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XSanFrancisco – White Men, Wealth, Neoliberalism and Tech Disruption, Part 1

SFsthetik

January 8, 2016, San Francisco

by Mark Gould

XSF1

Image by Mark Gould

The political and socio-economic forces of neoliberalism, private equity venture capital investment, commodity capitalism and the advance of technology have transformed culture around the world for decades, and continues to accelerate at light speed in the 21st century. Here, the City once referred to as Baghdad By The Bay, home to several significant social and counterculture movements, San Francisco and large parts of the Northern California Bay Area can now be seen as both a petri dish and assembly line for “unicorn” grade corporate wealth, new extremes for unregulated private equity markets, hyper-speed gentrification, mass cultural displacement and a business culture that rewards white male supremacy over diversity creating unparalleled income inequality. Distilling it in these terms might sound like hyperbole. These are quite simply, the facts.

You’ll find it in all of the headlines, and just about everywhere you look. In a January 6, 2016 article published by San Francisco Chronicle owned website SFGate, the headline was Good news, Bay Area: Region is one of the best to find a new job in 2015.

A WalletHub analysis compared the 150 largest cities in America to determine the best places to find a job. They used eight different job market criteria, including job opportunities, monthly median starting salary, employment growth and disability friendliness. They also gave points for the city’s socioeconomic environment, like benefits, annual transportation costs, housing costs and time spent commuting.

By their metrics, San Francisco has the ninth-best job market in the nation. The holistic ranking was brought down by socioeconomic environment, which ranked 74th (those housing costs did not help). Topping the list was Plano, Texas, which has the country’s second-best job market and eighth-best socioeconomic environment ranking.

A city once believed to be one of the most progressive places on earth now boasts the highest rents in the country, one of the most inhospitable environments for the poor and middle class, and an affordable housing program that appears to be all but non-existent. This is happening while African-Americans have been reduced to 3 per-cent of the city’s population and as is happening in many other big cities in America, deaths of African-Americans and Latinos caused during police interactions are being investigated.

SF Mayor Calls for Budget Cuts, Ethics Commission Says No – Commissioner Says City Has ‘Slid Into Corruption”

While progressives on the Board of Supervisors might hope they can turn things around – San Francisco city government is now being questioned for its role in creating this unfortunate scenario. Curious that during this 21st Century Gold-Plated-Smartphone-Rush of wealth into SF, the city is being told by Mayor Ed Lee to cut budgets across the board. According to SF Weekly, the Ethics Commission is not at all pleased to be faced with cutting it’s budget, and said Commissioner Peter Keane:

“The city has slid into corruption,” he said. “It’s pay to play. It’s a game of bribery, whether we can ever prove it or not.”

 

Keane noted that, by rights, the city should have plenty of dough and accused the mayor of sabotaging the commission and turning it into a “castrated body” that can’t do its job — a job that includes policing the mayor’s office.”

Y Combinator Founder Under Fire After Celebrating Income Inequality

Welcome to the new world of neoliberalism, where tech disruptors with money proudly proclaim themselves as “manufacturers of economic inequality.”

In an essay published on his website this week, Y Combinator founder Paul Graham mansplains to us that people are rich because they’re not lazy. You see, attempts to address income inequality would be nothing more than an attack on tech startups:

“Y Combinator founder Paul Graham published an essay over the weekend in which he argues economic inequality is a good thing, or at least that it’s a necessary evil of promoting entrepreneurship.  A lot of people think he is wrong. He frames critiques of economic inequality as attacks on an ecosystem that allows the startups to thrive:
“You can’t end economic inequality without preventing people from getting rich, and you can’t do that without preventing them from starting startups.”

Essentially, Graham comes from a world in which, at least economically, which more often than not turns out to be more important than basketball, white men can jump, and higher than you.  His brand of social darwinism fuels the new social order, writes Holly Wood on Quartz News:

In his singular defense of Silicon Valley Ideology, Paul Graham would have you believe our entire economy should run on startups. I think Paul Graham believes this is democracy. This ability to start a company, he assumes, is equally accessible to everyone, and this presumed equality of opportunity legitimizes gross wealth inequality. If some people are rich, it’s because they were driven to do what you are too lazy to do.

