If you think Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is the luckiest human being since Ringo Starr, you’re not alone: Chris Hughes, apparently, agrees with you.
A copy of Hughes’s proposal for a book tentatively titled We Should All Be So Lucky: Notes on Fortune, Hard Work, and the Basic Income is making the rounds of publishers now via the Levine Greenberg Rostan literary agency. Its introduction places readers in a room with Hughes and wealth advisers almost six months after Facebook went public. The “lock-up” period after which Hughes can sell some of his stock is about to expire.
Hughes didn’t help code Facebook and has an odd role in its founding myth: The actor who plays Hughes in the film The Social Network has exactly one line. Hughes was “part anthropologist, part customer-service rep, part media spokesperson,” as one profile put it, in the social network’s early days.
“Despite all that, it’s hard not to feel like a bit of a fraud sitting here stressing about how many shares to sell and how many to keep,” Hughes writes in the introduction. “I worked hard, but three years of work does not justify the hundreds of millions of dollars I’m about to receive. I know this, and the Wall Street suits across the table know this.”
The proposal for We Should All Be So Lucky finds similar problems throughout the US economy:
Today’s economy creates unprecedented wealth for a small, fortunate few in the blink of an eye. Many of these winners work hard for their money, but the size of the reward is too often incommensurate with the amount of work and time invested. Not since the age of monarchs and royal courts has so much capital been controlled by so few and been so disconnected from work.
Trump’s election, he says, “just alerted the elite that the middle class and poor are waking up to this new economic reality.” Hughes thinks the solution might include a monthly $500 check to “all working middle class and poor Americans who make less than $75,000 a year.” Hughes intends to use any profits from the book to fund a pilot UBI program for “workers in a small city in America,” the proposal reads.
The idea of a universal basic income, or UBI, has gained currency among thought leader types lately. In fact, among the potential audiences Hughes envisions for the book are what he calls “Techies with a conscience,” “Policy minds desperate for creative new policy thinking,” and “The lucky rich.” That last group includes people who “feel guilty, and this book will be a reason to step out of the shadows and support bold economic policies,” he writes.
As with many book proposals, Hughes’s includes potential endorsers. He cites Mark Zuckerberg, which seems quite possible, as well as Fareed Zakaria, Arianna Huffington, and Y-Combinator President Sam Altman (also plausible). He says he’ll employ a “national barnstorming effort” to promote the book and use his digital organizing experience as well. Moreover, he notes he has “personal connections to many of the editors and journalists who cover economic and political issues at places like The New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, Quartz, etc.”
That last point may foreshadow a rough landing for We Should All Be So Lucky–many journalists at these outlets and others remember Hughes’s star-crossed ownership of The New Republic all too well. After burning through cash spent on high-profile publicists, consultants, design firms (and writers) he abruptly changed course and pivoted the venerable magazine toward the fuzzy goal of becoming a “vertically integrated digital media company.” He fired editor Franklin Foer and most of the staff quit. When Hughes sold a year later, highbrow journalism’s verdict on his reign was brutal.
Hughes’s agent didn’t reply to an email from Washingtonian, but the proposal allows for a business-plan-like chapter of “Critiques,” in which he’ll discuss arguments against his ideas. He addresses them earnestly, but there’s at least one other big problem that a publisher may wish to consider: A remarkable number of former TNR staffers review books.