Sympathy for those poor, oppressed upper classes

See updates through March 3, 2023, at end of post.

It’s difficult for me to find much sympathy for high technology workers. They typically make six-figure incomes. They drove up already high rents in San Francisco to ludicrous levels and then complained about homeless people,[1] when now, in San Francisco, you are either rich or you are homeless—there is very little in between—and for all their complaints, many continued to live there.

Their arrogant answer to social inequality is too often “learn to code.” I did learn to code; programming was my first career out of school the first time, and as I recently noted, it

requires a particular, intensely linear, extremely reductive, and binary mindset. It’s not a way that normal human beings think, which is actually a very, very good thing, and the consequence for me was that, as a programmer, I couldn’t hold a normal human conversation with normal human beings.[2]

Not everyone can do that. Not everyone can sustain that. Not everyone should do that.

Even now as they face a wave of layoffs—more than 150,000 in recent months[3]—I remember all too well their cruel indifference to my own job search plight following the dot-com crash of 2001: “Applying [for jobs] doesn’t work until it does,” one had the absolute gall to tell me in 2017, when my job search had already failed for sixteen years,[4] and after I had returned to school, finished my Bachelor’s, and earned a Master’s degree and a Ph.D. (it’s now been twenty-two years).[5]

[I]s it the case that the tech giants simply expanded too far, too quickly? Or is it that innovations in [artificial idiocy] and automation have created a situation where the fastest way to save money is to replace people with machines? In truth, it’s likely to be a little of both. None of the companies have specified automation as a driving force behind the moves, but given the job roles affected and reading between the lines, it’s tempting to draw the conclusion that it is a contributing factor.[6]

It appears there may be more trash, just like me, lying on the side of the “information superhighway.”[7] Still, this was quite something:

The CEO of tech company PagerDuty has apologized for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. in an email to staff announcing mass layoffs.

In a company-wide email on January 24, Jennifer Tejada announced that PagerDuty was cutting 7% of its workforce globally. She also said the company was cutting costs and reducing office space, attributing the changes to the “volatile economy.”

“I am reminded in moments like this, of something Martin Luther King said, that ‘the ultimate measure of a [leader] is not where [they] stand in the moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy,’” Tejada wrote, slightly tweaking the original quote from the civil-rights activist and including her own words in brackets.[8]

It reminds me of when Tom Perkins, who cofounded the venture capital firm that took over and destroyed Linuxcare, the company where I had my last real job, sought to, in his words,

call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”[9]

In all of this, it isn’t the homeless who are victims. It isn’t the poor who are victims. It isn’t the unemployed who are victims.

No, no, no. We are to believe that the executives who do the laying off, with their megayachts, their multiple mansions, their private jets, their fabulous wealth, and their unfathomable incomes are oppressed. Just as we were to believe that high tech workers having to walk around homeless people were oppressed.

And who are their oppressors? The homeless, the poor, and the unemployed.

It’ll take a better man than me to find any sympathy whatsoever for any of them.

Update, February 4, 2023: It very much appears that the dictate of the moment is to increase labor insecurity. The Intercept reported that then-Federal Reserve Board member and present U.S. Treasurer Janet Yellen saw unemployment as necessary for “worker discipline”[10] in line with an orthodoxy that blames worker bargaining power and the higher wages that may follow from that power for higher inflation.[11]

That orthodoxy persists at the Federal Reserve and explains increases in interest rates[12] which don’t actually address the causes of inflation, these being supply chain disruptions that began with the COVID-19 pandemic, but whose causes lie with a neoliberal valorization of “efficiency” at the expense of resilence,[13] and with energy cost increases associated with Russia’s war on Ukraine. High technology layoffs appear similarly intended to curtail the power of workers.[14]

On the merits, then, it appears there should now be an alliance between high technology workers and the rest of us. Personally, with my experience with high technology arrogance, that’d be a bitter pill to swallow, and to be honest, I doubt those workers will shed their arrogance as many of them simply find new jobs.

Update, February 7, 2023: It’s one thing when I accuse the Federal Reserve of treating the wrong disease in attempting to stem inflation.[15] This is the Wall Street Journal:

[Wages’ share of the economy] appears to have slipped in recent decades: A 2017 Labor Department analysis put labor’s share at about 58% of economic output in the third quarter of 2016, which compared with about 64% at the end of 1970. Separate Labor Department data suggest that in the fourth quarter labor’s share was around its 2016 level.

Not everyone likes the Labor Department’s methodology, but there appears to be a consensus that, at least since around 2000, labor’s share has diminished in the U.S. This has coincided with an increase in profit margins.

So maybe it is possible that, rather than feeding inflation, faster wage growth could instead lead workers to regain the slice of the economy’s pie they have lost. If the Fed hits the brakes every time wages look as if they are growing faster than 2% annually plus whatever its assessment of productivity growth is, that won’t happen.[16]

But it appears the Federal Reserve will be sticking with its diagnosis.[17]

Update, March 3, 2023:

As the decade-long bull market came stuttering to an end and tech stock prices fell throughout last year, pressure to cut costs from Wall Street built and in the past few months a deluge of layoffs and cost-cutting has flooded Silicon Valley. The big-idea side projects that were supposed to become the revenue-drivers of the future have been particularly hard hit, with some of them being completely dismantled, and others facing deep cuts.

“They’ve assumed that everything that they touch is going to work. And in reality, it’s not,” said Roger McNamee, a veteran venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook before becoming a high-profile critic of social media’s impact on society.[18]

An article in the Washington Post argues that the culture of innovation that nurtured even the boldest (riskiest) startups may be in retreat.

