Ibrahim Sowunmi

Why has technology not erased economic inequality


Lately, I have been thinking about inequality. It’s going up, bigly, despite the democratization of technology. One would be reasonable to assume that the widespread access to knowledge would have an equalizing effect, but I posit the opposite: it exacerbates the problem and accelerates societal decline. To reverse this trend, those in power must undergo a fundamental shift in perspective. Our world desperately needs philosopher-kings, the animosity directed towards the less fortunate is sorely misguided and espoused as an almost value among a certain strata of society .

We now live in an age of unprecedented technological advancement. Each person has the tools at their disposal to launch million-dollar companies from home. Yet, this has not led to widespread prosperity. Why has inequality persisted and even intensified?

Competitive Systems

The world is in a state of extreme flux. Smartphones are ubiquitous, flat-screen TVs are affordable, and I can play a game of Ludo with my grandmother in Nigeria with near zero latency. So, why hasn’t this technological revolution made everyone stinking rich? I propose the following axiom: Competitive systems inherently tend towards inequality.

In a closed environment with two non-static entities, A and B, one will eventually influence the other, resulting in inequality. This holds true for political systems, nations, and other entities, which exist in a state of flux. They consume, combine, break apart, adapt, and change until one is absorbed or vanquished.

It is not merely survival of the fittest, but survival of the most adaptable. In this zero-sum game, entity A must adapt and outcompete entity B until a resolution is reached, whether that be domination or a precarious, ever-shifting equilibrium. This dynamic is evident in global politics, where systems can manifest as dictatorships or democracies, depending on where they fall on the spectrum. This leads me back to my initial question.

Innovate Poverty Away

Given the explosion in productivity, why hasn’t everyone built enormous companies harnessing the power of the internet? The tools are readily available, yet some rise to become digital titans, while others are relegated to posting flame emojis beneath Instagram models' thirst traps. The ability to self-educate and develop valuable skills is at our fingertips, but the world’s inequality remains stark. Here, the A/B dichotomy manifests in real-world examples like Microsoft. Bill Gates leveraged his asymmetric exposure to the internet to amass enormous wealth. It is easy to decry the billionaires, accusing them of hoarding an unjust share of resources, but the problem is systemic and more complex than that.

Blame the Rich

Consider the hypothetical scenario involving entities A and B, but scale it up to encompass millions of parties, each with their own traits and competitive behaviors. I will narrow the focus to illustrate my point. Let’s examine people who have generated vast wealth due to the internet revolution, specifically those who work in technology and either own or do not own homes. These individuals exist in multiple spheres, such as home ownership and access to income.

The traits associated with working in technology (higher income/access to wealth) grant one party a dominant position, akin to the tragedy of the commons. However, as the author of the tragedy of the commons theory stated, it is not the commons itself that is tragic but the lack of proper management. In this case, those who manage the commons, government, landlords, etc, have a vested interests in extracting maximum value. Society is not optimizing for improvement but rather tending towards improvement as a side effect of optimizing for value extraction.

They Are Just Like Us

Our understanding of the societal implications of value extraction taken to an extreme is limited. The developed world is a prime example of extreme value extraction, with the quality of life in Western Europe reflecting the protestant work ethic that increasingly emphasizes value extraction over a more communal sense of identity as “value” is a moral good. As these softer traits solidify within our collective psyche, the alienation of certain groups becomes normalized. The foreigner, customer, consumer – all become tangible, centralized figures in our lives, making it easier to dehumanize and subjugate them. They’re either value additive or not. End of.

This othering has historically occurred along class and racial lines in the West, but as the issue comes to the forefront, it serves as a distraction from the more insidious division: othering along Economic lines. As I accumulate wealth disproportionately to my peers, I form my own social stratum with unique needs and perspectives. This disparity in wealth and social status influences my thoughts, actions, and voting patterns, ultimately benefiting the segment of society I identify with. These divisions often align with traits that can be isolating, leading to the fragmentation of the collective. People tend to help out “their own”.

To Summarize

In conclusion, inequality is on the rise because we have internalized our differences and optimized for value extraction, thereby creating barriers for those who are not so different after all. New platforms – access to electricity, the internet, or AI – only matter when they improve the lives of those we consider our brothers and sisters. By turning a blind eye to the root causes of inequality, we perpetuate and validate its existence. We have an URGENT need to recouple labour, productivty and wealth.

This brings me back to the concept of philosopher-kings. The world needs wise leaders who recognize the systemic nature of inequality and are dedicated to fostering a more egalitarian society. As the digital revolution continues to transform our world, we must prioritize the collective good over individual gain, and strive to build a future where prosperity is shared by all. Now back to my insta thirst traps.