On Matt Haney’s walk to work at San Francisco city hall he passes the luxurious homes of some of the richest US tech billionaires, as well as hundreds of the country’s most desperate people living in tent encampments on the street.
The “extreme, shocking inequality” he and the other 900,000 residents are forced to navigate every day led Haney, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city’s legislative body, to propose a new “overpaid executive tax” designed to help tackle the problem.
San Francisco voters overwhelming backed a new law that will levy an extra 0.1% tax on companies that pay their chief executive more than 100-times the the median of their workforce.
Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and the world’s third richest person, was paid $595m (£449m) last year, almost 10,000 times the firm’s median salary of just under $60,000.
Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, was paid $134m in 2019, more than 2,300 times the firm’s median pay of $57,600.
The pay levels of US chief executives have increased by an average of 940% since 1978, compared with a 12% increase in workers’ pay, according to the Economic Policy Institute thinktank.
“San Francisco has some of the most extreme inequality anywhere in the world, and many of the best-known companies growing here have some of the largest gaps between executive pay and worker pay,” said Haney, in an interview over Zoom as he walked to work this week.
Haney, who represents District 6, which includes the Tenderloin, Mission Bay and South of Market, added: “The contrasts are especially stark in my district where I represent some of the richest parts of San Francisco – and the country – and some of the poorest parts with huge numbers of homeless people without access to healthcare.”
He said the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated San Francisco’s inequality problem, which had already created “a city of extreme suffering” that drained local government of resources.
“The heath system was already very strained, and the pandemic has exposed it even more,” Haney said. “It has shown how stark the inequality is, poor people could not afford to shelter and people of colour and essential workers bore the burnt of the pandemic.
“At the same time the richest have gotten much richer [from the pandemic] it shows the fundamental flaw of our economic system. A small number of people continue to make massive profits at a time when almost everyone else was suffering more than ever.
“San Francisco is a modern day version of a A Tale of Two Cities everywhere you look, we can’t have a nation that turns into that.”
San Francisco is, indeed, a modern day version of A Tale of Two Cities. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 30 years and can verify the very apparent inequality. Several items in this article caught my eye. San Francisco’s “shocking inequality” is something Haney is “forced to navigate”. Many of my San Francisco high tech coworkers displayed no sign of being shocked by the inequality around them and in fact showed no indication they even registered inequality, gave no evidence they saw income and wealth disparities as something to avoid. Instead, to be avoided were people sleeping on the streets, human excrement and urine on the streets. The San Francisco problem one is forced to navigate is the poor, not poverty.
“A small number of people continue to make massive profits at a time when almost everyone else was suffering more than ever”: why would they not? Whatever would suggest to Haney or anyone else that increased suffering would dissuade billionaires from maximizing profits? Tim Cook pulls down 134 million US dollars in 2019 while Apple Chinese sweat shop workers are driven to suicide, but he’ll have second thoughts if those workers contract a virus?
When Haney mentions homeless people with no access to healthcare he is describing homeless who seek healthcare from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, previously known as San Francisco General. I remember when reading Neuromancer thinking Gibson was a bit over the top in his depiction of a corporate-owned future. Earlier in 2020 a Bay Area high tech friend was enthusiastic about reading a new novel about a pandemic. This, I think, is a quintessential comment on the San Francisco Bay Area high tech view of the world: in the midst of a pandemic one consumes a cultural good about a pandemic. Living in a nation which for decades has experienced increasingly great wealth and income disparity one conscientiously declares the intent to avoid a future where the nation is one of great wealth and income disparity. One is forever nearing the brink. Here, let me recommend just the greatest thing: there’s this great new Netflix series which deals with that.