The wealth created by tech companies is, if not beyond precedent, is probably beyond most of our comprehension. It is not without precedent because America has already experienced one Gilded Age. It’s merely started another, and we’re well into it. How much companies like Apple and Google are worth varies by your chosen metric. Apple tipped the net worth scales of $600 billion as of 2012, something Microsoft did in 1999. Google is in the same clubhouse. It has, by some estimates, caught up with Apple.
Such expansive economic growth has not been even, to say the least. The “rising sea” metaphor has not panned out. Even The Economist, in recent issues, has declared that government must do more to address these issues.
On-the-ground protests have emerged against Google’s, Facebook’s, and Apple’s (and a host of other tech companies’) efforts to reshape the urban environment. The protests can be seen as only one part of a larger “year of the urban [leftist] populist.” So far, direct protests have focused on private transportation, which symbolizes many things for a city. San Francisco has received the most attention, but similar inequalities exists across all United States cities.
Private transportation of this kind is nothing less than a slap in the face to the rest of the city. Such systems are privately-driven and benefit a small private community, this despite the fact that they ultimately rely on the public for not only the consumption of their goods (only for those able to) but also the social context of their very existence.
The “tech class” thus embody the New Gilded Age. They profess to be socially-minded, but are not. They claim to rely on open social spaces that benefit cities and foster creativity. Instead, tech companies are sapping the life from public urban spaces.
Far from benefitting these spaces, the tech class has reified what David Simon recently termed the “Two Americas.” In his piece adapted for The Guardian newspaper, Simon (creator of The Wire and writer of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets) hits the nail on the head. I urge you to read the whole article and give it some serious thought and consider the position we’re in and the direction the tech class is pushing us.
The question for us to decide, as a public, is this: Do we want a country where Apple and Facebook and Google look out only for their own employees and shareholders, where vibrant urban spaces as well as economic and educational opportunities are made available only for the privileged, or do we want a country that provides opportunity and includes everyone in a democratic functioning economy and collective public?