“In places where jobs disappear, society falls apart”: a sobering portrait of a crumbling polity.
Yang is the founder of Venture for America, a nonprofit that, like the Peace Corps, places young college graduates in urban startup companies in order to boost local economies. One place in dire need of such attention serves as a kind of canary in the American coal mine: Camden, New Jersey, a definitively contracting environment where hope is at a premium and all the negative social indicators high—all because the local economy has declined and disappeared. This is all part of what the author terms the “Great Displacement,” which is the product of financialization, globalization, and technologization—i.e., processes that make jobs at the lower rungs of the social ladder very hard to come by, if not extinct. This world of “normal people” may be besieged, but that of the well-heeled, well-schooled, and technological is very bright indeed. As Yang notes, the average starting salary in Silicon Valley for engineers is nearing $200,000, a draw that has led to a decline in humanities enrollments and boost in technical degrees, so much so that Stanford University might just as well be renamed the Stanford Institute of Technology. In a rather depressing tour of have and have-not places (and all too many have-not places have “a casino smack dab in the middle of their downtown”), Yang projects that the latter are likely to grow while the former will become smaller, more isolated enclaves, a vision out of H.G. Wells in which “automation and the lack of opportunity” yield a legacy of social ruin. The author’s support of a guaranteed basic income is just one aspect of a platform to fend off that bleak future. He also looks at such things as the “social credit” system of bartering goods and services and reforming the higher education system to “teach and demonstrate some values.”
Longer on description than prescription but a provocative work of social criticism.