Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wired article on how Silicon Valley has established a caste system and what that suggests about the future of the U.S. Future? How about now?

 
 
California is the future of the United States, goes the oft-cited cliché. What the US is doing now, Europe will be doing in five years, goes another. Given those truthy maxims, let’s examine the socioeconomics of the “City by the Bay” as a harbinger of what’s to come.
 
Data shows that technology and services make up a large fraction of citywide employment. It also shows that unemployment and housing prices follow the tech industry’s boom-and-bust cycle. Amid the current boom, a family of four earning $117,400 now qualifies as low-income in San Francisco. Some readers laughed when I wrote in a memoir about working at Facebook that my six-figure compensation made me “barely middle class.” As it turns out, I wasn’t far off. With that credential, consider this rumination on bougie life inside the San Francisco bubble, which seems consistent with the data and the experience of other local techies.

I've never been an optimistic sort but the entire Western civilizational paradigm as it has been in the post-industrial West seems like it's a giant credit bubble.  I can believe there's been a caste system for a while now.  What Americans seem eager to do is to disguise or deny the caste systems and that people with the biggest incentives to do this are those who don't wish to see themselves as privileged as much as they wish to see other people as having privilege.  It's not so much a matter of a one percent or a twenty percent in terms of bare categories.  Anyone in America can see themselves as only needing just a little bit more. 
 
San Francisco residents seem to be divided into four broad classes, or perhaps even castes: 
 
* The Inner Party of venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who run the tech machine that is the engine of the city’s economy. 
 
* The Outer Party of skilled technicians, operations people, and marketers that keep the trains belonging to the Inner Party running on time. They are paid well, but they're still essentially living middle-class lives—or what lives the middle class used to have.
  
* The Service Class in the “gig economy.” In the past, computers filled hard-for-humans gaps in a human value chain. Now humans fill hard-for-software gaps in a software value chain. These are the jobs that AI hasn't managed to eliminate yet, where humans are expendable cogs in an automated machine: Uber drivers, Instacart shoppers, TaskRabbit manual labor, etc.
  
* Lastly, there’s the Untouchable class of the homeless, drug addicted, and/or criminal. These people live at the ever-growing margins: the tent cities and areas of hopeless urban blight. The Inner Party doesn’t even see them, the Outer Party ignores them, and the Service Class eyes them warily; after all, they could end up there.
 
So those are the categories. Seeing as this blog has a history of keeping tabs on some kinds of things I would venture to say that somebody had a vision of getting the people who would be the future Inner Party on board with a vision of a newer and brighter entrepreneurial future but what he managed to get were guys from the Outer Party and Service Class levels, perhaps slightly more Outer Party types who might see themselves as Service Class or even Untouchables ... .

I don't see that Seattle hasn't been becoming a comparable scene with an inner party, an outer party, the gig economy and the untouchables. 
 
Mobility among the castes seems minimal. An Outer Party member could reach the Inner Party by chancing into an early job at a lottery-ticket company (such as Facebook or Google) or by becoming a successful entrepreneur. But that’s rare; most of the Outer Party prefers working for the Inner Party, gradually accumulating equity through stock grants and appreciating real estate.
 
The Service Class will likely never be able to drive/shop/handyman enough to rise to the Outer Party, at least not without additional training or skills. They're mostly avoiding the descent to Untouchable status, while dealing with precarious gigs that disappear semi-regularly. Uber, for example, has made no bones about its intent to replace its drivers with robots. Delivery bots have already been deployed on city streets, though they were later restricted.
 
There are of course people outside this taxonomy. There are longtime property owners (and renters) who view the tech boom warily, even if the former benefit from rising property prices. (Peter Thiel, that ever-entertaining VC, recently groused about how his hard-raised capital was disappearing into the greedy mouths of “slumlords.”)
 
...
 
This, of course, is a burgeoning dystopic nightmare. But it is the vision of the future that San Francisco offers: highly stratified, with little social mobility. It's feudalism with better marketing.  [emphasis added] Today’s “sharing” economy resembles the “sharecropping” of yesteryear, with the serfs responding to a smartphone prompt rather than an overseer’s command.
 
Inequality rarely decreases, and when it does it’s often as the result of wars, revolutions, pandemics, or state collapse. If there’s any nonviolent political hope here, it’s probably to be found among the Outer Party. The Inner Party lives estranged from reality. But the Outer Party still has to teach their kids not to pick up street needles and occasionally feels the depredations of crime to person or property (our household has experienced both within the past few months). Though the Outer Party has little collective identity, they have common interests around street cleanliness, crime, schools, and transit. Those interests expressed themselves in the recent mayoral election, where pro-development, pro-techie London Breed, a favorite among the tech Outer Party, narrowly defeated two mutually endorsing candidates in an electoral nail-biter. Breed broke from typical San Francisco progressive politics, proposing to eliminate homeless camps via government conservatorship (essentially forced institutionalization).1 Perhaps a city founded in a literal gold rush can foster a newfound civic spirit, at least among the gold miners, while in the midst of a figurative gold rush.
 
It may not be an accurate axiom but it feels pertinent to suggest that by the time any journalist writing in anything close to a mainstream or high-profile niche publication has described a trend it has been going on for a few years.  Whatever that predicted "future" caste system is expected to be, it's more likely that it's already been here for a few years, maybe even a decade or so. 

Feudalism may have really, really good marketing these days.  And it's not necessarily by way of the superhero films, though those most likely play a part.  No, the feudalism on sale in the West takes a somewhat different approach depending on the target demographic, I would venture to guess.  For Randroids you sell them on the idea that a John Galt should be allowed to be a John Galt.  For a progressive you sell them on the idea that love is love and that people should be free to pursue their dreams and that if we shook off the hetero-patriarchy things would be better ... though precisely why the new boss won't end up being the same as the old boss doesn't seem to be considered.

 if the disrupters of Silicon Valley have brought abou the neo-feudal systems that people say are in place by now that's arguably yet another reason we should not envy these kinds of peple. 

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