What both Paul Graham and Tim O’Reilly are missing about inequality

Posted originally in Medium.

The discussion between Paul Graham and Tim O’Reilly is fascinating in the sense that both are talking about the differences which for most of the humanity may be difficult to notice or for some may even seem ridiculous. These two prominent figures of the technology world seem seriously concerned about the income inequality among people who not only have no problem accessing drinking water, education or public transport, but are among the most privileged and highest-paid group of professionals.

Analyzing economical issues and discussing the lack of social justice in the reality of a country that has been world’s economical and political power for decades, while ignoring the global economy at the same time, reduces the complexity of the problem to the point, that any attempt to solve it would be at best fruitless or, in the worst case, could lead to decreasing living standard in the less prosperous societies. Since nineteenth century people are not interested in the land that could feed their families, but in technologically advanced products requiring energy. It is not enough to provide employees with more purchasing power, if resources to meet the production needs cannot be supplied at the same time. Struggle to bring balance in one country is inevitably going to disturb it in another.

The solution to sharing the pie ethically through any kind of economical or political mechanisms simply does not exist, since this is the developed world and industrial civilization that creates the real inequality in the first place. Talking differences in wages, even if counted in millions of dollars, is a discussion that should take place publicly once business and financing models of the international companies stop resembling slavery, colonialism and tax fraud schemes. Until then, this discussion seems to me, to put it mildly, irrelevant. And I am quite convinced, that once these problems are solved, the pie to share will become significantly smaller.

In response to Steven Nichols (“Has the U.S. been ignoring the global economy for years?“):

Not at all. Thanks to the U.S. trillions of dollars have been invested worldwide in human aid or rebuilding free market economies in post-communist countries (Poland being one of the biggest beneficiaries). Even some of the most influential ideas in naturalism and environmentalism, as opposite to our industrial society, like writings of Henry David Thoreau, have their origin in the U.S., what clearly shows there has always been a thriving intellectual life open to solving fundamental issues. I recognize and respect that. This is some of the leaders of the industry who are ignoring the fact, that huge amount of money flowing into the Sillicon Valley, turned into purchasing power, has destructive impact on developing countries due to environmental damages (e.g. mining rare earth elements in China), corrupting local authorities (IBM and Hewlett-Packard in Poland just to give one example) and on the U.S. because of stashing money offshore to avoid taxes (Apple, Google, Microsoft…). All that profit is eventually invested in new companies at the expense of health care, education and infrastructure. Thus, I would feel at least uncomfortable discussing in public how to share these giant profits and instead of talking about the questionable “value” the startup world brings to the society, I would rather focus on giving back what truly belongs to ordinary people.