The Growth of Inequality

In the context of exponential technological growth (a topic that I explored in the piece “The End of Poverty“), Akshar asked in his comment, “Don’t you think the gap between a poor person in India and a poor person in say USA would only increase ?”

Yes, I think that the gap will only increase with time. But that is just part of a broader trend of increasing inequality in numerous dimensions — within and between nations. In technical terms, the Gini coefficients (a measure of inequality, where 1 means perfect inequality and 0 means perfect equality) will continually increase. 

As it happens, I wrote a post about that last year in May: “Inequality, the Universe, and Technology.”  Excerpt:

Increasing inequality is an inescapable feature of the universe, not just of human society. From a cosmic viewpoint, the universe started off extremely equal. Some time after the Big Bang, the entire universe was uniformly filled with energy, and was isotropic. Later the energy condensed into particles, and then into hydrogen. That was the start of the inequality. Greater inequality followed with the formation of stars, and galaxies.

From the very beginning, there’s been an increase in inequality. You will have equality once again if the universe ends in a heat death. Who knows. But the universe is interesting because it is not at either end of its life, and is in a state of inequality. There’s inequality not just in the non-living world, but more strikingly so in the living world. …

Human civilization itself is tightly bound with inequality. As hunter-gatherers, people were generally equal. The very best could probably hunt and gather maybe ten times as much stuff as the worst. The strongest human could probably lift ten times more than what the average human could. The wealthiest emperor of the past would have had a very comfortable life but nothing compared to what the average person in the world today.

But now, with the push of a button, one man can destroy humanity. Any billionaire today has more wealth, both in relative and absolute terms, than any of the richest people of the past.

The fact is that there’s been a monotonic increase in inequality in the natural world, and in the human world. And it will only get more unequal. The story of civilization is a story of a monotonic increase in inequality.

Thanks for the question, Akshar.

Author: Atanu Dey


One thought on “The Growth of Inequality”

  1. Interesting thoughts on inequality, which remind me also to an in intersting topic in The Economist … are the laws of the Universe really so smooth and ‘symmetric’ (theory of “supersymmetry”)? see “Particle physics – Fundamental physics is frustrating physicists – No GUTs, no glory”, Jan 13th 2018, in the Economist


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