capitalists, all that they’re interested in is letting the magic of the market go to work by giving the wealthy as much money as they can through tax cuts with the assumption that that will work. The problem with their theory is that it was tried over the last ten years with the Bush Tax Cuts, and it Failed. So Financial Capitalism has Failed. Human Capitalism which goes back to Abraham Lincoln, investing in…

Bashir: FDR

Alter: …and grant colleges…FDR…all the way through. Human Capitalism is what built America. So this is the philosophical dilemma.

Bashir: If I may say so, that is a brilliant definition. Thank you so much.

(Before Alter was interrupted by Bashir, he was about to touch on the Land Grant Colleges made possible by the Morrill Land-Grant Acts signed into law by Lincoln. Those Acts provided the States with lands to use for Agricultural Colleges/State Colleges. They promoted and fostered the spread of education and knowledge across the populace. A solid example of putting the belief that ‘Knowledge is Power’ to use.)

When our Government invests in our people…our Nation thrives. The Morrill Land-Grant Acts, G.I. Bill, WPA, Social Security, Public Education, Medicare/Medicaid, Civil Rights Act, ADA, Lilly Ledbetter Act, Pell Grants, School Breakfast/Lunch, and any number of other programs/policies meant to help…to strengthen…to encourage…to protect. They all have played a great part in the successes of our Nation. They have each in their way provided tools for improvement…bridges to equality…building blocks to success. Our Nation thrives when our people thrive…and our people thrive when they have opportunities.

Obviously Obama did not enact all of the above. However, I am pretty well confident that he supports all of the above and would gladly have signed any of it into law. I am also confident in his belief that Americans are capable of amazing things when given the tools and opportunities to pursue their dreams…the RIGHT to pursue their dreams.

I also believe that the majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, would agree that the above programs have helped many thousands (likely millions) reach goals and achievements that would otherwise have been beyond their grasp. I think if the contrast of Obama and Romney as Human Capitalist and Financial Capitalist is driven home at every opportunity…we will handily see Obama into a second term. It is hard to argue against investing in the American People when put in those terms.

I think back to the ‘Made in the USA’ push in the 80’s and how it was embraced by Americans of every political flavor…and can’t help but believe that a campaign built on the promise of investing in the American people would ride a wave of support all the way to election day (I am not a Pollyanna…I really want to believe this).

I don’t believe that investing in the American people has be literal investment of a monetary sort (as with the G.I. Bill, Pell Grants, School lunch vouchers)…it also includes investments in equality (Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lilly Ledbetter, the repeal of DADT),  investments in health (health care reform, strengthening FDA powers), and investments in other plans/programs that strengthen our middle classes.

Obama’s adult life has been spent as a Human Capitalist. Romney’s adult life has been spent as a Financial Capitalist. I don’t see either of them changing their stripes anytime soon.

It is long past time that our country returns to a governing style that promotes investment in her people. History has proven that our greatest growths as a nation have occurred during the greatest investments in our people.

I just liked the way that Alter framed it and have been thinking on it since I heard it.

What do y’all think?

Human Capitalist vs. Financial Capitalist?

Invest in the American People vs. Invest in the Market Forces?

I know which I choose.

I know WHO I choose.

Obama 2012!

*A little something extra:

There have now been several Rec listed diaries on dKos that discuss a TED talk given by Nick Hanauer. I think his point ties in pretty well with what Alter was saying. We tried the Financial Capitalist route…and it has failed. Our country does best when our focus is on building (investing in) the middle classes, not catering to the upper. I’m sure many of ya’ll have read those rec listed diaries already, so I will not rehash their content. I will let Mr. Hanauer do the talkin’.

Here is Nick Hanauer (venture capitalist and first non-family investor in Amazon):

It is astounding how significantly one idea can shape a society and its policies.  Consider this one.

If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.  

This idea is an article of faith for republicans and seldom challenged by democrats and has shaped much of today’s economic landscape.

But sometimes the ideas that we know to be true are dead wrong. For thousands of years people were sure that earth was at the center of the universe.  It’s not, and an astronomer who still believed that it was, would do some lousy astronomy.  

In the same way, a policy maker who believed that the rich and businesses are “job creators” and therefore should not be taxed, would make equally bad policy.  

I have started or helped start, dozens of businesses and initially hired lots of people. But if no one could have afforded to buy what we had to sell, my businesses would all have failed and all those jobs would have evaporated.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a “circle of life” like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it’s a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it.  In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn’t just inaccurate, it’s disingenuous.

That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

Since 1980 the share of income for the richest Americans has more than tripled while effective tax rates have declined by close to 50%.  

If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy  would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs.  And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs.

Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the median American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

I can’t buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can’t buy any new clothes or cars or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.  

Here’s an incredible fact.  If the typical American family still got today the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would earn about 25% more and have an astounding $13,000 more a year. Where would the economy be if that were the case?

