Government Jobs Opinion

The Knives of Class Warfare Turn Towards Tech’s Plutocrats

I have lots of quibbles with Joel Kotkin’s recent essay published at the Daily Beast and already echoing elsewhere. He gets numerous facts wrong, and some of his assumptions are silly. But anyone in tech better pay close attention to his thorough summing-up of the numerous ways that tech’s billionaires and their often-wealthy allies increasingly aim to influence social policy at a time when more and more Americans (and others in the developed-world middle class around the world) find middle-class life out of reach, and poverty grows among the less educated.

While it’s easy to portray many policy initiatives pushed by the tech industry as socially beneficial, even to those increasingly suffering as wealth concentrates, the fact of that concentration needs more consciously to be taken into account by those pushing for policy changes, regardless of what they seek. The hyper-aggressive efforts of FWD.us for immigration reform are crystallizing for many a perception of arrogance and insensitivity to larger issues of social welfare. While objections to the lobbying of FWD.us have focused mostly on its celebration of the anti-environmentalism of certain politicians, I’m confident that if its tactics continue, the issue of wealth, income, and the crisis in jobs will take center stage.

The most serious error in Kotkin’s essay, in my view, is how he talks about jobs. He acts and talks as if the only reason that manufacturing has escaped from America’s workers is a willful selfishness on the part of oligarchs. That’s nonsense, but extremely telling. One thing he is right about is that there will be fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs, but it has nothing to do with the selfishness and greed of tech’s billionaires. Nonetheless, they are implicated, because the main reason it’s happening is a radical increase in automation and robotics driven by the very set of technologies so fabulously enriching Silicon Valley’s .01%. Kotkin disregards the actual connection, but focuses instead on a language calculated to prod workers and those left out towards anger and resentment.

America’s real worker crisis is not immigration, it is jobs. That’s not to say that we don’t need immigration reform. We do, both for fairness and to enable the U.S. to remain a center of global innovation. But any advocacy on the part of the absurdly-wealthy bosses of tech had better take into account the most central actual consequence of the social change their industry is driving—an increasingly overarching and shocking reduction in good-paying jobs for America’s middle class. This will have political consequences—most likely, if present trends continue, by radicalizing more Americans towards the kind of resentment and anger Kotkin advocates. It will also, sadly, probably broaden, as even formerly-secure professions like law and medicine begin to see automation wash over them.

Read Kotkin carefully to see where the zeitgeist will move if tech’s leaders don’t increase their sensitivity and activism about this central crisis. I am among those who routinely celebrate the extraordinary progress tech has made in empowering individuals, enhancing access to information, and improving efficiency across society. This should be, at root, positive for just about all Americans. But wouldn’t it be tragic if all those information-aware empowered people turn their energies towards fighting against the very class that has given them these new capabilities?

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  • donuthole

    Class warfare is a two way street yet for some reason I only hear the term when the working class engages in some form of activism. We have a jobs problem in the United States and it’s no accident. Why pay someone in the US $7.25/hr or greater when you can pay someone in some third world country a fraction of that. It’s not just automation that has decimated the american workforce, it’s the neo-liberal economic policies of the past 30 years that have done most of the damage. These policies have sped up the concentration of wealth for the global elites at the cost of the rest of society. Tech’s plutocratic elite class did not give american’s the capabilities of improving efficiency and enhanced access to information, that work was done on the backs of scientists and engineers, most of who are not part of the class you speak of. It’s only the the plutocrats that have reaped a majority of the benefit of that work and innovation, especially when speaking in terms of wealth.

    “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” –Warren Buffett

    • http://www.facebook.com/tom.samplonius Tom Samplonius

      The average salary for a programmer in the US is $99,000. Given that the average household income in the US is $50,000, the people that implemented the “efficiency and enhanced access to information”, are firmly middle class.

  • Andrew

    David,

    Regarding your second sentence:

    “…anyone in tech better pay close attention to his thorough summing-up of the numerous ways that tech’s billionaires and their often-wealthy allies increasingly aim to influence social policy at a time when more and more Americans (and others in the developed-world middle class around the world) find middle-class life out of reach, and poverty grows among the less educated.”

    A correction: the unemployment rate for *college educated* American workers is a whopping 11.6%. (Src: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm) Poverty is growing among the “well” educated, not merely the “less” educated. People are sliding *into* poverty *from* the middle class, accelerated by a self-reinforcing combination of a tax system, political power, and deregulated globalization that favors capital over labor.

    Elites today should worry. Remember right after the banking crisis of 2008? People were publishing maps to bankers’ homes in Greenwich, CT. Image such a think in Palo Alto.

  • Thomas Luedeke

    I actually happen to agree (mostly) with Kotkin. There is no question the tech titans (Microsoft, Google, etc) are using the H1B program to replace middle class jobs with pseudo-indentured foreign labor. Not enhance, replace. They are doing it knowingly and for the sole purpose of enriching themselves and their shareholders. They fire tens of thousands of STEM employees, then rush to Congress to cry about the STEM “shortage”. And the middle class is paying the price.

    I’m now starting to hear rumblings that Big Hospital is starting to lobby for H1B, so they can play the same game with nurses.

    In the past, despite their flaws, corporate titans knew that a healthy middle class was healthy for their business and the country, and balanced the needs of employees, owners, and shareholders. Those days are gone.

    The Left is using this for their same old failed prescriptions for every problem – more government, more minimum wages, etc, while simultaneously pushing for endless new immigration and crony capitalism.

    • Thomas Luedeke

      Take, for example, the vile Mark Zuckerberg, who buys the four mansions around his for “privacy” reasons, while simultaneously crying for many tens of thousands of new H1B visas.