Victor Davis Hanson’s Silicon Valley caricatures

The National Review columnist's fact-free screed

Victor Davis Hanson has an entertaining take-down in the National Review of the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley lefties—a sort of digital-age version of the limousine liberal.

If only it were true.

This is the kind of argument-by-assertion piece that falls apart upon even half-hearted inspection. It’s intellectually unserious (and i should note, this is hardly unusual for Hanson, a leading propagandist for the Iraq war). Hanson, a classicist who’s now at Stanford’s embarrassing Hoover Institution, gets facts wildly wrong, generalizes broadly, and offers no evidence to back up his stereotypes.

Let’s start from the top, where Hanson asserts that the 1 percent of Silicon Valley—households making between $300,000 and $700,000—are living lives of “quiet desperation” because of the high cost of living:

With new federal and California tax hikes, aggregate income-tax rates on dot.commers can easily exceed 50 percent of their gross income. And hip California 1 percenters do not enjoy superb roads and schools or a low-crime state in exchange for forking over half their income.

There’s no way any couple in Silicon Valley making between $300,000 and $700,000 a year is paying 50 percent aggregate income taxes. There isn’t anyone in all of California who pays more than 50 percent of their income in aggregate income taxes. You can toss in payroll taxes, too while you’re at it.

Let’s look at the high end household. A couple with no kids, no mortgage, no retirement savings, and no other deductions would pay about $220,000 of their $700,000 income to Uncle Sam and about $73,000 to California. That would be a 42 percent aggregate income-tax rate. That’s the most it is possible to pay in income taxes in that range of income. A similar $300,000 couple would pay about 31 percent.

Of course, these theoretical couples with zero tax deductions almost certainly don’t exist. Most rich people have lots of deductions and the average 700k couple’s combined federal and state income tax rate would be well under 35 percent. The average 300k couple would pay 25 percent or less.

Hanson’s tax error is hardly the only whopper here.

Take K-12 schools. Currently, there is a stampede to enroll students in upscale private academies — often at $30,000 a year. That seems strange, when local public high schools like Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, and Palo Alto were traditionally among the highest-ranked campuses in an otherwise dismal state public-school system.

But things have changed — or at least are perceived to have changed. About 25 percent of the Silicon Valley population is now Hispanic, representing a huge influx of service employees — to work in hotels and restaurants, as nannies and housecleaners, in landscaping and construction — and their presence has expanded beyond the old barrios of San Jose and Redwood City.

The result is that Silicon Valley liberals are apparently worried about the public schools, given that second-generation Hispanics are perceived to be disproportionately represented in statistics on gang activity, illegitimacy, and high-school dropout rates. In crude terms, would a Google executive really wish his child’s hard-driving college-prep curriculum or enlightened social calendar altered somewhat to accommodate second-language teenagers whose parents recently arrived illegally from Oaxaca?

It’s hardly a new phenomenon that rich parents—whether lefties or not—tend to send their kids to private schools. What’s Hanson’s evidence of this supposed “stampede”? He gives us none. So let’s look at the actual data in Mountain View, one of the towns Hanson name checks.

In the Mountain View-Los Altos school district—home of the Googleplex and LinkedIn—among many others, the student population is 51 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic. The city of Mountain View’s population is 22 percent Hispanic, up from 18 percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 1990—hardly explosive growth (the much smaller Los Altos’s tiny Hispanic population exploded from 3 percent in 2000 to 3.9 percent now).

Moreover, it sure seems like the schools are pretty good there. The district has a 96 percent graduation rate, with 70 percent going on to four-year college.

Mountain View is hardly all of Silicon Valley, of course, but the burden is on Hanson to back up his impressions with actual numbers. Until then, there’s no reason to believe him. “I said so” doesn’t cut it.

Finally, there’s this:

Yet there is no liberal movement for “affordable housing” for hundreds of thousands of Latino service workers who are often living in garages, sheds, and trailers from Redwood City to San Jose. There are no community leaders in Menlo Park or Atherton who lobby to build affordable condos along the foothill freeways, where water, power, and transportation are readily accessible, that might better serve the new Latino population.

Here, let me Google that for you. This is the City of Menlo Park’s Below Market Rate housing program. The community leaders at Facebook and its developer are subsidizing 53 affordable housing units as part of a 400-unit project—15 of them in the actual complex. And here’s Menlo Park community leaders lobbying to build affordable housing, including along a foothill freeway.

In a city with 13,000 housing units, is that enough? Surely not. But it’s flat false to say there are no community leaders lobbying for affordable housing.

I’m all for skewering the hypocrisy of the Silicon Valley elite, but this is just lazy.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,