Vice President Al Gore’s on-stage interview at a tech conference touched off questions of how “tech culture and tech philanthropy may exacerbate inequality and undermine democracy”.
The innovations of the tech industry have furnished modern society with countless major benefits and minor conveniences, and are the source of endless fascination along the lines of, “what will they come up with next?” But looking at the industry through other lenses–as Vice President Al Gore did during a recent interview at tech conference Southland–raises provocative questions and may bring to light issues in need of the industry’s powerful problem-solving skills.
In a highlight article on tech blog (and conference sponsor) Pando Daily, whose founder & CEO Sarah Lacey conducted the interview, David Sirota comments:
Discussing the economy, Gore lamented that “we have rising levels of inequality and chronic underinvestment” in public programs aimed at addressing environmental protection, health care and education. He reminded the audience that when “95 percent of all the additional national income in the U.S., since the recovery began in ’09, goes to the top one percent, that’s not an Occupy Wall Street slogan, that’s a fact!”
What Gore did not explicitly mention, but what is becoming increasingly obvious, is that there are plenty of signs that the tech economy may be a significant driver of the inequality he lamented.
Gore also responded to Lacey’s question about the philanthropic largesse of tech billionaires in areas covered by public policy:
That’s a good thing, as long as the rest of us don’t ever fall prey to the illusion that charity is going to do the job of what democracy needs to do. We the people have the right to work together to allocate resources including tax money for good purposes but when the systems that allocate that money and design the policies are dominated by those with wealth and power, then naturally the average citizen begins to get very upset and suspicious as we should be.
Sirota adds context:
Gore’s comments about charity, of course, come only a few weeks after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg generated a new wave of headlines about a $120 million donation to help schools in low-income neighborhoods in the Bay Area. What’s so revealing about that donation is that it comes only a few years after California considered a ballot measure to increase funding for its schools.
…There seems to be a trend of billionaires and tech firms making private donations to public institutions ostensibly with the goal of improving public services. Yet, many of these billionaires are either absent from – or hostile toward – the efforts to raise public resources for those same public institutions.
…[I]t’s a fundamental challenge to the idea that “we the people have the right to work together to allocate resources” for inherently public priorities. It is a challenge because philanthropic money is not like general public revenue, which is raised through taxes and then allocated by a democratic process…. On the contrary, it is often donated with specific ideological strings attached.
See the full 55-minutes interview here.
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