Mass tech worker layoffs and the soft landing

Finally, the non-tech sector can hire technical workers.

Cory Doctorow

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A group of firefighters holding a safety net under a building from which a man is falling; he is supine and has his hands behind his head. The sky has a faint, greyscale version of the ‘Matrix Waterfall’ effect. The building bears a Google logo. Image: University of North Texas Libraries (modified) https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth586821/

Tomorrow (Mar 22), I’m doing a remote talk for the Institute for the Future’s “Changing the Register” series.

As tech giants reach terminal enshittification, hollowed out to the point where they are barely able to keep their end-users or business customers locked in, the capital classes are ready for the final rug-pull, where all the value is transfered from people who make things for a living to people who own things for a living.

“Activist investors” have triggered massive waves of tech layoffs, firing so many tech workers so quickly that it’s hard to even come up with an accurate count. The total is somewhere around 280,000 workers:

https://layoffs.fyi/

These layoffs have nothing to do with “trimming the fat” or correcting the hiring excesses of the lockdown. They’re a project to transfer value from workers, customers and users to shareholders. Google’s layoff of 12,000 workers followed fast on the heels of gargantuan stock buyback where the company pissed away enough money to pay those 12,000 salaries…for the next 27 years.

The equation is simple: the more companies invest in maintenance, research, development, moderation, anti-fraud, customer service and all the other essential functions of the business, the less money there is to remit to people who do nothing and own everything.

The tech sector has grown and grown since the first days of the PC — which were also the first days of neoliberalism (literally: the Apple ][+ went on sale the same year Ronald Reagan hit the campaign trail). But despite a long-run tight labor market for tech workers, there have been two other periods of mass layoffs — the 2001 dotcom collapse and the Great Financial Crisis of 2008.

Both of those were mass extinction events for startups and the workers who depended on them. The mass dislocations of those times were traumatic, and each one had its own aftermath. The dotcom collapse freed up tons of workers, servers, offices and furniture, and a massive surge in useful, user-centric technologies. The Great Financial Crisis created the gig economy and a series of exploitative, scammy “bro” startups…

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