The New York Times caught up on Monday to a story that has been cocktail party chatter in the Bay Area since at least as far back as October 2012, when (Salon founder) David Talbot officially kicked off the backlash against the tech economy with his San Francisco magazine story "How Much Tech Can One City Take?"
So there's really not much new in Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller's "Backlash by the Bay." If you're looking for some stinging fresh criticism of our new overlords, Adrian Woolridge's column in the Economist last week, observing that the "tech elite will join bankers and oilmen in public demonology," is the place to go.
Geeks have turned out to be some of the most ruthless capitalists around. A few years ago the new economy was a wide-open frontier. Today it is dominated by a handful of tightly held oligopolies. Google and Apple provide over 90 percent of the operating systems for smartphones. Facebook counts more than half of North Americans and Europeans as its customers. The lords of cyberspace have done everything possible to reduce their earthly costs. They employ remarkably few people: with a market cap of $290 billion Google is about six times bigger than GM but employs only around a fifth as many workers. At the same time the tech tycoons have displayed a banker-like enthusiasm for hoovering up public subsidies and then avoiding taxes. The American government laid the foundations of the tech revolution by investing heavily in the creation of everything from the internet to digital personal assistants. But tech giants have structured their businesses so that they give as little back as possible.
But the Times did include one tidbit that I'm sorry I didn't know previously. Peter Shih, the start-up entrepreneur who outraged just about everybody with his intemperate rant about everything he hated about San Francisco (ugly women, homeless people, BART) is now "volunteering at homeless shelters."
That would have been an excellent piece of color for my piece last week on how the tech economy is simultaneously exacerbating and attempting to address homelessness in the Bay Area. So maybe it's possible we've moved past the easy us vs. them dichotomies of last summer, and are now making some small steps forward?