Society and Culture
How Facebook Pays Your Rent
Last week, the government reopened and raised the debt ceiling. YAY! We don’t all have to worry about getting flushed down the proverbial economic toilet.
At least not for another three months, when Congress has decided to do this all again.
It’s like a quarterly, let’s-freak-everyone-the-fuck-out party.
Awesome. (Not really.)
Anyway! Now that the government has reopened for a little while, some of the nation’s most influential businessmen are speaking out about it. And you know what they’re saying?
Who the hell cares?!
No, but that’s really what they’re saying.
In a recent interview with Jason Calacanis, former Facebook employee and venture-capitalist millionaire Chamath Palihapitiya claimed that the government was pretty much useless—so who gives a crap if it shuts down? According to him, corporations hold the real power in the U.S. these days.
“Companies are transcending power now,” said Palihapitiya. “We are becoming the eminent vehicles for change and influence, and capital structures that matter. If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn’t matter.”
This is interesting, folks.
Palihapitiya’s words are both frighteningly true and laughably false, all at the same time.
On the one hand, it’s true that for many of us, life continued as usual, despite the government shutdown. For example, as I interviewed folks last week for a book I’m writing about conservatism in present-day America, many of them had almost zero knowledge about the government shutdown.
Because they were busy, and hadn’t been paying much attention to the news. Oh, and because it must not really matter anyway, if the only way they could know about the shutdown was by devoting a portion of their day to catching up with CNN (or Fox News, unfortunately). Their daily lives weren’t affected at all.
But, if Facebook—or some other multi-billion dollar corporation—had suddenly gone belly-up, these folks would know about it. Absolutely. Remember the financial crash of 2008? When the economy flounders, so does everyone else in the United States.
Corporations, whether or not they’re functioning properly, make people pay attention. But a white, domed building filled with a bunch of bickering Congress people? Not so much.
But that doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t matter, as Palihapitiya claims. This government shutdown was relatively short-term, and had it remained closed for a longer period of time, many more people would have felt the burn.
Nonetheless, tons of people were seriously affected. Boatloads of government employees were furloughed without pay, and millions of people who receive some form of government assistance were left out in the cold.
So, when Jason Calacanis tweets about how little the government shutdown matters—echoing the same sentiments as his interview subject, Palihapitiya—we can just grit our teeth and laugh at the skewed viewpoint of the über-rich.
Because honestly, Jason, lots of people were personally impacted by the government shutdown. But they were probably women, or poor, or of color, or all of the above. And you’re none of those things. Your crass assumption that, just because you haven’t been affected then clearly no one has, is hilariously out of touch.
Except it’s not that hilarious, because, let’s face it—you have a ton of power.
While Jason and Palihapitiya might be wrong about the government being inconsequential, they’re right about one thing. Big money corporations matter A LOT. They have the power to make or break our economy, and by extension, to make or break all of our lives. If the economy tanks, we’re all going down with it. At least, those of us who aren’t rich enough to charter a private jet out the mess.
And the lower down we are on the socio-economic ladder, the further we’ll fall if the economy goes to shit. Poor people, women, people of color, queer people, disabled people—the list can go on—will be hit the hardest by a major economic stumble.
So, it’s not really that funny when venture capitalist millionaires prove themselves to be incredibly out of touch. Because they have the power to make or break our economy and our livelihoods. They need to be at least mildly aware of what it’s like down here, in order to keep what’s going on up there from destroying us all.
So, Mark Zuckerberg and friends? Please check your privilege. While you earn your billions, we still need to pay our rent.
Featured image courtesy of [Victoria Pickering via Flickr]