Last week the news broke that WhatsApp was sold to Facebook for $19 billion. The sale turned founder Jan Koum, previously on food stamps, into a billionaire.
The next day, one of my Facebook friends posted words of encouragement. You too, he said, have it within yourself to make something that can be sold for billions of dollars. His message was that anyone can join the 1%.
The comments on that post were a mixture of attacks and support, the usual messages from both ends of the political spectrum. A few focused on the dangers of extreme economic inequality and mostly comments were from friends of the poster who were angry about "envy" of the wealthy. I pointed out that his advice was good if you were looking out for was only your own personal wealth, but less useful if you were also concerned about other people.
Don't get me wrong, I love and appreciate the idea that I too can make something that turns me into a billionaire. It could happen. Maybe if I really give it a shot, I can think up something to sell to Mark Zuckerberg, pay off my debt and fulfilling my dreams of travel.
Anyone can invent something awesome and get bought for millions. But not everyone can.
Hey, anyone could get a job in the financial industry, where profit at any cost is the norm. But not everyone can, for their ethics and interests make it impossible. Which is why we need affordable housing for people who choose to work in nonprofits, hospitals and schools.
Any one child can be picked in the lottery for a Charter School. But not every child. That is why we need public schools with the resources and stability to support children and teachers.
Anyone could move to higher ground and live off of limited food and water supplies when climate change makes our coastal cities uninhabitable, but not everyone can. That is why we need courage from everyone to create a sustainable energy economy.
Anyone might just overcome family cycles of poverty, drug addiction and/or abuse to excel in school and live a life of health and financial stability. But not everyone can. Which is why we need a living minimum wage, comprehensive homeless support and well-funded mental health services.
And anyone can pull themselves out of a poor childhood to create a software that lets people communicate anywhere on the planet, call it WhatsApp, and become famous and wealthy over night. But not everyone can.
Some have a vision of society where we all aspire to the success of each individual. Dream big, they say. But really, that is the opposite kind of dream. That is small vision, a vision for only one. Even Facebook doesn't have enough money for the Apps of all the people I care about.