Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Technorati Invade San Francisco

As Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller tell the story in the New York Times it reads like a parable. Since it isn't the kind of parable that teaches a moral lesson, I will call it an  anti-parable, the kind that offers an amoral lesson.

Native San Franciscans are more than a little discommoded by the recent invasion by the technorati, the techno-elites. It may not be a plague of locusts but it does feel, to many San Franciscans, like the invasion of the apartment-snatchers.

In San Francisco, the new and wealthy technorati are pricing many people out of their homes.

It is fair to mention that the technorati are not the wealthiest of the wealthy tech billionaires. Most of those live in places like Atherton, in Silicon Valley. See Charlotte Allen’s article about that group.

No, the new techno-elites are generally younger. They do not have the resources of Sergei Brin or Sheryl Sandberg, but they have enough money to jack up apartment prices in San Francisco. To jack them up so high that many native San Franciscans find themselves priced out of their homes.

Once upon a time people on Wall Street accumulated vast fortunes. Obeying the basic principles of WASPdom, they did not flaunt their wealth. They hid it. Not wanting to make other people feel inferior they lived modestly and humbly.

Following the principle of noblesse oblige they felt it their duty to set a good moral example by practicing thrift, decorum, propriety, politeness and civility.  Brandishing one’s wealth before those who have less was considered to be in poor taste.

Apparently, the technorati missed the lesson. Now, their arrogant presumption has produced something of a backlash among San Franciscans. (See former Mayor Willie Brown’s exhortation that they outsource less and hire more locals.)

Witness the case of one Peter Shih, the central character in the Times story. Young Shih recently got himself in trouble. Allow the Times to recount what happened:

If there was a tipping point, a moment that crystallized the anger building here toward the so-called technorati for driving up housing prices and threatening the city’s bohemian identity, it came in response to a diatribe posted online in August by a young Internet entrepreneur.

The author, a start-up founder named Peter Shih, listed 10 things he hated about San Francisco. Homeless people, for example. And the “constantly PMSing” weather. And “girls who are obviously 4s and behave like they’re 9s.”

The word “sophomoric” comes to mind, but at a time when the tech elites are lording it over their neighbors, the remark struck an exposed nerve:

But a nerve had been struck. As the center of the technology industry has moved north from Silicon Valley to San Francisco and the largess from tech companies has flowed into the city — Twitter’s stock offering unleashed an estimated 1,600 new millionaires — income disparities have widened sharply, housing prices have soared and orange construction cranes dot the skyline. The tech workers have, rightly or wrongly, received the blame.

Resentment simmers, at the fleets of Google buses that ferry workers to the company’s headquarters in Mountain View and back; the code jockeys who crowd elite coffeehouses, heads buried in their laptops; and the sleek black Uber cars that whisk hipsters from bar to bar. Late last month, two tech millionaires opened the Battery, an invitation-only, $2,400-a-year club in an old factory in the financial district, cars lining up for valet parking.

Of course, this new elite does not possess sterling character. San Franciscans have noticed:

And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions. The annual Day of the Dead procession, meant to be solemn, has turned into a rowdy affair that many newcomers seem to view as a kind of Mexican Halloween.

Political leaders are divided. With the influx of new wealth comes added tax revenue. San Francisco and California are now flush with extra cash. They will need it to fund the programs that will care for the people who have been displaced.

Dare we mention but the modern technocrati are true blue Democrats. They feel for the less fortunate. They do not feel enough enough to hire them, but they do have the right feelings.

Now, led by Mark Zuckerberg they want comprehensive immigration reform. It isn’t about social justice and it isn’t really about putting millions of undocumented aliens on a path to citizenship.

They are willing to trade that minor inconvenience for a slew of new workers from South Asia. Truth be told, San Francisco's homeless and jobless are never going to be hired by Facebook or Google. Why else would all the billionaires be so willing to support those who offer new programs to help them out?

What happened to Peter Shih? He found religion, or a close facsimile:

For his part, Mr. Shih said the response to his post was a lesson he will not soon forget. He has augmented his work on Airbrite, the company he and a colleague started, with volunteering at homeless shelters.

“What I did was wrong,” he said. “I feel like the changes the tech scene has made to San Francisco have made people very angry, and I was caught in the cross-fire.”

There you have it: first, you take their homes. Next, you volunteer to do penance by spending time in a homeless shelter.

Is that what blue state politics is really all about?

I call it an anti-parable.


Sam L. said...

Frisco's already priced blacks and poorer folks out of the city. Can your say "gentrification", boys and girls? I thought you could. Even if it's not strictly applicable.

Anonymous said...

But Sam, it's within the national liberal cathedral...

Don't they care about those they ceaselessly claim to care about?


Anonymous said...

More collateral damage.


Sam L. said...

Progressives CARE! Caring is everything, and results don't count.

Good intentions, Road to Hell; the equality is evident.

Anonymous said...

I've worried about our political & economic elites for some time now. Esp after reading Prof. Huntington's last book, "Who Are We?"

I believe he called it the "de-nationalization of the elites". And used Davos as example. Our tycoons and top politicians have more in common, have more shared interests, with their international peers ... than they do with their fellow-Americans. Or America itself.

He also pointed to unrestricted illegal immigration. Mexico mostly, but others now too. Who he feared, and I fear, don't much care for this country. I say this as a grandson of Mexican immigrants.

Cui bono? Employers, even HI-B ones. Democrats, who logically expect self-interested voters.
It harms just about everybody else. And the country itself. -- Rich Lara

Dennis said...

Much better identified as the "Liberal Plantation."