Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, billionaire tech CEO Marc Benioff called out his own industry, saying it fostered an epidemic of inequality.
Benioff, CEO of the San Francisco-based Salesforce, used the housing and homelessness crises in his own city to make his point.
“San Francisco is kind of a train wreck, we have a real inequality problem,” he told CNBC’s Sara Eisen in Davos. “It’s because of the tech sector.”
While the tech boom has taken off in and around San Francisco in the last decade, the city’s housing prices have shot up as an influx of high-paid tech workers settled in the region. Many of them have opted to live in San Francisco and take free shuttles provided by their jobs to Silicon Valley, a suburban area south of the city, where many tech companies are located. This amplifies the pressure on housing in San Francisco proper ― where strict zoning laws and rent control policies were already linked to expensive housing costs.
Benioff emphasized the city’s dire homelessness crisis as one of the worst symptoms of that inequality.
“In some ways, San Francisco is the canary in the coal mine,” he said Tuesday. “We have to look at San Francisco and say here’s the best technology example in the world and yet the worst homelessness.”
According to the latest count in 2017, San Francisco had about 7,500 homeless people, including more than 4,300 who were unsheltered or living outdoors ― though that number may be much higher. Nationally, homelessness continues to rise. According to data released this past December, a count found there were about 553,000 homeless people nationwide on a single night in January 2018, marking an increase for the second year in a row after seven years of progress and decline.
Benioff was perhaps the most vocal private sector proponent of San Francisco’s recently passed Proposition C, a local measure that taxes the city’s wealthiest companies to fund improved assistance programs for the city’s homeless population. He went head-to-head on the issue with Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who argued that the city should let Mayor London Breed propose her own solution.