Is technology making wealth distribution more equitable?
Some initial thoughts based on views by Stephen Hawking in a recently conducted Reddit Q&A.
With the relentless evolution of ICT in recent years, there has been an expectation that technology can foster wealth creation – both for individual citizens and for countries. In this new age of technology, the large corporates no longer fully and unequivocally control all aspects of the environment. Individual and the consumer are also powerful players, as technology has opened up channels through which they can be innovative and can also generate potentially significant income. These and other similar sentiments have been widely observed and communicated over the years, and have been the premise for numerous national policies, plans and strategies worldwide.
However, in a Reddit discussion recently, globally acclaimed physicist, Stephen Hawking, expressed the view:
Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.
Professor Hawking’ s comment sparked debate on both sides. Well known Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors, such as Marc Andreessen, ridiculed the thought; however; others were more inclined to agree with Hawking noting that based on data available, “technology is the main driver of the recent increases in inequality” (Source: CNN).
The change in how we work, but not necessarily what we earn
Without a doubt, technology has changed how we work, ranging from the types of tasks our jobs entail, to the actual positions that are now available and the attendant skills we must now possess. Mechanisation has made certain positions redundant. Examples would include jobs traditionally seen as blue collar, such as in vehicle assembly, for which persons did not necessary need advance education, but were paid extremely well. However, in moving off the factory floor, thanks to technology, and retraining for jobs in retail, for example – which most of us might consider an improvement from where they had been – former factory workers are now earning considerably less.
In the Caribbean the vehicle assembly work example might not readily resonate; but the experience has been similar. For persons who moved from labour intensive roles, such as in farming or even light manufacture or assembly, to what we might consider more sophisticated (office) jobs, are they better off now?
Image credit: Ken Rowland (flickr)