It’s hard to think about given how 2016 and 2017 went, but for me, personally, it all sort of went to hell for good in 2014. The slide started almost immediately, with the first of ultimately seven ER visits for my in-laws that year as soon as I got back from Birmingham. That was when their health took a turn for the worst once and for all. Lost in the aftermath was how Vanderbilt’s most successful coach in the last century chose to go help Penn State get right, functionally taking a huge shit on everything he’d said for three years about “build don’t rent” – and sacrificing our best success in football history so that the Nittanys could speed their recovery from having harbored a child molester for years. That’ll sour your outlook.
But once you get away from the more purely personal, you see the real shit emerge. Ferguson, when some white people finally began to catch on that a huge swath of law enforcement is fundamentally lawless. GamerGate, where it became apparent that social media is a fundamentally negative force and that its operators are utterly unwilling to control or contain when bad people weaponize it.The GOP leveraged six years of blind obstruction to capture the Senate and elevate that obstruction to genuinely unprecedented levels. And the rest of the world finally began to catch on to how Silly Con Valley is sexist, ageist, kind of racist and the functional equivalent of Wall Street in the 1980s, and how its regular business was submerged under the get-rich-quick chicanery of companies whose business model was built on the tripod of “forgiveness not permission,” “do this for me like Mom used to” and “send nudes.”
We more or less live in the world that 2014 made. Just as Waterloo set the tone for the 19th century and the outbreak of World War I did for the 20th, 2014 showed us the shape of things to come. Retrograde populism, harnessed in the service of destabilizing any threat to unbridled wealth. And here in Silly Con Valley, we have a better view of it than most, because this is where your future comes from. So…wanna know what’s coming?
Consider the primacy of technology in the American marketplace. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, to a lesser extent Microsoft – the big dream of wealth now runs through high-tech, more so than the Alex P. Keaton stockbroker fantasy ever did in the 1980s, because tech convinced people that it was all about “making the world a better place.” The cliche got to be a cliche because tech believed it was inherently virtuous. With that fallacy plainly dismissed, we can look a little closer and see that in a LOT of ways, it’s about reordering society to ensure continued privilege for the tech elite. Things like “everyone should learn to code” aren’t about trying to lift all boats, they’re about wrenching away the oars for themselves. Beware the man (reliably a man) who thinks the one thing he knows is the only thing that’s important to know.
People are starting to figure it out. That’s why we resemble Wall Street 1986 so much; the same dickbags are in search of the next pinnacle of power and this is it – with the added bonus that heretofore at least, tech CEOs have gotten the uncritical praise not afforded to finance in the post-crash era. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Zuckerberg and Kalanick and Y Combinator are this era’s Boesky and Milken and KKR. And the insidious thing is that they’re facilitating a slide toward an economy where the ultimate luxury good is financial stability. Think about it: a rental model is the key to the 21st Century indenture. Don’t own music, pay every month for Spotify. Don’t own movies, pay every month for Netflix or HBO. Don’t own a car, pay for Uber or Lyft or Limebike. Don’t own a home, pay…well, pay whatever the market will bear, in Silly Con Valley anyway, where starter homes cost easily $1.5 million.
And you can’t afford to accumulate the wealth needed to make bigger purchases, because on top of the rent you have to pay the college loans…and by making a college degree the gatekeeper credential, they’ve ensured that you start in enough debt to be stuck on the wheel. After which – well, odds are you’ll probably never get rich, but it takes on the psychology of the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play, and if you don’t play, you save a pittance while ensuring the winner is Not You. You can ensure that you’ll be driving Uber and running TaskRabbit on top of your hourly day job forever, or you can indenture yourself to Sallie Mae for twenty years…and drive Uber and run TaskRabbit on top of your hourly day job. Meanwhile, the wacky loan packages that used to make home ownership at least broadly feasible in a distorted market are gone, and now you’re going to need at least 15% or 20% down – which, as mentioned above, now means that you have to cough up something in the six figures all at once, and around here do it in the face of people sailing in with cash offers so they can buy investment properties. Which leads to the quasi-feudal practice of writing your begging letter to the seller in hopes of convincing them to take your deal. Downton Abbey by the Bay. Which actually dovetails quite nicely with the distributed servantry of the gig economy. No wonder everyone’s into British period drama. It’s our own Back to the Future.
And the thing about it is, when all this wealth only flows to the top, you would think the obvious solution is “soak the rich.” But the mythical white working class has gone right along with the course of things, perfectly happy to be living on a slab of cardboard underneath an overpass, cooking a dead crow on a wire coat hanger over a fire in a tin can, so long as the brown people on the next slab over don’t even have a dead crow. It’s the same trick played on white people in Alabama for a century, and it worked a treat there. It just so happens that the cracks in the system made it possible to take it national. And now, because of that 2014 Senate campaign, the Supreme Court goes from possibly having six Democratic appointees for the first time in decades to having the most stalwart conservative tilt in a century. Which means the refs are permanently biased for the foreseeable future, and misconduct like gerrymandering or voter suppression will be even harder to get over on, and changing course will be ever more difficult. When the GOP hasn’t elected a new President with the most votes since 1988, but controls all three branches of the federal government, something has broken. Possibly beyond repair.
Heads Greenock, tails Galway.