Mark Zuckerberg used his Harvard Commencement address to call for basic income and warn about income inequality. The Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) founder and CEO also made a very good point about income inequality and opportunity.
“Let’s face it,” Zuckerberg said. “There is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in 10 years while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans, let alone start a business.”
The billionaire pointed out how income inequality limits opportunity and freedom for millions of Americans. He also sounded a lot more like U.S. Senator; and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) than a Silicon Valley tycoon.
Is Zuckerberg a Socialist?
“Look, I know a lot of entrepreneurs, and I don’t know a single person who gave up on starting a business because they might not make enough money,” Zuckerberg said. “But I know lots of people who haven’t pursued dreams because they didn’t have a cushion to fall back on if they failed.”
“We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful,” the billionaire said. “We should explore ideas like universal basic income to give everyone a cushion to try new things.”
“We’re going to change jobs many times, so we need affordable childcare to get to work and healthcare that aren’t tied to one company,” Zuckerberg said. “We’re all going to make mistakes, so we need a society that focuses less on locking us up or stigmatizing us. And as technology keeps changing, we need to focus more on continuous education throughout our lives.”
“Every generation expands its definition of equality,” Zuckerberg said. “Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights. They had the New Deal and Great Society. Now it’s our time to define a new social contract for our generation.”
Will Zuckerberg Run for Office?
It sounds as if Zuckerberg is thinking about going into politics or getting involved in it. His politics also sound far to the Left of most businessmen, like many of the people of his generation.
Around 69% of Americans 18 to 29 and 50% of those between 30 and 49 told Gallup pollsters that they would be willing to vote for a socialist in June 2015. Over the next year Sanders received 43% of the popular vote in the Democratic primary.
What is not clear is how popular ideas like basic income are in Middle America. Although a Gallup poll suggests that 60% of Americans are sympathetic to single-payer healthcare.
Should we be Scared of Zuckerberg’s Basic Income?
Zuckerberg’s speech should concern us because he is a highly intelligent man with a good understanding of our society’s problems. When somebody like him starts suggesting radical ideas like Basic Income average people should get scared.
Like his fellow billionaire Nick Hanauer, Zuckerberg might be afraid of revolutionary violence. The Facebook boss may have also been rattled by the success of Donald J. Trump and the growing level of violence and intolerance in America. He may have also taken note of Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Michael Harnett who thinks Silicon Valley will be targeted by an “Occupy type political movement” in the near future.
Zuckerberg might hope to head that off by becoming its leader or a least a sympathizer. Like Trump, Zuckerberg might be hoping to protect the billionaire class; and his wealth, by becoming a leader of the populist opposition.
Is Zuckerberg the New Teddy Roosevelt?
We should all pay attention to Zuckerberg’s speech because something is very wrong when even extremely wealthy and successful people start demanding radical change. The commencement address is reminiscent of the ideas of another famous Harvard Alumni; Theodore Roosevelt.
Like Zuckerberg, Roosevelt was a wealthy plutocrat who became concerned about concentrations of wealth and power and began calling for radical social and political change. Roosevelt lived at a time when great income inequality led to calls for redistribution of wealth and expansion of government power.
TR ultimately became a leader of the Progressive movement; and an advocate of disruptive ideas like Social Security and national health insurance. One has to wonder will Zuckerberg become a modern day Teddy Roosevelt, using his wealth and celebrity as a bully pulpit to demand radical political and social change.
Everybody should read or watch Zuckerberg’s Harvard commencement speech because it might mark the beginning of an important political career and a crusade for social justice. One thing is certain the Harvard speech will not be the last we hear of Zuckerberg or the radical political program he is endorsing.
Will Mark Zuckerberg become the political leader who takes basic income into the American mainstream and perhaps makes it a reality? The possibility is an intriguing one.