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Tech's Elite Hates Labor
I am furious. Though I try not to humour conspiracy theories, or suggest that there is any grand overture to what is usually an uncaring and cold world, but I cannot ignore what is a transparently-synchronized movement against the tech industry’s workforce.
Since Elon Musk’s “hardcore” announcement in November 2022, I have worried that a certain breed of Silicon Valley executive has been hungering to do the same - to reach “efficiency,” by which they mean they can justify laying off hundreds or thousands of people who they believe, deep down, are “entitled.” They see young people as “entitled snowflakes” that are “intolerant” (by which I mean “willing to call out injustices in the world”) and “don’t work.” These VCs have craved, to quote venture capitalist Fred Wilson, a “cleanse” because we have “lost track of what made sense,” because tech had “gotten so nutty, frothy and out of control that we needed a reset.”
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I assume, in Fred Wilson’s case, that a “web3 hospitality technology platform” or a “Web3 personal media collecting and trading platform” is somehow neither nutty or frothy.
Yes, the tech industry’s loudest guys have all been demanding a “great reset,” where efficiency reigns, where the entitled are not invested in, or are fired, or, let’s be honest, are “put in their place” because the overwhelming sense from these craven ghouls is that they believe that workers got given way too much and were treated too well. It’s also worth considering that the people that invested in these companies, that paid for the luxurious perks at these firms, that fucking hired these people in the first place are the same people that are crowing about them being treated too well.
I foolishly believed that these people were in the minority - that they were not indicative of the larger tech industry - and I was completely wrong. Tens of thousands of tech workers have now been laid off from companies throughout the world, and the nebulous reasoning for firing them - that companies had overhired - is an obvious lie, because most of these companies turned healthy (if not stellar) profits. These companies did not “overhire” recklessly. I believe they hired as many people as they needed to to catch consumer (or business) demand, and the second that said demand shifted back to pre-pandemic levels, they used it as an opportunity and justification to fire people that they deemed expendable.
I also believe that there was a genuine panic within the corporate elite that talented workers suddenly had a degree of power, and this was also a convenient way to put themselves back on top. The whole Quiet Quitting fiasco clearly upset them - the idea that workers would take the same liberties with what a work day was (doing what they were required to do versus working beyond their contractually-mandated hours) that executives do was truly offensive - and the idea that workers could choose where to take their talents was equally noxious. A power struggle had developed, and the drop in consumer spending and the effects of inflation provided exactly the cover they needed.
I realize I sound conspiratorial, but to be clear, I do not think they all got together and planned this. However, I believe that a worryingly large amount of the most powerful people in technology have seen the growth of workers’ rights as a symptom of a broken market.
Crooked scumbags like Anthony Pompliano decry the “zero interest rate mind virus” as “infiltrating the brains of an entire generation,” despite the overwhelming benefactors of “free money” being both investors and startup founders that were given stupid amounts of money to run their companies, or to place highly-speculative bets on companies with little real prospect of survival, or were simply built upon a foundation of lies and unrepentant fraud. Theranos. Juicero. Or perhaps Axie Infinity, a game that made its investors plenty of money by luring people in with the crooked “play-to-earn” concept that is really just a Ponzi scheme dressed up like a dollar-store Pokémon.
The tech industry is desperate to somehow frame a period of time where it took advantage of low interest rates to recklessly overhire and overinvest as something that created entitled workers. What they don’t want to discuss is the truth that the only people that have ever acted entitled are the already-wealthy ghouls who cry about how workers don’t do enough for their paychecks.
Part of this reframing is so that tech executives, founders and venture capitalists are not blamed for, say, massively overhiring. Or taking their once-thriving companies down a series of dead-end roads (see Meta and the metaverse), burning piles of cash along the way. Or just, as I aluded to before, investing in some really stupid shit.
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Clubhouse received billions in investment and was hailed as the next big thing in social by most of the valley, despite never really resembling a compelling product. Ro, a telehealth company for erectile dysfunction, low testosterone, and plenty of other things that other companies do, raised $500 million in 2021, only to lay off 18% of its staff less than a year later. Noom, a weight loss app, raised $540 million in May 2021, despite the fact that the app didn’t have enough coaches and gave crappy canned advice that didn’t work - they are now on their third round of layoffs in the last year.
Fort, a company that is making a “behind-the-scenes blockchain game platform” (???), raised $725m in November 2021. MoonPay, a company that “lets users buy cryptocurrencies using conventional payment methods,” raised $555 million from Tiger Global and Coatue in November 2022, days before the FTX calamity began. Chime — a fucking bank, it’s just a bank, it is a bank with a good app — raised $750 million in August 2021, only to cut 12% of their workers a year later due to “torrid growth.”
