By James Wallace Harris, Saturday, October 10, 2015
HBO is showing a new documentary, San Francisco 2.0 by Alexandra Pelosi, the youngest daughter of Nancy Pelosi, that reveals how the successes of giant IT companies are changing a legendary city. Like most documentaries, I have to assume it overstates its case, but then I read, “Seattle, in Midst of Tech Boom, Tries to Keep Its Soul” from The New York Times. Other cities hoping to cash in on the tech boom and lure big IT companies to their part of the country, are also fearing what’s happening in San Francisco.
This documentary doesn’t claim to be specifically about wealth inequality, but it’s a shining example. Pelosi laments the changes to her beloved city, worrying about what’s happening to all the people who are middleclass and below, because she feels it’s those people who have always given San Francisco its character. Pelosi fears the Geeks have inherited the Earth, or at least her city, and are pushing out all the colorful bohemians. Read “San Francisco is Losing Its Artists.” To counter that, couldn’t we say computer programmers are the new artists of the 21st century?
San Francisco is a special case because it is bordered on three sides by water, making it very easy for the wealthy to buy up all the limited land, forcing the not so wealthy to move elsewhere, or live on the streets. Hordes of wealthy IT immigrants from several dozen famous companies are making other residents feel like they are taking over the city. Silicon Valley is near San Francisco, which helped draw workers to those companies. As rewards, IT companies would bus their workers into San Francisco to enjoy the city. The trouble began when they started to stay. Then the IT companies followed.
To be fair to the rich, does the counter-culture poor that Pelosi wants to preserve have any claim on the city? Isn’t she being a liberal wanting to conserve the past, making her a new generation of conservative? We people who want to fight wealth inequality are really wanting to preserve a time in America when there was a large middle class. Donald Trump campaigns on the promise to Make America Great Again. Well, we were great when there was a huge middle class, unions were strong, and taxes were high. What conservatives really want is for the wealthier to get wealthier, and to ignore that everyone else is getting poorer, which is what’s happening in San Francisco. Now is the time to ask all Americans if what they want is for whole cities to become gated communities of the rich? There’s more to diversity than just ethnic heritage. We need diversity in all its dimensions.
Can we make a choice, or is the path we’re on inevitable? We have perfected an economy that concentrates wealth with the few. We’ve done this by making everything cheap, and lowering the average real earnings. This has deflated the middle class, moving more people towards the minimum wage. Even if we raise the minimum wage, we’re creating a society were most people can afford to live in Tupelo, Mississippi, while an elite few get to live in San Francisco, California. Personally, I’d prefer Tupelo, because the rich make me nervous, but do we really want to stratify society where most people shop at Walmart, ruled by a minority who shop for their Gulfstreams and yachts at stores most people can’t even name?
Start reading about wealth inequality. There’s lots being written. I consider Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty a great place to start. Wealth inequality is Bernier Sanders’ major political focus. In fact, some conservatives are now taking an interest in this socialist because of this very problem. Wealth inequality should be a major issue for 2016. If you don’t like to read, watch Inequality for All, a documentary focusing on Robert Reich and his riveting assessment of the problem. Because changes have been gradual for the last forty years, most Americans haven’t noticed that the middle class is shrinking. Films like San Francisco 2.0 are like canaries in the coal mine.
JWH – #972