I first heard about Aeon Magazine on the Freakonomics radio show, when the host, Stephen Dubner, interviewed these two historians about the importance of maintenance. Yeah, maintenance – as opposed to disruptive innovation. “Capitalism,” their article says, “excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more.”
Most of the essay, and the interview with Freakonomics, focuses on things like infrastructure, civil engineering that keeps the country going. The people who fix existing things, as opposed to breaking things and making new ones, are far more important to society, they argue – and yet, they are nowhere near as valued, either by the media and popular culture nor by economic models of compensation.
The authors get a little bit into larger economic issues, including the problems in San Francisco:
Evidence has emerged that regions of intense innovation also have systemic problems with inequality. In 2013, protests erupted in San Francisco over the gentrification and social stratification symbolised by Google buses and other private commuter buses. These shuttles brought high-tech employees from hip, pricey urban homes to their lush suburban campuses, without exposing them to the inconvenience of public transportation or to the vast populations of the poor and homeless who also call Silicon Valley their home. The dramatic, unnecessary suffering exposed by such juxtapositions of economic inequality seems to be a feature, not a bug of highly innovative regions.
But they raise a larger question that we all need to be thinking about these days: Our economy may be the most innovative ever, but it sucks at maintaining a decent standard of life for all. The profound, disruptive technological changes of the past three decades have created great wealth for a few – and at the same time, the income, and standard of living, of millions of others has fallen.
The rules of economic life in the first part of the post-War era – very high marginal taxes on the rich, heavily unionized industry, and the development of a social safety net that kept people off the streets – were set up in a way that was all about maintenance. Maintaining a decent, and growing, standard of living for the middle class was more of a priority than ensuring vast wealth for a handful of lucky folks at the top.
It’s interesting to think that the Deep Blue states like California, full of innovators, voted for Clinton – and Trump won in places where the disruptive side of modern capitalism has ruined lives. There’s no question that a lot of the Trump vote longed for the more racist, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic America of yore. But perhaps the political leaders in the Democratic Party who are all crazy about Silicon Valley (where a lot of Obama alums are going to end up) didn’t take enough time to think about the maintenance side of an economy, about the ways that disruption has to be tempered in the name of some level of economic and social stability.
We are all going to spend the next week protesting the inauguration. Some of us will be in DC, but there’s a lot going on here at home, too. It started with a rally Sunday/15 at City Hall, featuring Rep. Nancy Pelosi, talking about protecting the Affordable Care Act. Actually, what’s more interesting is that California groups, like the California Nurses Association, aren’t just talking about defending a law that, for all its value, has been very problematic; they are working to build a true single-payer system in this state. It could happen; California is big enough and rich enough to afford its own single-payer. And if the Republicans cut off about $20 billion in health-care funding to the state, we may have no choice.
On the eve of the Inaugural, you can join 48hills in the Pre-Trumpocalypse Happy Hour to celebrate the last day before the nightmare begins – and help support independent local media. 6pm-9pm at the Stud, 399 Ninth St. We’re asking for $25 at the door. Your first drink is free.
Then you can head to the Rickshaw, for a Love Trumps Hate party, with the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood, The Council on American-Islamic Relations, La Raza Centro Legal, and Earthjustice. 9pm, 155 Fell St.
Lots of people have decided not to go to work on Friday/20, and there’s a full day of “General Strike” activities in Oakland. There’s also Tech Workers for Racial Justice, who will be at Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland all day to help grassroots groups that need tech support.
In San Francisco, protesters will gather at 8am at Justin Herman Plaza and march to the Bank of America building, which Trump owns a little piece of. Then expect people to gather at UN Plaza at 5pm.
On Saturday/21, the Women’s March will start at 3pm at Civic Center, part of a national day of protest that’s expected to involve more than 1 million people nationwide. Maybe a whole lot more. At 5pm, the march will head to Justin Herman Plaza, filling Market Street along the way.
If I’ve missed anything, let me know and I will update.
I got accused on Facebook of being “divisive” last week when I posted a critical piece about Sup. London Breed’s committee appointments. It’s a bit odd, I think: In the Trump Era, is it “divisive” to say that there are corporate Democrats (who are, perhaps, part of the reason Trump was elected) and Democrats who actually care about economic justice? Is anyone who happens to register Democrat exempt from criticism? Are we not going to hold local officials accountable on local issues just because they show up at rallies to oppose Trump?
Was it “divisive” for Bernie to run against Hillary? Or was it just a recognition that since the first Clinton Era, and probably since Jimmy Carter started cutting corporate taxes and taxes on the rich in 1978, the leaderhip of the Democratic Party was very divisive, siding with Wall Street against the rest of us?
I’m all for bringing everyone together. But I’m not going to pretend that, when it comes to economic justice and equality, every politician with a “D” after their name is going to be on our side.
I blame Mayor Ed Lee for being so divisive in favor of the tech industry that he has created the equivalent of two political parties within San Francisco — the progressives and the corporatists. I didn’t create that reality. I just think it’s a mistake not to talk about it.
State Assemblymember David Chiu was at the rally Sunday (and we shall see how hard he will work to create single-payer in California), but he’s also introduced a new measure that falls into the realm of free-market worship, at least when it comes to housing. AB 73, introduced Jan. 4, would allow cities to create a “housing sustainability district” in which market-rate projects could be approved with just “the ministerial issuance of a permit.” If I read this right, the SF Supes could, by a 6-5 vote, decide to eliminate all conditional-use, discretionary review, environmental impact reports, and any other moves to give the community input on new projects.
That could, by the way, make it harder for community groups to negotiate for higher affordable housing levels in big projects.
There’s no full Board of Supes meeting this week in recognition of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. But the Government Audit and Oversight Committee will meet Thursday/19, and on the agenda is a modest attempt to take on the issue of grossly inflated executive compensation at big corporations. (See: the first item above. See also: This.)
A resolution by Sup. Jane Kim asks the city’s retirement board, which controls many billions in stock investments, to consider the problem and vote its shares in a way that supports at least a tiny bit of equity.
Busy week. Busy year. Let’s be ready.