VenturesociacapitalistPosted: September 3, 2014
A post by David Meyer about workers’ rights in light of algorithm driven on-demand platforms reminded me that in the tech scene (including myself) we are more often than not really naive, or maybe even entirely ignorant, to social problems and how we are influencing them – for good and for bad. What is our responsibility? Do we need to care? Aren’t we the good guys anyways?
Some folks with a voice have kicked of this important debate – e.g. Marc Andreessen and Albert Wenger (another one of his posts Labor Day: Right to an API Key (Algorithmic Organizing) should be read together with David’s before-mentioned piece) but it has not (yet) really caught on in the wider tech scene. It should.
Example 1: I really love SF and its people. SF is our technology Mecca; the place with the highest density of smart, wealthy and powerful people in our industry – the most capable of changing the world. Yet the streets of SF are also home to some of the most extreme misery and poverty you can imagine in a Western society. How can that be? Unfortunately the bitter answer is most likely: we just don’t care enough, even when confronted with poverty and misery at our front door.
Example 2: To date more technology has (more or less) always translated to progress for every stack in society. By driving technology and innovation we are automatically enhancing society. This is our mantra and it is not unlikely to continue that way. Is it? Albert Wenger again sums it up nicely in “It is OK to Worry about Work (& Doesn’t Make you a Luddite or Socialist)”
During the first industrial revolution people worried about machines replacing human workers because machines provided mechanical power. Well, it turned out that humans were still needed because we supplied brain power. This time round though, at the dawning of the “Second Machine Age” we are worrying because machines are providing brain power. That’s a new and different set of circumstances and so we should rightly re-examine this question and not just take a no answer for granted.
I could not agree more – we can not afford to be ignorant to these questions and challenges.
The other question is of course what do we do with the extreme wealth that is created in the tech scene? We are on the better side of the huge wealth gap that is opening up more and more. Some of you may have seen this already, but you just have to watch Nick Hanauer talk about this:
So it is absolutely OK to firmly believe that only an economic system that is free and rewards performance will lead to prosperity (I certainly do), but also that some core principles must be adhered to:
- The education you can access should be independent of the wealth of your family
- Any critical medical treatment should be available to anyone irrespective of their financial resources
- If you lose your job society should help you get back on your feet and help you through those times (also financially)
- You should be able to live on what you earn
- We need to structure our economy in a way that it allows for easier upwards social mobility
- [the list could go on – you get the idea]
Maybe more importantly, it is absolutely essential that anyone with wealth should be paying the bill for the weak in society.
I do not need special investor tax breaks (and I don’t get them in Germany) on my carried interest, that would potentially mean I would on average pay a lower % on my income than an average employee. Sure, who doesn’t like lower taxes and more money – but think it through. It is crazy and unfair and an accident waiting to happen.
Now let me not point fingers, I have not thought a lot about our responsibility in shaping how technology will impact society. Beyond paying my fair share of taxes and donating here and there I have not done very much in helping the poor. But I am committed to thinking and doing more. I’d like to think I can become more of a Venturesociacapitalist; and that would be just fine.