Y Combinator's Sam Altman: 'The greatest threat to this country is incompetence of governance'

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Sam Altman Y Combinator

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Y Combinator President Sam Altman

Y Combinator's President Sam Altman calls himself an optimistic person, but when it comes to the future of government and technology, Altman paints a somber picture.

San Francisco is dealing with government ineptitude and un-affordable rent prices after the city hindered building more housing. Even worse, the government is not prepared for the massive job destruction coming in the next 10 to 20 years, Altman said.

On-stage at Tech Crunch Disrupt, Altman started talking about the "untenable" prices of San Francisco housing. Tech is blamed for much of San Francisco's housing problem - just yesterday a study linked venture capital to one third of the city's dramatic rents - but the city itself is getting too much of a pass, Altman said.

A political farce

San Francisco's inability to build more housing units to make up for its economic growth is a "farce of the political process," Altman said.

"Building buildings takes longer than starting companies, but it doesn't take years or decades," Altman said.

That's just a localized problem to the Bay Area. Looking to the nation, Altman's picture is even more dire. Technology may be blamed for rent prices, but it will be cause massive job destruction in the next 10 to 20 years.

"In a world where technology will eliminate jobs faster than we can create new ones, at least for awhile - I think people will find new things to do, there will be a very hard shift that people aren't ready for," Altman said.

Technology revolutions increase wealth and also concentrate it, Altman warned. Their will be an income inequality divide and many people will end up without jobs.

The jobs threat

"We need to get over the ideal that hard work is valuable for its own sake because the machines are going to do the rote work better," Altman said.

He's been an advocate for a basic income that guarantees everyone basic food and shelter. This may mean that people don't work, but Altman said that leaves opportunity available for people to write the best new novel or have scientific breakthroughs.

"The worry with this is that people will do drugs and people will play video games. And that's true, a lot of people will. But that's also what most people who complain about this call 'the weekend'," Altman said.

Altman, though, isn't optimistic the government can get its act together in time to implement any solution. The technology revolution, leading to higher rents and job loss, isn't slowing down.

"If the founders in San Francisco can build a new $50 billion company in five years, but the government of San Francisco cannot approve a single new housing development, that's going to be a mismatch and that's eventually going to break," Altman said. "If what employment and wealth and income shifts in the next 10 years and the government takes 50 years, that's going to break. I think this is like a huge threat to all of us and to the country and it's really bad. I'm a very optimistic person most of the time, but on this one I'm not sure I'm optimistic that the government will get its act together in time. But I sure hope I'm wrong."

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