 

Never mind if you don’t actually want to run a startup because you’re a nurse and you believe saving lives and caring for people adds value to society. Screw you, really.

 

Graham never addresses how a startup economy would put men like Paul Graham in positions of plutocratic authority, since the majority of us are deprived of startup capital without first submitting ourselves to the judgment of people like Paul Graham. It might not be overtly rent-seeking, but it’s definitely not democratic.

 

We should worry about an American future that would first have to pass through the judgment filter of men like Paul Graham.

Ayn Rand And The Disruptors

Writes Pando’s Paul Carr about the nature of tech disruption:

The truth is, what Silicon Valley still calls “Disruption” has evolved into something very sinister indeed. Or perhaps “evolved” is the wrong word: The underlying ideology — that all government intervention is bad, that the free market is the only protection the public needs, and that if weaker people get trampled underfoot in the process then, well, fuck ’em — increasingly recalls one that has been around for decades. Almost seven decades in fact, since Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” first put her on the radar of every spoiled trust fund brat looking for an excuse to embrace his or her inner asshole.

Tech’s “White People Problem”

It probably may come as no surprise to most then, that high-tech has a wee bit of a diversity problem. Perhaps no surprise, most people working in high tech are white men. While companies like Apple make sure the front lines working in stores are incredibly diverse, the biggest tech companies are only now publicly saying they will try to address the tragically low percentages in hiring of women, blacks and Latinos. (The Nation)

“…While Twitter the platform is bustling with all types of racial diversity, Twitter the company is alarmingly white.

Twitter isn’t alone. Most of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley are overwhelmingly white and male. While blacks and Latinos comprise 28 percent of the US workforce, they make up just 6 percent of Twitter’s total US workforce and six percent of Facebook employees. The number drops to five percent at Google. The statistics are startling considering the increasingly important role the technology sector plays in the American economy. Tech firms employed nearly six percent of private sector workers in 2014 and the industry is responsible for a little more than seven percent of the US GDP.

After World War II in the last century, companies profited by meeting the needs of consumers, and putting a premium on trust in the products they sold. These days, it’s more that you buy some products because you’re made to think you have to, or need to, than because you want to, and the sell happens in increasingly manipulative and hidden ways. Quite often the advertising, news media, or social media messages to consumers are often disguised in a number of ways. (More about that in a future post.)

In an excellent essay written by Ben Valentine, “Masking Against The Neoliberal Gaze,” Ben Valentine notes that some artists are now using elements of feminist and queer theory, using masks as a way of resisting this gaze and as a tool in the fight against surveillance and technology’s built in method of identifying  and tracking consumers, a feature (often surreptitious) of how business has succeeded  transferring control of the economy from the public to the private sector.

As neoliberal capitalism extends around the globe and into our lives, the mask has become an iconic symbol of the struggle against the logic of the neoliberal gaze. I define the neoliberal gaze as a transnational means of looking that is prying, self-serving, and reductive;

 

The desire for a utilitarian mask that perfectly obscures our identities has long attracted our imagination, but unless it hides us from humans and machines alike, it only draws closer inspection from humans and machines alike. The desire of the neoliberal gaze is to identify, categorize, and then profit from or subdue everything it sees — as such, it’s an apparatus that loathes anomalies.”

Critics have argued that neoliberal capitalism can promote exploitation and social injustice, further advance income inequality, increases corporate power and shift economic privilege to the upper class.

All of this makes me want to throw my smartphone and my laptop out the window, and turn off the internet. Maybe tomorrow.

 

[Mark Gould is a former journalist and editor, a photographer and videographer. http://markgould.net/ . He can be reached at mark@sfsthetik.com. ]