Tag Archives: Bill Gates

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Philanthropy

As Hurricane Victims Freeze, Billionaire Mayor Gives Away $1 Billion to Wealthy Med School

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines over the weekend with his announcement that he has donated $345 million to Johns Hopkins University. Added to his previous donations, the media baron has given his alma mater over $1 billion – the largest charitable contribution to an educational institution in US history.

Bloomberg received plaudits for his generosity by the usual media sycophants. Along with death and taxes, another thing you can count on is being told to be grateful when masters of the universe give away some of their loot (even if none of it goes to you.) As pundits fawned, thousands of New Yorkers – residents of Queens whose homes got damaged by superstorm Sandy – were shivering under blankets in heatless homes in 15° weather because restoring electricity and housing storm victims isn’t one of the mayor’s top priorities.

Disgusting.

This was a man, New Yorkers remember, who wanted the mayoralty so badly that he subverted the people’s will, bribing and bullying the City Council into overturning term limits passed by an overwhelming majority so that he could keep the job a third term.

No one should claim that he didn’t want responsibility for those poor cold slobs out in the Rockaways.

If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system – columnists, local TV anchor people, even Bloomberg’s political rivals – to call him out. For $345 million the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.

Bloomberg’s donation to one of the wealthiest universities on earth, with an endowment of $2.6 billion, serves to remind us that philanthropy is evil.

You could argue that generous rich people are better than cheap rich people. And if you like the way things are, with the gap between rich and poor at record levels and spreading – you’d be right. But most people are not happy with our winner-take-all economy.

No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary. Of course, I realize that not everyone adheres to such basic Christian – er, communist – principles. (Anyone who denies that Jesus was a commie never cracked open a Bible.)

But most people – certainly most Americans – agree there’s a line. That too much is too much. People like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have worked hard and created products that consumers purchased in great numbers – but no one can work $25 billion hard (Bloomberg’s estimated net worth). There aren’t that many hours in the day; the human skull doesn’t contain enough synapses; no idea is worth that much.

One of the big problems with charitable giving is that it mitigates the injustice of inequality: sure, maybe it’s a little crazy that Bloomberg has 11 luxurious homes while people are starving to death and sleeping outside, but at least he’s generous. He’s giving it away. The implication, that the chasm between rich and poor isn’t that bad, is a lie. It’s also evil: If inequality isn’t that bad, it’s not important to talk about – much less fix.

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society,” says Robert Dalzell, author of “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us.” “We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

It’s better for society when rich people are unlikeable jerks like Mitt Romney. Knock over old ladies, stiff the waitress, talk with a pretentious fake British 19th-century accent, install a car elevator. Bad behavior by our elite oppressors hastens the revolution.

Bloomberg’s billion-dollar gift to a school that doesn’t need a penny illustrates the inherent absurdity of capitalism: aggregating so much wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals. It’s obscene and morally reprehensible to allow a disproportional share of resources to fall under the control of the arbitrary whims of a few quirky rich dudes.

Why should National Public Radio, which received a $200 million bequest by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, get all that cash while the Pacifica radio network – more avant-garde, better politics – teeters on the edge of bankruptcy? It’s nice that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation fights AIDS in Africa, but who are Bill and Melinda Gates to decide that AIDS in Africa is worse than, say, diarrhea, which kills more people? It’s amusing to hear that the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal – but again, people are sleeping outside. Why not musicians? Or cartoonists?

People are dying because they can’t afford treatment by a doctor. People have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and executed because they couldn’t afford a competent lawyer to defend them.

If a government agency were allocating public funds based on the personal whims of its director, there would be a scandal. Under the veil of “philanthropy” billions of dollars that could help millions of people are being spent in a haphazard manner – and we’re supposed to applaud because it’s up to the “private sector”?

In an ideal world no one would have that kind of power. We’d be as equal as the Declaration of Independence declares us to be. We’d make decisions about who to help and what problems to try to fix collectively. The most unfortunate people and the worst problems would get helped first –long before Johns Hopkins.

Our world isn’t perfect. But it is our duty to do everything in our power to make that way. Toward that end, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg ought to have their assets confiscated and redistributed, whether through revolutionary political change or – for the time being – high taxes.

If we can’t pull off nationalization or truly progressive taxation, if we are too weak, too disorganized and too apathetic to form the political movements that will liberate us, the least we should do is to denounce “generous” acts of philanthropy like Michael Bloomberg’s for what they are: arbitrary and self-serving attempts to deflect us from hating the rich and the inequality they embody.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL