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Technology and Inequality



Now, in the fall of 2021, David Rotman’s 2014 article, “Technology and Inequality,” is more relevant than ever before.

The global pandemic and corresponding lockdown have moved topics like remote work and distance learning to the forefront of public consciousness. At the same time, this has been a period of profound political and social unrest. Questions of equality and wealth are at the center of public discussion.

Seen from this perspective, Rotman takes on one of the key questions of our time: is technology causing, or at least exacerbating, inequality?

In response, Rotman provides a nuanced account that integrates multiple explanations for the rise of inequality. Thomas Piketty’s “supermanagers” and Erik Brynjolfsson’s “superstars.” The former tilts more towards a discussion of corporate governance, inherited wealth, and the dangers of excessive pay for high-level managers (regardless of skill level), while the latter emphasizes the consequences of an economy that assigns disproportionate reward to the highly skilled.

Rotman rightly identifies that it is not technology itself that is the problem, and instead directs our attention to the need for our institutions to keep pace with technological advancement. His account avoids oversimplification, and he proposes a comparably multi-faceted solution.

He gestures towards potential solutions that are in line with his basic conclusion that technology itself is not the cause of our problems, though our institutions’ inability to equitably keep pace with technological change is a key part of the issue. In this regard, he helpfully points towards the importance of providing public equal access to high quality education and equipping students with skills to secure desirable employment while also contributing to further technological innovation.

Now is indeed the perfect time to revisit Rotman’s article.


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