Nov 13, 2011 2:04 AM GMT
I'm a bit skeptical but this is a sobering possibility considered by a TechCrunch post. I'd say that unlike some here, I am not bothered by inequality so long as it is not structural - ie that the rich and connected are creating structural barriers to equality:
Ford essentially argues that we have hit an inflection point at which technology destroys jobs faster than it creates them. Kling writes (at length, but it’s worth reading): “The new jobs that emerge may not produce a middle class … gains in well-being that come from productivity improvements [may] accrue to an economic elite … we could be headed into an era of highly unequal economic classes. People at the bottom will have access to food, healthcare, and electronic entertainment, but the rich will live in an exclusive world of exotic homes and extravagant personal services.”
Which sounds eerily like what we would get if we extrapolated from today, no? While millions of long-term unemployed fight desperately to tread water, technology’s handmaidens — software engineers — are minting money like bailed-out bankers. That Stanford survey mentioned above seems to undercut Peter Thiel’s take that “We’re in a bubble and it’s not the Internet. It’s higher education”
It’s beginning to look like we might have entered a two-track economy, in which a small minority reaps most of the benefits of technology that destroys more jobs than it creates. As my friend Simon Law says, “First we automated menial jobs, now we’re automating middle-class jobs. Unfortunately, we still demand that people have a job soon after becoming adults. This trend is going to be a big problem…”
It’s even been suggested that inequality may cause unrest and violence in the Western world. Don’t bet on it. True, inequality has provoked the Occupy movement, and to a lesser extent the Tea Party; but I’ve been around the block a few times, and take it from me, the world is full of nations with a tiny minority of the very rich, a slightly larger well-off elite, a small middle class, and a great majority who are various degrees of poor and struggling. Brazil, China, India and Russia, for instance, to name a famous foursome. There’s nothing unusual or inherently unstable about that kind of inequality. In fact, in most of the world, it’s the norm.
I still believe technology will be the great equalizer that brings comparable economic opportunities to all regions of the world. But I’m beginning to wonder if that same technology will also ultimately make the rich world as fragmented and unequal as the poor, and turn the majority middle class into a thing of the past.