The shift is a major change for the tech industry’s culture, where employees would jump from well-paying jobs at Big Tech companies to risky start-ups, comfortable in the assumption that they could return if the smaller company didn’t work out.[19]

This has happened before. I still haven’t recovered from being laid off in the dot-com crash of 2001, even as I returned to school and finished all the way through to a Ph.D. And a significant source of my feeling forsaken lies in the refusal of my so-called friends from that era to lift even a finger to help me return to work, instead leaving me with the trash on the side of the “information superhighway.”[20] That makes it very hard for me to shed any tears for techies getting laid off.[21]

Now as Uber takes its pressures out on drivers, March is off to a distinctly poor start for me:

Fig. 3. Graph of estimated daily average net income (in blue, using Internal Revenue Service mileage allowance) by month since January 2022, against estimated daily operating costs (in red, using Internal Revenue Service mileage allowance), what the federal minimum wage would be for a six-and-a-half hour day had it kept pace with productivity[22] (in green), the (outdated[23]) federal poverty line[24] (in light orange), and the Pennsylvania minimum wage[25] (in orange), created by author, February 10, 2023, revamped February 18, updated as of March 2, 2023, original is updated daily.

But my former ‘friends’ from that era are not the only ones to have forsaken me. I’m still not seeing a realistic alternative to suicide as all anyone has for me is the very same bullshit that’s failed me for 22 years.[26]

  1. [1]Julia Carrie Wong, “‘We all suffer’: why San Francisco techies hate the city they transformed,” Guardian, July 1, 2019,
  2. [2]David Benfell, “A life worth living,” Not Housebroken, January 29, 2023,
  3. [3]Bernard Marr, “The Real Reasons For Big Tech Layoffs At Google, Microsoft, Meta, And Amazon,” Forbes, January 30, 2023,
  4. [4]David Benfell, “To my friends,” Not Housebroken, May 14, 2021,
  5. [5]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  6. [6]Bernard Marr, “The Real Reasons For Big Tech Layoffs At Google, Microsoft, Meta, And Amazon,” Forbes, January 30, 2023,
  7. [7]The term “information superhighway” is attributed to Al Gore, who apparently used the term in a speech on January 11, 1994: Computer Hope, “Information superhighway,” May 19, 2017,
  8. [8]Grace Dean, “A tech CEO apologized for quoting Martin Luther King Jr. when announcing layoffs, calling it ‘inappropriate and insensitive,’” Business Insider, February 1, 2023,
  9. [9]Tom Perkins, “Progressive Kristallnacht Coming?” Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2014,
  10. [10]Jon Schwarz, “In Confidential Memo, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Celebrated Unemployment as a ‘Worker-Discipline Device,’” Intercept, January 24, 2023,
  11. [11]Cory Doctorow, “Why the Fed wants to crush workers,” Medium, January 19, 2023,; Stephanie Kelton, Deficit Myth (New York: Public Affairs, 2021); Jon Schwarz, “In Confidential Memo, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen Celebrated Unemployment as a ‘Worker-Discipline Device,’” Intercept, January 24, 2023,
  12. [12]Cory Doctorow, “Why the Fed wants to crush workers,” Medium, January 19, 2023,
  13. [13]Esther Eriksson von Allmen, “Medical Emergency,” American Prospect, February 1, 2022,; Matthew Jinoo Buck, “How America’s Supply Chains Got Railroaded,” American Prospect, February 4, 2022,; David Dayen and Rakeen Mabud, “How We Broke the Supply Chain,” American Prospect, January 31, 2022,; Ella Fanger, “Labor Fight Brews on the Docks,” American Prospect, February 3, 2022,; Gabrielle Gurley, “The Warehouse Space Race,” American Prospect, February 8, 2022,; Amir Khafagy, “The Hidden Costs of Containerization,” American Prospect, February 2, 2022,; Robert Kuttner, “China: Epicenter of the Supply Chain Crisis,” American Prospect, February 1, 2022,; Harold Meyerson, “Why Trucking Can’t Deliver the Goods,” American Prospect, February 7, 2022,; Alexander Sammon, “We Were Warned About the Ports,” American Prospect, February 3, 2022,
  14. [14]Brian Merchant, “The real aim of big tech’s layoffs: bringing workers to heel,” Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2023,
  15. [15]David Benfell, “Sympathy for those poor, oppressed upper classes,” Not Housebroken, February 4, 2023,
  16. [16]Justin Lahart, “Giving Labor Less of the American Pie,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2023,
  17. [17]Nick Timiraos, “Fed’s Jerome Powell Braces for Longer Inflation Fight Amid Hiring Surge,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2023,
  18. [18]Gerrit De Vynck, Caroline O’Donovan, and Naomi Nix, “The age of the Silicon Valley ‘moonshot’ is over,” Washington Post, March 2, 2023,
  19. [19]Gerrit De Vynck, Caroline O’Donovan, and Naomi Nix, “The age of the Silicon Valley ‘moonshot’ is over,” Washington Post, March 2, 2023,
  20. [20]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d.,
  21. [21]David Benfell, “Sympathy for those poor, oppressed upper classes,” Not Housebroken, February 7, 2023,
  22. [22]Dean Baker, “Correction: The $23 an Hour Minimum Wage,” Center for Economic Policy and Research, March 16, 2022,
  23. [23]Areeba Haider and Justin Schweitzer, “The Poverty Line Matters, But It Isn’t Capturing Everyone It Should,” Center for American Progress, March 5, 2020,
  24. [24]U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Federal poverty level (FPL),” n.d.,
  25. [25]U.S. Department of Labor, “State Minimum Wage Laws,” January 1, 2023,
  26. [26]David Benfell, “A life worth living,” Not Housebroken, February 18, 2023,