This emerging world is far removed from the democratic capitalism that dominated the era after World War II. Rather than encouraging and accommodating families, today’s oligarchs promote a largely childless college campus environment, where they even pay female workers to freeze their eggs. Traditionally companies liked employees with families. Not so much in the brave new tech world, which demands long hours and little time off for such things as raising children.
As for the rest of the population, the prospects are even bleaker. In the tech hub of San Francisco, the middle-class family is almost extinct. The city has lost thirty-one thousand home-owning families over the past decade. It leads the state in economic inequality. The evidence of massive inequality, pervasive homelessness, and social dysfunction fills the streets.
Silicon Valley, located in the suburbs south of the city, has also become profoundly less egalitarian. It is increasingly divided between an entrenched ultra-wealthy class and a dependent poor class, working largely in the service industries. By 2015, some seventy-six thousand millionaires and billionaires called Santa Clara and San Mateo counties home, while many in the area struggle to feed their families and pay their bills each month. Nearly 30 percent of Silicon Valley’s residents rely on public or private assistance.
Wired magazine’s Antonio García Martínez describes the contemporary Valley as “feudalism with better marketing.” In Martínez’s view, a plutocratic elite of venture capitalists and company founders sit above the still-affluent cadre of skilled professionals—well paid, but living only ordinary middle-class lives, given taxes and high prices. Below them lies a vast population of gig workers, whom Martínez compares with sharecroppers in the South. And at the very bottom lies an untouchable class of homeless, those addicted to drugs, and criminals.
Martínez describes a society that, as in the Middle Ages, is “highly stratified, with little social mobility.” High prices make it all but impossible for anyone except the very affluent to own their homes. Workers in the gig economy, much less the “untouchables,” have little chance to improve their lot but struggle to barely pay their rent, or are forced to sleep in their cars, on friend’s couches, or commute long distances from the outlying periphery.
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