Posted by: Greg Ness | April 26, 2020

Immigrants and Billionaires: Why are We Blaming Them?

The blame game is a tricky effort these days. Maybe its part of the problem, not the solution. Both arguments are flawed. And  both are based on faulty zero-sum game  theories, despite decades of economic data that prove otherwise.

I cringed at many of the comments made across this year’s political theater.  It seemed every other “base rallying cry” was directed at either evil immigrants or evil billionaires being called out as being at the core of today’s problems. They’re taking our money or jobs, etc.

Puppet hands from leadership controlling our lives. Concept

In short. I think both camps are dead wrong. Those demonizing these two groups are exposing deep emotions that run in the opposite direction to what they should be, especially given our challenges today. They are not leaders. They may be the source of the evil. I decided to compile a list of the two pillars of my thought process.

Feel free to change my mind. I think it’s still open.

Immigrants as the embodiment of evil

Even a cursory look at the companies, solutions, processes and enablers of this new age in America (and globally) is filled with the biographies of brilliant, risk-taking, hardworking immigrants who saw a need and filled it.  Across tech, business, health, supply chain and food supply our recent history is intertwined with the hopes and sacrifices of immigrants at pretty much every level.

My grandfather, for example, was a farmer and janitor and died in his early 60s working in construction. They spoke Norwegian in the household my dad grew up in. My father insisted that I pick berries and work as a janitor (two-plus years at a fast food joint) before college so that I would respect/understand the sacrifices my grandfather made to put food on my father’s table- and everyone else who entered America under the first statue, the one of necessity.

I got the lesson for the most part, but also understand that we have to manage our borders, the distribution of services, etc. Don’t blame immigrants for public policy mismanagement. Don’t blame them for their willingness to study, work, invest and start a business to forge a better life. Instead, thank them.

Ask yourself a simple question: If all of the immigrants were removed from the USA of the last five decades, would our problems be gone… or might they actually be worse? I think we all know the answer.

Can we move on?

Note: I’ve been in Silicon Valley for the last 20+ years, the engine house for America’s exceptionalism, and there was not a single company that didn’t have someone whose heritage ultimately tracked back to every continent except this one and Antarctica. I just interviewed the CEOs of two startups, one of which has already been acquired to address cloud security issues and the other a play in high performance WAN monitoring. The leadership team and founders… are all immigrants.

Billionaires as the embodiment of evil

You don’t have to look too deeply into the spread of COVID19 to see a pattern. Those whose lifestyles are digital have been spared from the level of exposure of those who aren’t, from work, to leisure and education. And those who have digital careers on average make far more money than those in traditional industries.  Digital companies are often far more valuable than traditional companies because of network effects and scale, which are powerful productivity enablers.

If you trace back the key innovators and risk takers who enabled the digital leap, they’re for the most part millionaires and billionaires. The source of their wealth is equity in game-changing companies that offer services most people want, NOT due to stealing money from the public.

These software, services and product companies are multiples more efficient than most of the carbon paper and fax machine bureaucracies of the virtually bankrupt public sector at almost every level.

Are billionaires the reason that a fed relief check takes 30 days and an Amazon electronic refund mere hours?  Are they to blame for the funds required ($700k+) to build a single apartment for a homeless person in the San Jose area or the growing gap between revenue intake and service quality in the public sector, well beyond the NYC fax machines accepting unemployment applications?

Maybe, instead, we need more big innovations across the public and private sector. Note: I know places in the public sector that are innovating, taking bold steps to enhance service delivery and reduce costs etc but they are few and far between.

In fact, most billionaire companies are tied to innovations that have kept America exceptional. Yet we demonize them because they don’t sell their companies and “donate” the proceeds to various virtually bankrupt agencies, many of whom haven’t innovated basic operating practices for decades. Anyone familiar with the term “dumb money?”

The Foundation Phenomena / Paradox

Why do billionaires create foundations to address problems (where they can hire and fire and innovate as needed, versus turn it all over to x), where in most cases there is a pre-existing bureaucracy that has been in operations for decades attempting to do the same thing? For starters, most of them have playbooks written before mainframe computing was widely distributed in the form of servers and PCs. Some have warehouses filled with inoperable supplies.

I ask the same question I asked regarding immigrants: If we removed every billionaire from the USA would all of our problems be eliminated… or would they be worse? If we seized their assets in highly productive organizations and handed them over to the public sector would anyone notice any changes over the first five years?

