I was shocked to stumble on a story in my Twitter feed this weekend about a wage fixing scandal that bilked 65,000 tech workers between 2005 and 2010.
The defendants? A "who's who" of Silicon Valley titans: Google, Intel, Intuit, Adobe, Apple. Pixar and Lucasfilm, too.
The offense? These companies agreed not to compete with one another for talent. In other words, they conspired to suppress the competitive market for human beings in an effort to pad their bottom lines and their stock price.
More rank filth beneath ye old cursive blob.
Here's the money quote:
"Business people talk about competition and free markets, but they dream of monopoly and control," said Jim Balassone, director of business ethics programs at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley.Capitalism is not held in high regard around these parts, and you need look no further than the yawning chasm between America's Gulfstream class and its food stamp class to understand why. As is the case with any "ism" there ever was, there is dissonance between the principles of capitalism and the practice of it.
But whatever you think of capitalism in its execution, the only thing that makes it defensible is the notion that competitive markets reward value. Monopolies and price fixing undermine this principle, depriving consumers and workers of the benefits of competition and siphoning those benefits to corporations.
[For an example of the kind of havoc price fixing in any market can create, consider the McCarran -Ferguson Act of 1945, which exempted insurance companies from price fixing laws and encouraged them to collude to raise premiums. Believe it or not that exemption remains in place, though the "80/20 rule" in Obamacare now mitigates its impact.]
So as these companies face civil penalties for bilking tens of thousands of honest employees, why is this story buried? Why is there no outrage?
I wish I knew. Perhaps it's because we feel an affinity for these brands, as interwoven into our lives as they have become (I found this article this morning via a Google search). Perhaps it's because it's hard to muster sympathy for a programmer who has to get by on $100,000 a year instead of $200,000, when so many others are struggling to pay the fucking rent.
But that isn't the reality. Many tech workers cut their teeth working savage hours for little to no money (in startup parlance this is called "sweat equity") in the hopes that their company will get funded, generate revenue and profit, and go public. Many of these tech workers migrated here from India and other countries to make enough money to give their families back home a better life. These people deserve better than the business end of a long con. These people deserve the protection of the law.
Fairness, we know now, is hard wired in us since long before we evolved into humans. Creatures with the capacity to play games, or participate in markets, do not respond well to the rig. If our society is to go on functioning, and to solve the problems it has created for itself, we need tough and toothy regulation for corporations.
This invisible hand bullshit just ain't gonna cut it.
As Wisper notes in the comments, the complaint in this matter alleges that the collusion was motivated by the defendants' desire to reduce litigation but had the effect of suppressing wages. Given that the players are the architects of our digital reality, it's a bit difficult for me to imagine that the wage suppression effects of their agreement didn't occur to them, which either means "it was a feature and not a bug" or they were willing to accept the risk of civil action.