On election day, instead of looking out and seeing our own reflection, we caught a glimpse of the other side, and we did not like what we saw.
I’m reminded of the “Google Bus” uproar, and the open letter by a “tech bro” to the mayor of San Francisco about the Bay Area homeless problem. These were two local examples of the national class struggle we’re faced with today. They foreshadowed the smack on the face we felt in the presidential election.
Like everyone else, I’ve read a lot of analyses about why Clinton lost. The one that makes the most sense to me is that this is a result of the widening gap between rich and poor, between comfortable and not. Despite a growing economy with unemployment back to pre-recession lows, the gains are not distributed equally.
We’ve seen this in our own backyard, so why should we be so surprised when the evidence appears on a national scale?
There are many other questions too, like why a bombastic businessman from New York would appear as the savior of the working class. But that’s the besides the point. He successfully made the appeal, and the Democratic nominee failed.
So, what can we do about it? I think a lot of good is already happening, but we can hasten the impact.
Expand the marketplaces
Internet marketplaces redistribute payments between buyers and sellers in remarkably efficient ways. I think of Uber and Lyft, Airbnb, Hired, TaskRabbit, and to a lesser degree but still a very interesting study, my own company, Scripted.
I argue that marketplaces help to bridge the gap between the wealthy and the working poor. Forbes valued beneficial impact that this “gig economy” had to its participants at over $3.5 billion — way back in 2013.
The fact is, although we may not have huge unemployment numbers, we do suffer from rampant under-employment. This is why school teachers have to rent the extra bedrooms in their apartments and construction workers need to ferry their neighbors around for extra pay.
Marketplaces start in the cities because there’s less distance to cover for initial experiments, but they will eventually work just as well in the suburbs and rural areas. By giving creative and manual labor an opportunity to be discovered and hired, we give those in lower income brackets a piece of the pie.
Marketplace companies should do more to reach the rust belt and south where the 2008 recession hit the hardest. Let’s proactively pull them into both sides of the marketplace. Everyone will benefit.
Improve technical literacy
The other suggestion I have is for the bootcamps to expand into these same rural areas in the middle of our country and educate these Americans how to tap into the tech sector. Start in the university towns around Georgia, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, and expand out.
We shouldn’t be building development teams in India, Poland, and Argentina when there are plenty of capable people in this country who can pick up programming. A quick Google search for tech bootcamps in Oklahoma revealed only OKCoders, which currently serves Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It was founded in 2014. 2014 — less than two years ago! This is why we’re not looking to the plains states for tech outsourcing.
There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have booming tech hubs in every state now that the internet is 20 years old. There’s certainly no shortage of programming jobs, and an increased supply of engineers would drive down engineering salaries (sorry, friends) and put a tamper on the rental and housing markets too (better now?)
Open offices 1500 miles from the beach
I spoke to a venture capital firm recently that is headquartered outside of Cleveland. We had an interesting conversation about the tech sector in broader Ohio (you may recall, Ohio flipped to Trump).
His firm only invests locally, so he encouraged me to consider opening a Scripted office there. Heck, even move our headquarters. Why? Cheaper rent, nicer people, and all the great amenities of a sweet midwestern town.
Unfortunately I can’t make the move now, but I do believe if more of us did, we’d benefit, Ohio would benefit, and we wouldn’t be as likely to see Trump-like figures succeed in future elections.
This call to action is along the same theme: we shouldn’t be so geographically constrained. San Francisco is cramped, and so is Palo Alto and Oakland. Soon Santa Monica and San Diego will follow.
Let’s expand. We’ll be better for it.
There’s a homeless encampment one block from the Scripted office in SOMA, San Francisco’s trendy startup neighborhood. I walked through it today, a few steps behind three school children. One of them, a Hispanic girl, walked by an old white panhandler and dropped some change into his cup. He smiled, I smiled, and she and her friends kept walking along.
Imagine that. And it happened in San Francisco two days after the Clinton-Trump election.
I’m reminded of the power that small actions can have in addressing huge problems. And so I ask myself, my friends, and anyone reading this: when’s the last time you did that? I’m ashamed to say that for me, it’s been years.
It’s time for all of us to start making some changes. Little ones too.
Note: I’m intentionally speaking only to the socio-economic conflict and not addressing the worst elements of the Trump candidacy here. The alt-right, white supremacist, xenophobic threat is real and frightening. However, I remain cautiously optimistic that it is and will remain fringe. We must be diligent to make sure it doesn’t expand, but it exists, and it is awful, and these fragments do feel emboldened by a president-elect who did not dampen their message.