Growing wealth inequality should be addressed now

In my news feeds today I read that twice as many British households are in poverty as 30 years ago and saw Alex Payne’s letter to Marc Andreessen which calls bullshit on the assumption that tech development will solve our social problems.

I couldn’t agree more.

As well as being plain wrong from an ethical perspective growing wealth inequality will ultimately undermine economic growth. We’ve already seen increasingly frequent riots in London and Paris, a big increase in the popularity of protest parties, and a rising global protest movement generally. If these trends persist economic growth will either be choked by social unrest or by the election of radical politicians.

Unfortunately the underlying drivers of wealth inequality – globalisation and automation – are both accelerating. Like Marc Andreessen, I believe that ultimately developments in tech will create enough wealth that inequality will cease to be a problem, but those days are some way off and the prospect of dark times in the interim is very real.

Many tech enthusiasts are also neo-liberals and have a strong tendency to gloss over the dark times as something ‘the market will fix’. That’s probably true over the long run, but is likely to come at an unacceptable human cost.

Wealth inequality is partly of the technology industry’s making and I would like to see us advocating policies designed to alleviate the problem in the short term. I quickly get out of my depth here but I would expect them to include significant increases in retraining and back to work budgets and measures designed to promote social mobility.

And the time to act is now. The underlying drivers are exponential in nature and if problems come they will come on us in the blink of an eye. We need to take steps in advance of that.