A certain amount of inequality is essential to the functioning of the capitalist system under which we all toil, and which is, for now at least, the best system available for organising the world’s resources. However, when there’s too much inequality a strong sense of unfairness kicks in and markets stop functioning well, as those who feel a strong sense of injustice vote for politicians with radical policies or turn to violence. Examples in history abound, with the French and Russian Revolutions being best understood as resulting from unsustainable levels of inequality.
More recently we’ve seen this play out with riots and public disturbances within advanced economies like the US, the UK and France and arguably on a global scale with widespread anti-American feelings in parts of Asia and Africa. This points to the relatively new development that extreme inter-national inequality is emerging as a problem in the same way that extreme intra-national inequality has been for some time. It’s a new development, but one that’s perhaps unsurprising given the massive increases in international trade and travel (including migration) and the way technology is shrinking distance.
The digital divide contributes to the economic divide and so it’s great to see the pace at which mobile internet penetration is growing. 94% of the world’s population now have access to a mobile signal, 48% can access the mobile internet and 28% are subscribed to a mobile internet service, and you can see from the chart above that penetration is growing fast. Barriers still remain and there’s plenty of work to be done, not least in bringing costs down and bringing local language content online, but those with internet connections have a better chance of rising out of poverty than those who don’t.