Friday, March 31, 2017

The Gulf Between Rich And Poor

In a patch of scrubland across the road from the Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley, a woman named Celma Aguilar recently walked along some overgrown train tracks. She stopped where a path forked into some vegetation, just a few hundred yards from the tourists taking photos by an enormous image of a “Like” icon at the campus entrance.

“Welcome to the mansion,” Aguilar said, gesturing to a rudimentary shelter of tarps hidden in the undergrowth.

The campsite is one of about 10 that dot the boggy terrain, and are a striking sight alongside the brightly painted, low-slung buildings housing the multi-billion-dollar corporation. The contrast epitomizes the Bay Area wealth gap.

Harold Schapelhouman, a fire chief whose department has dealt with conflagrations on the land, said he was struck by the disparities. “Their employees are very well taken care of. They have on-site medical facilities, dry cleaning, bicycle repair, they feed them and there are restaurants that are there. It’s amazing what Facebook does for its employees. And yet within eyeshot - it really isn’t that far – there are people literally living in the bushes.”

Schapelhouman said he was not blaming Facebook, though it is true that the success of technology companies has driven up real estate prices in the area. As a whole, California is one of the lowest-ranking US states for the availability of affordable housing, and has one-fifth of America’s homeless population. Irrespective of the utopianism that imbues Silicon Valley culture, the tech campuses are not immune to these broader social problems.

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One could argue that Ms. Aguilar and her comrades are responsible for their own poverty. But I would counter with the statement that Facebook's wealth appears to be based upon what amounts to wholesale theft of data belonging to We The People.

At least Ms. Aguilar is being honest about her situation.

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