Would they be good ones? Would poverty be erased? I don’t think so.  Instead I think those blaming immigrants and billionaires would be looking for a new list of suspects to blame. Most of the “blame gamers” have not driven improvements in society, only stepped up to point them out as a political stepping stone to notoriety.

I agree with Marc Andreessen’s essay on Silicon Valley losing its focus on basic social needs. We’ve just passed through a series of innovations and missteps as usual. And disruption creates unequal payoffs, especially early in the cycle. But the fact that he focused on the Valley as a solution (and a big part of the problem) to the way forward while chiding mayors, governments and aspiring politicians to step up… is a telltale sign. Is it worth the effort? See his spot-on comment:

Demonstrate that the public sector can build better hospitals, better schools, better transportation, better cities, better housing. Stop trying to protect the old, the entrenched, the irrelevant; commit the public sector fully to the future.

Got a fax machine and carbon paper? Maybe you too are cut out for leadership….

The way forward is innovation… not the seizure of billionaire assets and their conversion into larger stacks of carbon paper, file cabinets and fax machines. Or sending immigrants back home to build their former home countries.  It’s to cultivate greatness here in the still exceptional USofA.

Feel free to change my mind.



  1. I am not going to try to change your mind. While Immigrants and Billionaires seem to be the targets for peoples’ ire, and who is blamed, I believe that people are looking for someone to blame for problems. And Look to demonize them for it.

    Are immigrants the problem? No. Having a welfare state that acts as an incentive to move here is. Having immigrants coming here willing to take a lower wage for a similar job bothers people.

    Are Billionaire’s the problem? No. They have made money and can do whateverthefuck they want with it in my opinion. Should they focus on doing things that will address the common good, then we should welcome their efforts. But IT IS NOT THEIR RESPONSIBILITY.

    And as for the housing prices in Silicon Valley – and the Bay Area for that matter, the bigger issue is that there is no affordable housing. Why, Because every square foot of real estate has become so valuable that it will be hoarded.

    You want to solve “immigration,” fix the welfare state. Put responsibility on those who want to come here. Put a realistic system in place for people to come here. And to turn people away when they do not qualify. And to expel them when they do not meet their responsibility.

    Public Policy is only a Billionaire’s responsibility when it is something and somewhere that affects them. We by and large have bad public policy because the people creating it have never had responsibility for the things they are tasked with helping or fixing.

    • Fair points. And you might also agree that “public servants” are elected to fix problems not merely to raise revenue…

  2. “Don’t blame them for their willingness to study, work, invest and start a business to forge a better life. Instead, thank them.Ask yourself a simple question: If all of the immigrants were removed from the USA of the last five decades, would our problems be gone… or might they actually be worse? I think we all know the answer…….THE ANSWER IS NO, AMERICA, THE REPUBLIC, WAS BETTER OFF BEFORE DIVERSITY AND MASS MIGRATION….
    do you really think that this new crop of migrants would allow themselves to be drafted and shipped off to land on omaha beach for the republic? Their personal courage is only for personal gain, not for sacrifice for the greater american good. America has been over whelmed by self centered migrants, and that will doom us

    • IMHO diversity is a very relative term. And plenty of immigrants have served in the military, in addition to all of the services I’ve mentioned…

  3. >If you trace back the key innovators and risk takers who enabled the digital leap, they’re for the most part millionaires and billionaires

    Debatable. Many of them _became_ wealthy because of the success of their product. But it’s not the same as saying that billionaires power innovation. Furthermore, an argument can be made that billionaire tech companies hinder innovation more than create it by acquiring their competition.

    Furthermore, a lot of that innovation you tout benefits billionaires at the expense of the middle class. Driving a cab used to support a middle class lifestyle. Now, given the real wages an uber driver gets, it’s marginal at best. These innovative companies are fostering a wealth transfer from the middle class to the upper class – meaning engineers (like me) and executives. On top of that, the billionaire class is determined to avoid paying taxes – whether its spending large amounts of money to fund campaigns to keep their taxes low, or keeping their wealth offshore.

  4. Their product was successful because many people wanted to buy it or it was very valuable to a smaller group of people. We’re using the internet, a blog, a pc, and our communications are passing through switches and routers… all built by innovation. IMHO the record of innovation in boosting productivity and wages is well established. But to your point not everyone has benefited equally. In some cases jobs were lost. But the overall growth in the US economy over the last five decades is remarkable. Remove innovation and IMHO you would have high unemployment, much lower wages and relatively higher housing costs (to wages) with high taxes, fee and regulatory burdens. Thanks for the comments, G

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