Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn
February 19, 2018
Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, argues persuasively for a guaranteed income for working people.
Chris Hughes is probably known most by the title that accompanies his name on his new book, Fair Shot: "co-founder of Facebook." His Facebook account was just the fifth one created, after three test accounts and that of his roommate at Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg. He hasn't worked for the company since 2007—when he left to join another world-altering organization, the presidential campaign of Barack Obama as the director of online organizing—but he was critical to its formation, helping design and develop some of its core features in those early years and overseeing what would become the department of communications and marketing.
Although he worked hard, as a middle class kid from North Carolina, to get the financial aid to get into an elite prep school and Harvard, he knows that his financial fortune was largely a result of good fortune. The fact that he met Mark Zuckerberg when he did, and that they developed Facebook "just in time to ride the wave of the web's explosive growth," was more fortuitous than genius. And it wasn't just personal luck, but luck in the lottery of life:
That luck wasn't just because I was Mark Zuckerberg's roommate—much larger forces were at work. A collection of economic and political decisions over the past four decades has given rise to unprecedented wealth for a small number of fortunate people, collectively called the one percent. America has created and supported powerful economic forces—specifically globalization, rapid technological development, and the growth of finance—that have made the rise of Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, and other new billionaires possible. The companies we built went from dorm room ideas to assets worth hundreds of billions of dollars because America provided the companies with a fertile environment for explosive growth. Google, Amazon, and Facebook may be extreme examples, but the massive wealth they create for a select few isn't as rare as you might think.
But these same economic forces, often lauded for their disruptive, wealth-generating properties, have disrupted the lives of the working and middle classes in a very different way. The factories of industrial era corporations have been increasingly automated and/or moved overseas, which has destroyed countless jobs and decimated entire regions of the country. The jobs being created in the digital economy are mostly of a more "precarious and piecemeal" variety. People can celebrate the gig economy, and they do provide a meaningful lifeline, but they offer little stability, and no financial security, in the lives of those left to eke out an existence on such jobs. Perhaps that will change, but seeing that Uber is not only losing drivers because the "gig" just isn't all that good, but also lost $4.5 billion in 2017, I don't think the odds are great.
All of these changes have introduced a profound confusion into the American psyche about the state of the American Dream. We live in an age of overnight billionaires, where anything seems possible, but economic opportunity is fading in many of our communities.
It is a reality that, if not exactly rigged, is contributing to (if not creating) greater economic inequality that threatens our idea of an equitable society.
So, Hughes takes time dig into the recent economic history of the United States, along with this precarious present. He explains why, regardless of how hard they worked, the individuals who have become wealthy in the digital economy, like him, arrived at the perfect time and place. Perhaps they put themselves there, but regardless of how smart, or how hard they worked to get there, they have been and continue to be extremely lucky, and benefit from economic and political decisions that have been in this country over the last forty years.
Perhaps it's time for some alternative ideas, and some new decisions. The solution Hughes proposes is a guaranteed income of $500 a month for working people, paid for by the one percent. I don't know if it's a perfect idea. It's a bit above my pay grade. But I know books, and the idea is really well laid out and, I think, worth a read. I also know that the working class in this country can use some help, and that those who would be taxed to provide it have gotten plenty of help, and plenty lucky, already.
If you're interested in learning more, we have 20 copies available.