Significant privileges have come to capitalists like me for being perceived as “job creators” at the center of the economic universe, and the language and metaphors we use to defend the fairness of the current social and economic arrangements is telling. For instance, it is a small step from “job creator” to “The Creator”. We did not accidentally choose this language. It is only honest to admit that calling oneself a “job creator” is both an assertion about how economics works and the a claim on status and privileges.

The extraordinary differential between a 15% tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and carried interest for capitalists, and the 35% top marginal rate on work for ordinary Americans is a privilege that is hard to justify without just a touch of deification

We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Rather they are a consequence of an eco-systemic  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.

So here’s an idea worth spreading.  

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class.  And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.

Thank You.

I like that last bit a lot…so I’m gonna quote it again.

In a capitalist economy, the true job creators are consumers, the middle class.  And taxing the rich to make investments that grow the middle class, is the single smartest thing we can do for the middle class, the poor and the rich.

Preach it.


(Just as a final note…for those of you reading who have not yet discovered the joys of the TED talks…go HERE now. Go…watch…learn. Cheers!)

~cross-posted at The GOS~


  1. Kysen

    Whatcha think?

    I like the simplicity of Human Capitalist vs Financial Capitalist.

    Simple is good for me these days.

  2. The human capital.

    I am creating a business now out of ideas, abilities and relationships. Those ideas, abilities and relationships are the capital of the company. We have nothing you can touch other than a few pieces of electronics you wouldn’t get much for on craigslist. No significant money in the bank, real estate or other assets that one could walk through or spend or feel.

    Yet a few close friends and family who either know me/us or the industry well enough believe this evanescent essence is worth a few million actual dollars at this point and are willing to invest their monetary capital in it*. Industry leaders invest their careers in it by joining their resumes to it, either by throwing all in and working here or by aligning their large corporate entities with it.

    Someday perhaps this is a large company with offices and products and documentation – “solid” things that an accountant could see ways to optimize and improve profitability. But accountants cannot measure or count human capital, so by they nature of their profession they effectively dismiss it.

    This pig-iron view of capitalism is what leads to shallow businesses and weak national economies. It stifles innovation and encourages conformity.

    Venture Capital folks provide a lot of value inside our cycle of innovation. I know a lot of these folks including Mitt’s organization, and have seen them take what was a good but likely doomed idea and turn it into a value- and job-producing part of the economy.

    But they do not and cannot know how to truly capture human capital. By their actions they quite often repel it, pushing out waves of intellect and creativity from the companies they invest in or acquire.

    VCs are not bad people, any more than any other type of financial sector worker. But they do not create art in human capital.

    Whether having one for a US President for four years would be a good idea is a reasonable question. I think not. From the capitalist world I would rather see a successful entrepreneurial CEO as US president. Someone who has built systems of human capital, which begets all other forms of value.

    *: Yes, close Moose friends – who can tolerate a 15-min caveat about the outrageous foolishness of ever investing anything they would like to see again into any startup company, no matter how apparently solid – are welcome in that crowd [

  3. sricki

    That clip catches my ear too.

    Oh, and it looks like your diary has caught my eye… for here I am for the first time in months! 😉

    I don’t have anything profound to say. Just poppin’ in to wave at everyone.


  4. creamer

    Another reason this idea is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the median American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, we go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

    is the single most telling argument or observation of the whole argument. I can accept that many venture capitalist are not bad people, but I find their ambivelance(seeming) of the middle and working class somewhat dishonest. When the stats and facts of job creation don’t support your argument, and you choose to ignore them, its hard not to see them as selfish and greedy.

  5. Jjc2008

    in a way that people like me (non-business types, teachers, artists, etc) can understand.

    Bain Capital and venture capitalism’s primary job is to create wealth for investors, not jobs for the people.  They may at times end up doing both.  But their prime goal is to make money for investors.  If in that process, hundreds of people lose jobs and/or pensions, oh well…so sad, too bad.  The investors still win.

    No matter how many ways people spin that, I do not ever want someone who believes creating more wealth for the top 1% to be the leader of the country.  I did not believe in trickle down when Reagan pushed it and I still do not.

    I too have not been around for a while.  I am now settled back in PA, the state where I spent my childhood, after three decades in CO.  I am happy to be here and totally enjoying see the lush green of springtime once again.

  6. Shaun Appleby

    Speaking of capitalism, regular Mooses will know that I harbour a guilty fascination with financial armageddon.  In my recent prowls I found this disturbing chart posted recently of the COI PI since 1960-something (image is linked.)

    The relevant economic index is described as follows, my emphasis:

    Personal Income, Less Transfer Payments (in 1996 dollars) – This component is designed to include the value of all sources of income, adjusted for inflation, for the purpose of measuring the real salaries and other earnings of all people. Social Security payments are excluded. This measure of income adjusts wage accruals less disbursements (WALD) to smooth seasonal bonuses that can distort the wages on which earners base their purchase decisions. The personal-income component measures both the general health of the economy and aggregate spending.

    Composite Index Of Coincident Indicators Investopedia

    However it was posted in the thread, American Serfdom in One Chart.

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