Emerging Technologies in an Unequal World
Edited by Susan Cozzens and Dhanaraj Thakur
Chapter 15: Earning less and buying more: emerging technologies and United States society
Our study has examined the distributional consequences of all five of our technologies within the United States. In Chapter 2, we noted that there are high levels of education, availability of scientific and technical expertise, and strong supporting infrastructure in the United States, all of which promote high absorptive capacity. At the same time, vertical and horizontal inequalities are significant to the extent that they can potentially limit the distributional boundaries of these technologies. I argue in this chapter that, even given high absorptive capacity, there is still room for public interventions to address such inequalities and to extend the benefits of emerging technologies to a wider range of people. This chapter first examines the processes of innovation and diffusion of the five technologies within the United States, focusing on how those affect distribution of business opportunities, employment, benefits, costs, and risks domestically. In terms of domestic distribution, emerging technologies fit comfortably into a pattern of economic activity in the United States that is not re-distributive, but that instead concentrates wealth in familiar patterns. What sets the United States apart from the other affluent countries in the study is its weak re-distributive mechanisms. Very little of the wealth that accumulates within national borders is reinvested in education, health care, or housing, as it is in Canada, Germany, or Malta. The US poor therefore have less to gain economically from US strength in technological innovation than the poor in other countries.
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