Congressman Ro Khanna has a message for the winners of Silicon Valley: You have a civic duty to help the entire country.
Talking with Recode’s Kara Swisher and Tony Romm on the latest episode of Recode Decode, Rep. Khanna said techies should “answer the call to service” and help figure out how technology can uplift all Americans, not just the ones in the Bay Area. His constituency includes the headquarters of some of the world’s most influential tech companies, including Apple, Intel, Yahoo and eBay.
“Our country’s going through a profound transition from an industrial age to a digital age,” Khanna said. “The gains of that transition have gone to a few — people who are creative, brilliant, at the right place at the right time. But there are a lot of folks who have been left out in that transition.”
“We’ve got to get people across this country believing they can be a part of a technology future, that that’s going to work for their families in an empowering way,” he added. “If I can help shape the positive narrative of what technology’s doing and get people to feel that they can be part of this, I think that’s the biggest contribution I can make into public service.”
Khanna specifically called out the secessionist movement Calexit, backed by a handful of techies including venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, as “one of the worst things I had read after the election.”
“How arrogant!” Khanna said. “There’s so many people who’ve built America, much greater in sacrifice and contributions than Silicon Valley. There are people who’ve died for this country. There are people who have marched for civil rights in this country. Just coming along and having massive exits doesn’t mean we somehow built America.”
More broadly, he said Silicon Valley will have to find within itself the ability to be more empathetic about the sort of dignity and job security that Americans want. And, he noted, that empathy should extend to their own employees.
“I don’t understand for the life of me what connection Uber’s application has to do with the classification of if somebody’s an employee or an independent contractor,” Khanna said. “That’s an age-old thing. Don’t pretend that you’re making some innovation by treating someone as an independent contractor.”
“Most of the folks I’ve met are brilliant, hardworking, innovative — they’re doing great things and I think they're well-intentioned,” he added. “But they’re creating so much wealth and success, [they should] be mindful and cognizant that everybody is succeeding from it. If you have to pay people a little bit more, if you have to bend over backwards and treat people as employees, if you have to say to contractors, ‘Let’s make sure people are getting a decent wage,’ let’s do that! We have the wealth.”
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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.