The story I am trying to tell is that the only people acting in an entitled, reckless and ridiculous way have been venture capitalists and the most powerful people in tech. They are the ones that have been trying to ram obnoxiously stupid concepts like Web3 down our throats, blocking anyone who disagreed like a whiny little baby. They are desperate to reframe the last two years as somehow a condition of a lazy, entitled workforce, rather than vulgar, borderline pornographic capitalism, where money was crammed into every available orifice with the belief that the massive surge in consumer spending meant that these incredibly rich people had been right all along.
The net result is the same as it was before - these people are still rich, powerful, and safe. They are also deeply embarrassed because many investors have been patently wrong in the last few years. The prevailing forces of tech have been deeply embarrassed in almost all of their calls. Mark Zuckerberg was wrong about the metaverse, Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon were wrong about Web3, David Sacks was wrong about just about everything, and Google has obfuscated the purpose of their search engine so badly that they have had to beg their co-founders to return to help fight OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a product from a company of a few hundred people which just got a $14 billion investment from their biggest competitor (just after said competitor laid off 10,000 people).
Layoffs allow these companies to find a way to apologize to their shareholders for not doing anything of note for two years. It allows them to show progress through regression - none of them really had to do anything new, they just had to make more money, and when that money started slowing down, it was fair for shareholders to ask what exactly justified their continual valuations. By laying off people en masse, these companies are able to reframe themselves from being deeply uncreative to “efficiency and profit” driven businesses, which rich stockholders absolutely lap up. Without doing these layoffs, many of these companies would have to justify why the massive amounts of hiring didn’t appear to spur any real innovation - and by firing all of these people, they can say, without really saying it, that these people were used to capture dollars that no longer exist today.
And frankly, the markets love it. Major tech companies’ stocks are up by double-digit percentages, and tech analyst Dan Ives told Big Technology that there is a “huge rebound underway.” Meta, who laid off 12,000 people last year, saw their shares rise nearly 20% despite a regression in users, claiming 2023 would be “the year of efficiency” while also doing a $40 billion stock buyback program.
Illustrating this grotesque point further, Meta, Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft saw their collective valuations rise by $800bn after announcing steep job cuts. It’s a pretty impressive return on investment, considering the cumulative cost of these layoffs is expected to have only cost about $10 billion. Given that tech executives receive a disproportionate amount of their compensation as equity, they have a perverse incentive to cut. Cut harder. Cut deeper. Cut until it hurts — just as long as it doesn’t touch the people at the top.
None of these companies were ever in trouble. They have just used and abused workers as a means of fueling growth, discarding them the second that they weren’t necessary to capture their further dollars.
The Anti-Labor Economy
The next year will be one where the business elite (and the media in tow) attempts to reframe a “rough economy” as a time that puts workers in their place. Boss erotica author and reporter for the Wall Street Journal Chip Cutter’s “The Bosses Are Back In Charge” is one of the more vulgar attempts I’ve seen to try and crush remote work, quoting a real estate CEO - a guy who literally profits from offices - as saying that “the whole concept of working from anywhere went too far.” The goal with these stories is to pump out marketing material for professionally abusive executives, with a partner at PWC saying that “There is a segment of CEOs who are like, ‘All right, I got the power back,” a statement that he claims “he doesn’t share” despite saying the words in the Wall Street Journal.
The truth is that these bosses remain absolutely terrified, because even though there are market forces that are making workers a bit more desperate, they still have no justification for returning to the office. It has been almost three years, and I have yet to read one compelling explanation as to why anyone should be in the office full-time. While layoffs are bad, they are only at pre-pandemic levels - meaning that while layoffs are bad, they are not an indicator that there is any sort of crisis other than “the powerful have been very bad at handling their money.” 2023 is not 2008.
I am, however, convinced that the business media will willingly republish whatever stupid bullshit bosses want them to as a means of trying to rebalance the labor market. And I don’t think it’ll work.
In the case of the tech industry, I expect a push toward attacking “entitled workers” that will inevitably lead to the end of many of Silicon Valley’s fabled perks, and on some level, I believe that’s part of why this push is happening. The tech industry hates that by creating a special class of worker, they have to cater to said worker, and pay them more for specialized skills and talents that other industries don’t.
Tech continues to be dominated by ghouls that lack introspection, humility and appreciation for the people that helped them. And it makes me sick to my stomach.
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