Shadows Fall across the Valley
Kudos for taking on the poignant topic of wealth inequality in Silicon Valley ("Down and out in Silicon Valley," Social Issues, Mar. 27). I am appalled at the greed demonstrated by the senior management of so many companies there. The concept of billionaire chief executives employing part-time workers who duck in and out of homeless shelters while holding down jobs that offer minimum benefits, if any, is a disgrace. Whatever happened to the notion of stewardship on the part of management toward their workers?
One of the beauties of our economic system, however, is that excesses have a way of being resolved over time. As workers such as Fawnda Stewart leave the Valley for other, more habitable areas, the companies relying on labor such as hers ultimately will pay the price--either in the form of higher wages or bankruptcy, as their customers bolt due to unfulfilled promises of service. Investors wisely will consider these issues as they attempt to evaluate future profitability of such companies.
It is a truism that a society is only as great as its least common denominator. At some point, the 17,000 millionaires in Silicon Valley will understand this, as their children go uneducated due to teacher shortages, as restaurants close because they can't get food on the table, and a host of other inconveniences are thrust upon them. Perhaps then, some of these talented managers of the New Economy will realize that their gold will turn to dust unless they lead with wisdom and fairness.
Extraordinarily high housing costs and traffic congestion are not the only disadvantages of Silicon Valley. I have lived and worked in the Valley for the past 17 years, and the lifestyle here leaves much to be desired. Life in the high-tech mecca largely consists of endless hours chained to a desk in a maze of cubicles. The monotonous tilt-up concrete office buildings exude no charm or warmth. At lunchtime, Valley workers rush to eat in overcrowded, mediocre restaurants. Despite the region's much-ballyhooed ethnic diversity, it's obvious how alike all the people are in their beliefs, interests, and dress. Corporate influence is strong, and Silicon Valley resembles a sprawling company town.
Many new arrivals are focused solely on getting rich quick, and they make little effort to reach out to help others. Donations to charities and volunteering are at levels below national averages. Despite all the money, there is a remarkable absence of world-class museums, restaurants, and entertainment options. On weekends, people leave in droves, heading to Lake Tahoe, Napa, Carmel, and other places where they can escape the drudgery that is Silicon Valley.
Anthony G. Stegman
San Jose, Calif.
You referred to the light-rail system under construction by the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) as part of the solution, since it would allow people to live farther from work ("The other side of Silicon Valley," Editorials, Mar. 27). It is worth noting, however, that VTA has had more than 20 miles of rail in service for about a decade, attracting only modest ridership that has not measurably improved traffic. It remains to be seen whether additional lines will be any more effective.
The planning concerns (cost of housing, traffic congestion, etc.) that your story raised have been on the public agenda in Santa Clara County for more than 20 years, yet conditions have only gotten worse during that time. It is unrealistic to expect that a few more miles of light rail will solve the economic and mobility problems of a congested and rapidly growing county of more than 1 million people.
Piedmont, Calif.Return to top
It Wasn't Easy Saying Goodbye to General Re
Anthony Bianco, the author of "The sage has some explaining to do" (The Corporation, Mar. 20), made no attempt to get in touch with me, but that didn't prevent him from guessing about why I left General Reinsurance Corp. For the record: From the moment I learned of Berkshire Hathaway's interest in General Re, I believed that the combination was a perfect one. I didn't "promptly resign" as president and chief operating officer because of "Buffett's well-advertised opposition to...stock options." In fact, I spent seven months following the announcement of the acquisition--from June, 1998, to February, 1999--traveling to General Re offices around the world, helping assure the company's management team, employees, and customers that the acquisition was right for them.
I resigned for the opportunity to help lead St. Paul Cos., one of the leading primary commercial insurers in the world. Even when that opportunity presented itself, however, it was still a hard decision to leave General Re, a great company in every respect, after 30 years.
James E. Gustafson
Chief Operating Officer
St. Paul Cos.
St. Paul, Minn.Return to top