Inequality and the Internet

Today, nearly every resident of a developed country can easily afford a smartphone, thereby gaining inexpensive access to a universe of human knowledge that, until a generation ago, only the richest could afford. Is it possible that conventional measures of inequality and income vastly underestimate just how good we have it?

BERKELEY – The conclusion that America has become vastly more unequal over the past 35 years is beyond doubt. Since 1979, the pattern has been clear: The richer you were, the far richer you have become. And if you were poor, you probably stayed poor.

But the same period has also been an era of rapid technological change. The United States is undergoing a third industrial revolution, an information-age upheaval that could be as momentous as its predecessors, which transformed society through the introduction of steam, iron, cotton, and machinery, and then internal combustion, electricity, and steel.

Today, nearly every resident of a developed country – and soon most of the rest of the world – can easily afford a smartphone, thereby gaining inexpensive access to a universe of human knowledge and entertainment that, until a generation ago, was far beyond the reach of all but the rich. Is it possible that conventional measures of inequality and income vastly underestimate just how good we have it?

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