The 21st century could be considered as the age of galloping technology development. From one year to another, all of the companies release new extraordinary devices, which aim is for example to improve industry and production. However, such a blessing of ‘mother technology’ is not a common thing for all of the inhabitants of the world equally.
The diffusion in technological development across the whole globe is still both relevant and visible. It is said to be a vital issue not only for people, corporations, but also the states. There are still some regions of the world that cannot keep pace in this kind of rat race, where the main price is becoming the wealthiest. The more technology is progressed, the more widening income inequalities become – the world has been divided on technologically ‘poor’ and technologically ‘rich’. Hence, there is still a gap which exists between wealthy industrialised countries and developing nations. But what are its causes?
First of all, it could be useful to see the historical background of technology, its development and spread. The First Industrial Revolution, which began in 18th century, had not only pros, but also cons. The positive benefits of this process are all of the agricultural improvements, increase of international trade, emergence of the working class, urbanization, etc. All of the changes have led to the increase of the power of countries like Great Britain or France. However, showing some drawbacks, these industrial powers, inter alia, by strong desire to control the markets, deepened the inequalities between themselves and other states, leaving them far behind. And this is the moment since when the inequalities have started to deepen, following the similar pattern over decades.
It cannot be also omitted that patents are increasing the gap as well. Their existence and the way they ensure profits from innovation accrue larger companies and their owners. Because of this, the huge amount of wealth which is a product of innovations boosts the wealth of the very richest but restricts the extent of trickle down (Allen, 2015). It is obvious, that the production for global market require up-to-date technology to ensure that this process will be as efficient as possible. However, big corporations, which aim is to earn as much as they can, guard their technology. It is like another source of profits for them, due to the fact, that they demand financial compensation for sharing inventions. This is why accessing newer technologies becomes harder – this limits less developed countries to copy technology in their development process (O’Brien, 2013: 271). In other words, countries that are far behind from these which are industrial powers, are facing a huge barrier to decrease the inequality gap.
These days, inequalities and power differentials may be compounded because of the fact, that the states leading the information revolution tend to be those that emerged strongest from the Industrial Revolution (O’Brien, 2013: 270), which were mentioned above. These are like two different mechanisms.
The first of those, is the ‘capital bias’ of recent technological change. Rapid automation, in this view, displaces labor entirely and delivers more and more of the returns on productivity directly to capital. The other mechanism called the ‘skills bias’, technological change has outpaced educational achievement, and the demand for skilled labor has outstripped its supply. This led to polarized job growth, where there is demand for skilled workers and their wages are bid up, but simultaneously, the unskilled and not educated enough are becoming disqualified. It can be observed for over the past 60 years, or even the past century. And technology is a factor that hollows out the labor market (Gordon, 2014).
Stephen Hawking’s words are suitable in this case to summarize above points:
“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” (Long, 2015).
- O’Brien, R. & Williams, M. (2013) Global Political Economy. (4th ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp: 270-271.
- Allen, K. (2015) ‘Big Tech’s big problem – its role in rising inequality’. The Guardian. [Online]. 2 August. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2015/aug/02/big-techs-big-problem-rising-inequality [Accessed 16th December 2015].
- Gordon, C. (2014) ‘The Computer Did It? Technology and Inequality’. Dissent Magazine [Online]. Available from: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-computer-did-it-technology-and-inequality [Accessed 16th December 2015].
- Long, H. (2015) ‘Stephen Hawking: Technology is making inequality worse’. CNN [Online]. 12 October. Available from: http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/12/news/economy/stephen-hawking-technology-inequality/ [Accessed 16th December 2015].