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When Innovation Breeds Inequality

23/04/2015 13:26 BST | Updated 22/06/2015 10:59 BST

Somehow, there seems to be something utopian about the ideologies we have believed. Did we all not grow up assuming or just believing a 'just' society is a 'fair' society and vice versa? In the following years, did we not learn to separate 'justice' from 'fairness' because what is just cannot and need not be fair all the time?

The advent of technology in the recent years also started with some kind of a rosy dream that was set out to address all fears that were about inequality, and setting all wrong things into right; of educating people and expecting them to grow into cultured individuals who knew right from wrong and fair from unfair. What we probably didn't see coming was the fact that, with innovation and technological up surging, we would also be creating some sort of a monster which will stand like a giant monolith between advancements and inequality.

Which brings us to the basic question -- Does innovation breed inequality? In some ways, it does. And, in ways other than that, innovation happens in order to reduce inequality in the society. Because the idea of trade off between economic efficiency and (in)equality has been long debated in political economy. But in technology, it's a different ball game altogether. Some spectacular growth at the top, and extreme levels of stagnation seem to be completing the picture. Political scientists argue that the more egalitarian type of capitalism is found in Northern Europe is almost equal to the market-oriented system that's found in Anglo Saxon countries.

In India, inequality and technological innovation present a picture that holds starkly contrast shades. The country which has emerged as an IT superpower is also battling with its population bursting at its seams and is constantly innovating to bridge the gap between top and bottom at all levels.

But, we are also aware of the fact that this attempt is not bound to bear fruits in a decade or more.

Urbanization is a constant partner which will also widen the gulf between the rich and the poor. Innovation benefits the fringe communities which would have found their space in an egalitarian society sooner or later.

Call it the Silicon Valley capitalism if you want. A few years ago, Sarah Lacy - the editor in chief of PandoDaily was quoted as saying: "People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions."

In Silicon Valley Unions and start-ups don't sail in the same boat. When a new tech is born, tech enthusiasts justify it by way of saying how many would it benefit. Silicon Valley wants inequality between classes to end. But, it won't accept the fact that their innovations have not addressed the core problem. They will still want to assume they will continue doing whatever they are doing, to make lives better for people. In reality, those classes only form 'potential' customers and not address the social issues that they face.

Even if we concede that inequality - whether political, technological or capital - is growing in a short term, the objective of innovation is always to build bridges to connect the two worlds that are at logger heads with each other.

Is there no hope then? Well, there is. Or, it seems so at the outset. Today, we can confidently speak of innovation that can bring down inequality to a large extent between communities. The underlying tone and objective of every innovation seems to be creating space for an economy that would help the poor and the downtrodden; the haves and the have-nots connect with each other on a platform and build a world that doesn't eat into each other's resources or welfare.

Paul Krugman says that the incomes have stagnated in the recent times, and economic security declined near the middle of the income distribution. This is where the crux of the whole problem lies.

Since the beginning of the millennium, long standing connection between productivity gains and employment growth has been essentially broken. By the time we moved into the first decade of the millennium, Great Recession hit us hard. By the beginning of second decade, we had incomes that were lower than what we had towards the end of the last millennium. All this while the technological strides were happening at great speed. Today, the wages are at an all time low, and corporate profits are at an all time high.

This should present the picture of how much innovation has helped reduce the inequality graph. But, at the beginning of every innovation is the objective to be a connecting factor between two worlds. Having said that, it is time the objective meets the efforts.