This is a general maxim for any capitalist enterprise: in order to maximize profits, one wants to pay one’s employees as little as possible, and get the most labor out of them. The latter half of that equation the tech sector has down pat: by making their workplaces “fun,” full of amenities like ping-pong, snacks, gourmet meals, showers, massage rooms and commuter shuttles, employees are encouraged to spend as much time as possible at work. The tech companies know that their investment in these oft-parodied amenities pays off in terms of increased productivity. It also inspires a certain reverence for one’s employer, which articulates itself in the social sphere, as many techies literally see themselves as forming a distinct culture and interest group (and sometimes, ironically, believe they are oppressed).
But the first part of that corporate maxim — to pay one’s employees less — ay, there’s the rub. For as long as programming and engineering skills are in high demand, wages will be high for those professions. What is to be done to drive them down?
Over the past decade, Silicon Valley companies did find one creative solution to this problem, albeit a blatantly illegal one: colluding to drive down wages, and not poach each other’s employees. In case you forgot about this quickly-buried scandal, here’s a primer: an antitrust investigation in 2010 revealed that Apple, Google, Intel, Pixar and other large tech firms colluded to pay 100,000 of their employees far less than they were worth. These companies stole a collective $9 billion in wages from programmers. Interestingly, the much-lauded $300 million gift for STEM education represents a sum of one-thirtieth the amount of money stolen from employees through this collusion.