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Trade, Technology, and Xi Jinping’s Question

Despite unprecedented technology-enabled development, the world is beset with challenges, from violent conflict to rising inequality. The underlying reason for these problems may be that we have reached a turning point in the march of technological progress – and we are navigating it very badly.

NEW YORK – “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” said President Xi Jinping, quoting Charles Dickens’ famous line to open his speech at the 2017 World Economic Forum. “Today,” Xi continued, “we also live in a world of contradictions.” On one hand, “growing material wealth and advances in science and technology” have enabled unprecedented rates of development. On the other hand, “frequent regional conflicts, global challenges like terrorism and refugees, as well as poverty, unemployment, and a widening income gap” are generating deep uncertainty.

Xi then posed a potent question: “What has gone wrong with the world?”

Perhaps the answer lies with the very technology that Xi regards as the key to China’s rise to high-income status. Specifically, it may be that we have reached a turning point in the march of technological progress – one that we are navigating very badly.

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