Agency, the Vanishing Middle Class, and Swinging For the Fences

Felix Salmon asks a question (boldface mine):

No Exit, the new book from Gideon Lewis-Kraus, should be required reading for anybody who thinks it might be a good idea to found a startup in Silicon Valley. It shows just how miserable the startup founder’s life is, and raises the question of why anybody would voluntarily subject themselves to such a thing….

Why do so many people in Silicon Valley want to be founders?

…Founding a Silicon Valley startup, then, is a deeply irrational thing to do: it’s a decision to throw away a large chunk of your precious youth at a venture which is almost certain to fail. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley ecosystem as a whole will happily eat you up, consuming your desperate and massively underpaid labor, and converting it into a few obscenely large paychecks for a handful of extraordinarily lucky individuals. On its face, the winners, here, are the people with the big successful exits. But after reading No Exit, a different conclusion presents itself. The real winners are the happy and well-paid engineers, enjoying their lives and their youth while working for great companies like Google. In the world of startups, the only winning move is not to play.

So why would someone swing for the fences? Because workers lack agency, so the only option is to gamble large, even if the odds greatly favor the house. If the odds are good you’ll be laid off in a couple of years anyway–and worked pretty hard in the meantime–what Salmon thinks is a stupid strategy, suddenly makes a lot more sense. Because most companies aren’t ‘great’–they will discard you at the drop of a hat, and that only gets worse as you get older. Never underestimate how the absence of hope leads people to make bad decisions.

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2 Responses to Agency, the Vanishing Middle Class, and Swinging For the Fences

  1. The worse it gets, the more we’re going to want to “gamble”. I know it’s certainly true for myself – who wants to stay in a rat race where you’re treated badly and could get screwed at any time? Getting a “winning ticket” seems more and more attractive the more desperate you feel (and frankly I say this having it pretty good – I can’t imagine what someone working from paycheck to paycheck feels).

    It really is a vicious cycle too – the harder it gets, the meaner we get in trying to secure our own little piece.

  2. coloncancercommunity says:

    Late to this party, but I too am swinging for the fences – albeit a lower fence. Not trying to hit the jackpot, just trying to create a business that will keep me alive and reasonably well. Point being, that working for a living is becoming impossible. for most of us. Once your a certain age and lose your job – that’s pretty much it.

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