A lot of folks are talking about the Google Memo. I have a completely unrelated point.
I’ve skimmed the memo, and I believe the author drew the wrong conclusions from the wrong assumptions–and I believe both sides are now misrepresenting its contents for ideological reason.
But I’d like to talk about something else. I’d like to talk about the author of this memo being fired.
Did Google have the right to fire the author? Absolutely.
And I believe, given the amount of airplay the memo was receiving, Google really had no choice.
Do other companies inside and outside of Silicon Valley have the right not to hire this person?
(Donning best Sarah Palin voice:) You betcha’.
Did this guy have the right to write what he did?
Does this guy have a right to ever work in software development again?
(This time, using best Lana Kane imitation:) Noooooooope!
What’s interesting about this state of affairs is that it perfectly illustrates the difference between the Weberian definition of the “middle class” verses the definitions we tend to use, and how this definition really matters.
The definition we are accustomed to is that someone is in the “middle class” if their income is in the middle of the income brackets. In the United States, that is any family making somewhere from around $30,000 a year (at the lowest range of the lower-middle class) through around $60,000/year (the household average) to perhaps $150,000/year (just below the top 5% of all households).
Others have tried to provide different salary definitions which take into account the cost of living in a given area–but mostly our idea of “middle class” is salary range.
Certainly the author of the Google anti-diversity essay was at the top end of this range. Software developers right out of college easily make more than the average salary in the range above, and a good developer can easily make in the $100k-$150k/year range, as a nation-wide average. Salaries in Silicon Valley are, of course higher. And when combined with various other factors (bonuses, stock sharing), a highly experienced developer can bump his nose at the $175k range as a non-managing single-contributor.
That is, it is possible that a very good developer with a lot of experience can make more than 95% of the population without getting into management.
And yet, this highly paid individual found himself unemployed when he wrote a politically charged essay that his employer disagreed with.
And found himself going from perhaps the top 10% of income earners to unemployed.
The Weberian definition of the “middle class”, however, has nothing to do with salary.
Instead, his definition was that those in the “middle class” land between the “working class”–that is, those individuals who are employed by employers (and who owe their jobs to the good graces of their employers), and those of the “upper class”–individuals who have political power and are politically connected.
In other words, the Weberian definition is not economic, but profoundly political.
It is, in short, the subset of the population who do not have political connections, but who do not owe their jobs to employers who may themselves be politically connected, or who owe their allegiences to the politically connected.
The author of the Google essay may have been economically middle class, but his firing showed he was not politically middle class. His job depended on him keeping in the good graces of his politically connected masters–and he fell out of their graces.
And was fired.
Those in the working class do not have the political freedom to agitate against the politically connected without risking their livelihood and potentially their ability to feed and clothe themselves.
The upper class, being politically connected, have no need to agitate for change. They are the status quo–and as we see around the world and throughout history, you don’t agitate for change if you are in charge of the halls of power.
So it is the middle class who are able to agitate for change. They are the ones who can write a political polemic without worrying they will be fired by an employer who disagrees with their views. They are the ones who can effectively demand change at City Hall. They are the ones who can demand change in the halls of power.
And in the United States, our Middle Class is dying.