Technology and Inequality

Many people complain that advances in technology are putting people out of work and contributing towards increasing income inequality.

The first part of this statement is in part true, but ultimately false. Technology allows us to make things much more efficiently than before, therefore, less labor is needed. But is it bad that one man with a machine can now produce more than 100 could before? It’s not. We must understand that labor, the act of working, is always a means to an end, not an end in itself, as many people today see it. People don’t actually want to work, they want goods and services and since these things have a cost, we have to work to pay for that cost. Reducing the work needed to do something, being more productive, represents an advance for humanity. The labor that has been freed up, can now go on to produce other goods and services that add value to society, making everyone more prosperous. In fact, and this is why I say this statement is ultimately false, the new profits brought about by technology, will simultaneously increase the demand for labor in other sectors, as the new wealth obtained is spent to satisfy existing demands increasingly, or new forms of demand. It’s true that in the short-term, this may represent a problem for a specific part of the labor force and this is exactly why the labor market should be as flexible and as free as possible, in order to optimize the reallocation process of this part of the labor force. Think what would be of us, if the peasants of the XVII century had risen against agricultural progress to protect their jobs?

On the issue of inequality, I find that it’s true that technology can bring about more inequality, but lets not confuse that with more poverty. The new wealth created by technology will not be spread out equally across society, that much is obvious. The people who are ahead of the curve, who can embrace the technology and use it to push themselves to the limit will become immensely rich. Others may not be able to exploit technology in such a lucrative way, but they will still benefit indirectly. In this way, technology gives everyone the opportunity to stand out, it promotes variety, and more variety may mean less equality in a certain sense. No-one, however will be impoverished by advances in technology. In a free market, all interactions are based on voluntary agreements, which, under an assumption of rationality, means that both parties must benefit from it. You or I, may not have become millionaires thanks to advances in computer engineering, but many others have, and in the process, millions of consumers have been provided with increasingly better and more affordable computers, tablets, phones…

To fight against progress, is to fight against the natural instinct of man to better himself.


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