With feminist witch-hunts rapidly going out of fashion, the social justice warriors of tech have latched onto a new cause: economic inequality.
In their sights is Paul Graham, one of the giants of Silicon Valley start-ups and one of the most thoughtful and impressive men in the tech industry. Graham co-founded Y Combinator, widely regarded as the most prestigious and effective accelerator for fledgling tech companies. It has invested in over 940 companies, including Reddit, Dropbox, and Airbnb.
The controversy began when Graham, who is popular essayist in his spare time, published a long defence of economic inequality on his website. In it, he made the reasonable point that inequality is a fundamental necessity to a successful culture of entrepreneurship.
“Almost by definition, if a startup succeeds its founders become rich,” wrote Graham. “And while getting rich is not the only goal of most startup founders, few would do it if one couldn’t. So when I hear people saying that economic inequality is bad and should be decreased, I feel rather like a wild animal overhearing a conversation between hunters.”
It was a provocative argument, written with unapologetic clarity — the sort of rigorous clarity for which Graham has become popular and celebrated. Graham pointed out that unlike high-frequency traders, entrepreneurs make their money by creating wealth, not destroying it. Thus, inequality, he says, does not necessarily mean anyone is made poorer.
It’s a pretty mainstream view among economists, of course. But naturally, it made the heads of knee-jerk social justice warriors in Silicon Valley’s spin. Graham is refusing to pay adequate deference to the cult of the professional victim, you see, and thus unwittingly painting himself in the role of oblivious rich straight white male oppressor.
Since Graham published his essay — and you have to hand it to him, it was a brave thing to publish in an industry so saturated with reflexive far-Left lunacy — denunciation after denunciation has been written on blogs and in the tech media as activists and commentators scramble to compete for the title of Most Compassionate Lover Of The Poor.
“Paul Graham is asking to be eaten,” wrote one Twitter user, who describes herself in her bio as a “Radical Feminist working for Big Karma.” It is of course social karma, and not economic thinking, that is driving the current maelstrom.
Other critics of Graham have cooked up harebrained recommendations that, if implemented, would sweep away the foundations of Silicon Valley’s success. Mark Suster, for example, suggested doing away with the tax breaks that encourage first-time entrepreneurs to start their businesses. Some of this stuff almost beggars belief.
But at least Suster has been civil. Other online virtue signallers have displayed the characteristic spitefulness and intolerance of the modern progressive left and the so-called social justice movement. “Shut up, Paul Graham: the simplified version,” one patronising rebuttal is titled. Another observer so upset he penned a pompous open letter to Graham.
It was an extraordinarily strong reaction to a set of opinions that are very much in the mainstream of economic thought. Perhaps Graham, like me, simply excels at enraging people with simple words. Alternatively — and I suspect this is more likely — he’s simply been discovered by the most easily outraged people in the universe.
A word of advice, Mr Graham: don’t apologise. The vultures will move on unless they scent blood; give them anything even remotely approaching an apology and you will never again be free of these idiotic, hectoring lunatics.