The tech elite ignores inequality at its peril

Image by by Bluerasberry
Google’s new self-driving prototype car will sit at the head of “the long tail” curve if it’s a hit while services such as Uber and AirBnB sweep up the other end. #

Photo by O’Reilly Conferences
I was reminded of this while attending O’Reilly Media’s Next:Economy event in San Francisco, where people talked about artificial intelligence, platforms, networks and ecosystems creating and destroying labour markets. #

Image by Keith Hopper
Middle management will be replaced by the long tail of tasks performed by a vastly more efficient labour market. #

“The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th century France. Before the revolution. #

And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us.” #

I find it difficult to imagine inequality reversing from its current trajectory without something dramatic happening. Perhaps this is a place where the middle may play an important role over time, though fighting against irrelevance seems like a losing battle too. #

Photo by Joi Ito
In his 2003 essay, Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality, Shirky wrote: #

“Given the ubiquity of power law distributions, asking whether there is inequality in the weblog world (or indeed almost any social system) is the wrong question, since the answer will always be yes. The question to ask is, ‘Is the inequality fair?’” #

If the entire world becomes a unified workforce on these new platforms then the people shaping these platforms should heed the warnings from the likes of Hanauer, or they will regret admitting that he was right when billions of pitchforks are aimed at them. #


Originally published at www.theguardian.com on November 24, 2015. #