John Harris

Journalist & Author

Without a fair tax on tech, it could be the end of the state as we know it | John Harris

Big tech companies are transforming societies – but their pitiful contributions aren’t enough to help governments adapt

Alongside the results of last week’s US midterms came the passing of San Francisco’s Proposition C, a measure that will tax firms with an annual turnover of more than $50m (£44m) to raise an estimated $300m extra a year to help address homelessness. Last Tuesday, 60% of voters backed it: though the proposal is now snarled up in a constitutional dispute, its approval marks a big moment for a city whose housing crisis has become a matter of urgency.

Given the huge concentration of technology giants in San Francisco, the debate quickly became a drama about big tech and its social responsibilities. The most high-profile supporters of the plan included Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of the software company Salesforce, the single largest employer in the city, who donated $8m to get it on the statute book. He and his fellow campaigners were opposed by a gaggle of high-ups from such companies as Twitter, the ride-hailing giant Lyft, and the online payments service Stripe: wealthy people apparently doing their bit to resist a modest boost in help for the most vulnerable, in a place whose homelessness problem is at least partly traceable to the vast increases in property values caused by big tech’s local dominance.

Related: Jeremy Corbyn: I’ll tax tech firms to subsidise the BBC licence fee

Related: Tax big tech to help the homeless? San Francisco says yes after fierce campaign

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