When Twitter went public the other week, San Francisco immediately became home to an estimated 1,600 new millionaires. That influx of IPO cash into the increasingly homogeneous city marks another chapter in the complex story of the latest tech boom (or bubble). As some tell it, the City by the Bay is evolving into a true meritocracy, in which self-made geeks, hackers, and nerds are disrupting outmoded business models and creating a techno-libertarian society where private infrastructure and services can compete with a lagging public sector and local government.
That’s not the attitude that Jack Selby has taken to making an obscene amount of money from working at a tech company. Selby, a member of the PayPal Mafia, a group of former employees of the online payment platform who all cashed out at a very, very opportune time, was outed today by Valleywag as the man behind @tipsforjesus.
Whereas fellow PayPal Mafia member Peter Thiel is throwing money at the seasteading movement, which hopes to bring self-governing floating city-states to the high seas, Selby appears to be a committed populist. Since September, he has posted photos of receipts from bars, restaurants, and strip clubs to his @tipsforjesus Instagram account showing tips amounting to more than $50,000.
According to Valleywag, there’s nothing religious about Selby’s giving campaign. Sam Biddle writes, “A tipster told me all the Jesus talk is a joke, even if his Instagram fans are in a rapture of gratitude.”
With the holidays approaching, Pope Francis directly calling out Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics, and eviction notices on the rise in San Francisco, it’s still tempting to consider Selby’s giving through a sort of entrepreneurial-colored liberation theology frame. Because there’s another story about what’s happening in San Francisco: the story of the immigrants, the artists, the service sector workers who wait on moneyed tech workers at restaurants and coffee bars. With the highest housing prices in the country, prices that are climbing ever higher, San Francisco is no meritocracy—it’s a city that is increasingly hostile to anyone who doesn’t make bank at a start-up.
A few thousand dollars handed out here and there by a benevolent tipper isn’t going to change the fortunes of the less fortunate residents. But if the tech industry as a whole could take some inspiration from Selby instead of Milton Friedman (the conservative economist whose grandson is deeply involved in seasteading), San Francisco might avoid becoming a city populated exclusively by the rich.