The Luckiest Room Mate In The World

Fair ShotFate’s spin of the wheel, friends, was not kind to me. And since you’re not reading this on your own Learjet it was not kind to you either. But this is my 630 words so I’ll explain my abject misfortune rather than inquire about yours.
How did life cruelly stab me in the back? By making me choose university house mates who were, I now realise, rubbish.  Consider that all they have done since is to  assume such unhelpful careers as mere professors, lawyers, doctors and one a drawer of pictures.
As a consequence of their mediocrity none have provided the coat tails that a man of ambition might wish to cling to. In contrast the author Chris Hughes’ room mate was Mark Zuckerberg and after three years Hughes made half a billion dollars from a side project called Facebook.
And worse yet, (shaking my weary fist at the heavens)  I have to read his book to earn a crust.
The first question implicitly posed by the luckiest room mate in the world is this : Should I be mad at Mr. Hughes for being so blessed or should I be made at Steve and Jon and the rest of my useless contemporaries? Fear not, comrades, my first instinct was your honest-man-of-toil’s standard issue, green-eyed resentment and I cracked the spine of the book determined to loathe The Room Mate of The Century… but then I made the mistake of reading his book and I ended up liking him. For starters he is refreshingly honest about his business success: “I got lucky”.
He’s also very smart and after he quit Facebook played a key role in getting Barack Obama’s grass roots social media campaign for president off the ground.
The combination of his good fortune and his intelligence have brought him to examine not only how the digital economy generates outsize rewards for the very few but also,  and more crucially, to consider the implications of this.
First he explains his luck.  It 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 [Globalisation, rapid technological development,  and the growth of finance] has given rise to unprecedented wealth for a small number of fortunate people collectively called  the one per cent.”
As a bynote this explanation (half) exonerates my Manchester friends but that’s not to say I am not still disappointed.
He then imagines explaining to his son, at some point in the future, that “the reason we are wealthy is not because of a gift of brilliance or decades of my own hard work but because a new economy at the start of the twenty first century created massive financial windfalls for a select few of us overnight. I will tell him that the same forces that made our fortune possible made it very difficult for the rest of America to get ahead.”
This book is part of his life mission to make life better for the 99% of people whose jobs have been made “more poorly paid and precarious” by technology. His solution begins with the introduction of a basic income. Hughes supports a “basic income for working people” rather than a Universal Basic Income. The differences are technical – UBI is a state-provided flat rate income for everyone in society. Hughes’ favoured solution is to provide a supplement for everyone below a certain wage level.
I used to be a big fan of a UBI because it tackled the problem of financial survival when careers are disappearing and income is unpredictable. Hughes solution is more pragmatic because a targeted supplement costs less than a universal payment.
With every You tube video of a robot, and every taxi driver who commits suicide, my growing fear is that neither solution addresses the problem that robots (and AI etc.)  may take nearly all the jobs on offer except the most menial. If so, then only a set of values predicated on life beyond salaried work will provide a solution.
For me the solution is to quit work, go back to school and room with the next Zuckerberg and for you lot, well you can get paid for reviewing my book about how lucky I was.
I read: 
Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn
By:
Chris Hughes

 

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