It’s frustrating to see homelessness documented in my beloved Silicon Valley, not only because homelessness is regretable, but because of the way it’s documented in this Bill Moyers piece.
Homelessness exists “in the shadow of Google, in the shadow of Oracle, in the shadow of Apple Computer,” says AP writer Martha Mendoza, whose story inspired the Moyers video. And there’s certainly editorial in the video’s images of wealthy neighborhoods and manicured corporate campuses: Wealth causes poverty, it appears.
But would Teresa Frigge really be doing better if Larry Ellison had been held to middle class wealth? In an alternate universe where Larry Page and Sergey Brin co-own the McDonalds at El Camino and Santa Cruz in Menlo Park, how is Teresa better off?
Rather than dumb juxtaposition, look for actual causes of inequality. Is it the loss of chip manufacturing? That was already declining in 1987.
Housing is hard to find in the Valley. Fifteen years ago, “for every five jobs they were adding, they were building two units of housing,” Mendoza reports.
Disambiguate “they.” For every five jobs Silicon Valley businesses were adding, Silicon Valley builders were building two units of housing.
The reason why? Zoning laws are strangling Silicon Valley. (Liberals agree.) The cap on housing artificially raised the cost of labor, driving chip manufacturing out of Silicon Valley, which still designs chips for manufacture elsewhere. The result is class striation.
But zoning reform is nowhere to be found in the reporting on this issue. Instead, Mendoza features San Jose’s increase in the minimum wage—from $8 to $10. That means that people who cannot provide well more than $20,000 in value per year to prospective employers may not work legally in that city.
The laws say that you may not work in this area if you’re not skilled, and you may not live there if you’re not rich. I don’t think it’s wealth that’s causing this homelessness.