Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in ParadiseKids, remember the good old days when a couple of young immigrants could come up with an idea and start a company that would quickly grow to employ over 43,000 people worldwide, and everybody thought that was the epitome of the American Dream? Well, I guess those days are over, or least they seem to be in the city of San Francisco where residents appear to be in full revolt over the success of local companies like Yahoo and Google. While no one is chasing Google buses through the street with pitchforks and torches (yet), folks seem a little resentful over the impact of the area’s growing volume of high tech workers on the city’s infrastructure and housing markets.

Apparently, this has been building for a while now.  While its always been a “little expensive” to live in the city, the influx of young, well paid technophiles employed by the Bay area’s high tech colossuses have kicked the old economic theory of supply and demand into over drive, and many long term local residents are feeling more than a little pricing pressure. Although nothing I’ve read has spoken to food and clothing—although I shudder to think of what a bagel and a schmear goes for in some of the city’s tonier neighborhoods—the cost of shelter has risen dramatically for those desiring to establish a humble abode within the city limits.

Like many of you, I am a big fan of shelter—Maslow thought so much of it he put in his top three (3) of human needs—and so apparently are the good citizens of San Francisco. Unfortunately, a limited geographic area coupled with things like “smart growth” initiatives have left prospective San Franciscans with a tiny disparity between available domiciles and those wishing to occupy them. This delta between supply and demand has led to escalating rents (an average of $2800/ month for a one bed apartment) and housing prices ($1.5 million for your basic three bedroom home) that may be fine for the young Googlelite, but not so much for the residents that make their coffee, dry clean their clothes and urge them to complete “just one more” lunge at the gym.

Perhaps many of local citizenry could have put up with having to sleep six to a room just to maintain a residence within walking distance to their low paying, yet spiritually rewarding, position of bikram yoga instructor, but then came the buses. In order to maximize the productivity of their well-compensated work force, companies like Google began providing their own mass transit to the office to their city dwelling employees. Since nothing says feudal system like watching some guy that you would have shunned in high school hop onto a green and yellow wi-fi equipped bus while you’re still waiting for the crosstown express, the repressed anger of the oppressed masses was unleashed.

Naturally, when faced with the fact that the market currently values folks who can write code a little more than…well, just about everybody right now, the good citizens of San Francisco have decided that the current situation is just unfair. And as we all know, when large groups of people come together out of unjustifiable envy, there is only one group who can rectify the situation and that is of course, the government. In this particular case, however, San Francisco’s civic leaders find themselves torn between their sympathies for those who don’t possess the skills that the area’s high paying businesses desire—of course your degree in gender studies should carry the same economic drawing power as some young punk’s MS in Computer Science or Bio-Engineering—and those monuments to economic inequality that are otherwise known as the city’s largest tax payers. Isn’t it always so…distasteful, when ideology and reality meet? Sure, you can pass some form of rent control legislation, but if you tick off the guys who actually pay the bills how are you going to afford the needle exchange program?

In the true spirit of activism, a number of local residents have decided to take matters into their own hands and publically expose these high tech wage slaves as the closet capitalists they really are. Does anything do a better job of public shaming then calling the guy who “directs the flow of capital from Google into the tech start up bubble that is destroying San Francisco” a parasite? Other than, perhaps, a dubious understanding of the whole host/parasite relationship, I think it’s pretty obvious these folks mean business. Funneling money into new business ventures, some of which that may grow and provide employment for thousands? Why the man is practically a monster.

What does this situation in San Francisco mean for the rest of us? It’s hard to say. I am concerned that an enterprise that provides for the well being of not only its own employees, but many of the same citizens who are currently railing against it through the volume of tax dollars it delivers to the city’s coffers is being portrayed as some type of evil empire (not to mention that its search activity has changed our business and personal lives in meaningful ways). I think that at some point the line between corporate and personal responsibility has been crossed, and this has had a negative impact on our society as a whole. When it becomes easier for one to satisfy their desires through militant envy rather than personal drive and aspiration, we stand at a dangerous precipice.