The goodwill offer will buy temporarily for the tech behemoth which has wreaked havoc on democracies across the world
On Tuesday, Facebook announced it would contribute $1bn toward fixing Californias existential housing crisis. This is a seemingly large number that will buy, temporarily, some goodwill for the tech behemoth, which has wreaked havoc on democracies across the world and hoovered revenue from news organizations.
The $1bn in grants and loans would be used over the next decade. Elements include a $250m partnership with the state of California for mixed-income housing, $150m for subsidized and supportive housing for homeless people in the Bay Area, and $250m worth of land near Facebooks Menlo Park headquarters. It follows a $1bn pledge Google made earlier this year for a similar effort.
Tech companies like Facebook have inexorably driven up rents in Californias urban core, fueling wide-scale displacement and homelessness. Along with overly restrictive zoning, a failure of local municipalities to build more housing, and tenant laws that, until recently, were much friendlier to landlords, big techs colonization of once affordable communities has ruined the lives of the working class and poor who can no longer afford to live near where they work.
Yes, its better that Facebook contributed $1bn to housing than nothing at all. But that fat round number is a sliver of Californias $215bn budget and about 1/70th of Mark Zuckerbergs net worth. One billion, spent over a decade, will not significantly alter the lives of the people suffering most from the crisis. It amounts to little more than a PR salvo from a company in desperate need of a change in narrative.
Were Facebook serious about paying reparations to the communities it has damaged, it would propose a figure far larger than $1bn. Zuckerberg would put his profits on the line to save California. But we know that wont happen. He is an oligarch of the new order, trying his best to mask his sin with a progressive sheen. He cant quite do it as well as he used to.
After Facebook offers up the billion, perhaps Zuckerberg will consider paying more taxes. One of Facebooks great accomplishments, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2016, is dodging taxes. The tech giant offshored assets to Ireland, dropping its effective tax rate from 40 to 27% , beyond what was then the federal corporate rate of 35%.
Paying more in taxes could help state and federal governments, which are actually accountable to voters, fund affordable housing initiatives. Locally, Facebook could make an actual difference by joining the titanic fight, set for November 2020, to repeal the hard limitation on raising Californias property taxes that has existed since 1978.
Affluent homeowners and commercial properties both see their increases capped annually; progressive policy wonks have long dreamed of increasing taxes on the major businesses, like Facebook, who pay relatively little to the state. There are businesses in California that have been paying property taxes based on assessments that havent changed in 40 years.
Facebook has been silent on repealing what is known in California as Proposition 13. If Facebook has any interest in doing more than carving out a crumb of its fortune for a meager housing initiative, it can start paying a tax bill commensurate with its civilization-altering wealth.
If Facebook, however, inevitably joins other corporations in battling against raising taxes on businesses that could provide a windfall for schools and municipalities, it will, once again, expose itself for what it is: a hypocritical succubus on the body politic.