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The Future of Inequality
How Prospective Technologies will Change the Game.
Income inequality is a HOT TOPIC for economics, studying about its origins, and ways to reduce it to avoid catastrophic consequences, is an ever constant struggle for governments and policymakers. Some assume it is an inevitable fact of existence, others say that this is the clear proof that the system is wrong and we should follow their ideas on how to change the world. And some other people say it doesn’t even exist.
Personally I think it is a reality and in the most extreme cases it can lead to social unrest, political polarization and instability, which is never a good thing, and also it is a stage that attracts dangerous power-hungry players into positions of leveraging people's perceived ( or real) misery and use it as a way for THEM to take the power and change the status quo into another flavor or an even worse system than before. (here’s looking at you all flavors of communist/socialist dictatorships)
But let’s not look backwards and analyze boring trends of the past.(there are enough books about that) Today we will do a fun experiment and look forward into potential inequalities of the future. And even though the future promises to be exponentially more interesting than the past of human history, there will be many revolutionary technologies that are going to arrive in the coming years that will radically change humanity, our economic and social systems.
Today I want to touch briefly in 3 topics regarding technologies aligned with some core values of Transhumanism (the philosophical movement about using technology to enhance and overcome the biological limitations of humanity, in areas such as cognitive power, aging, and other fun stuff) and discuss how these could affect the hot topic of income inequality.
Automation and the Concentration of Capital Gains.
For starters we have automation, which is probably the least far fetched idea for today, we all have seen it for years and years. We've had automation from the first industrial revolution till today we’ve outsourced or automated human labor to machines. But this time things are starting to look different (just as a reference check out THIS VIDEO is beautiful) automation is growing faster and outpacing our capacity for retraining workers into new jobs, newer jobs created due to innovation are getting automated as well, and newer companies need fewer workers to operate. So if we extrapolate this trend eventually we can have a deep economic crisis.
But not only will we have a large percentage of humanity without a job there will also be an ever increasing concentration of wealth, because humans will be less and less necessary for economic performance, you will just need the capital to hire an automated workforce and a very small number of human technicians to have a running profitable company. So the owners of these companies (or its investors) will be concentrating more and more of a % of all gains from technological innovation, while most humans become jobless.
This scenario could extend to an inequality-escape-velocity where governments could be too weak compared to these ultra elites trying to defend their positions of power and with the entire automated industrial capacity of most of the world and its economies to back them up.They could hire private armies and we’re in a certain way back to neo-medieval systems of concentration of power and weak states.
Hopefully governments and institutions are wise enough to develop policies and regulations to avoid this scenario, but another reason for this to never come true is the basic nature of how an economy works. In a very simplified system you need two basic players. One who makes things and the other who buys and consumes said things, but what happens when a large enough % of the population doesn’t have income to consume, you can’t sustain the global economy on ultra elites trading amongst themselves. Also it is not a profitable endeavor to isolate from the billions of consumers who would be left out of the economy by automation. Or also we might see some uprising or insane revolt before we reach this point.
So I think it is imperative to be preparing the groundwork for solving this problem or thinking of solutions if we don’t want to see the collapse of our institutions and systems which will undoubtedly lead to chaotic and (more) violent times than we have seen.
Anti-Aging and the Fight Against Decrepitude
Anti-aging technologies are one of the cornerstones of the transhumanist movement, and when I say anti-aging it’s not like the retinol skin care you do every night before bed, but real ways to see aging as the disease ( or accumulation of diseases) that it is and combating it just like we tackle cancer or any other misery-inducing disease.
Now, clearly this could lead to an incredible reduction of human suffering, and saving up costs on healthcare. Just as an example over half of all the medical expenses someone will have during their lifetime happens after they turn 65. Which is obvious, your body is decaying and modern medicine is fighting off the damage and decay that our imperfect biology carries after decades and decades of functioning.
Also we have to see how much money a technology like this could save for our healthcare systems. For example current and cutting edge anti-obesity drugs if implemented and used widespread could solve a health crisis that is currently costing in the US over $173 Billion. Money which could be used for treating many other ailments. So imagine how much would it save up for other great uses if people just lived longer and healthier lives or even if they reversed from old age back into a healthy youth.
But of course there is the other side of technologies such as this, because it can perpetuate people in positions of power for longer periods of time, which can make societies stuck in place leaving people without opportunities to rise in ranks due to the “old guard” never leaving their place.
With a longer lifespan you can have a whole different perspective on financial investments and income earnings, you are at your healthiest and peak performance and productivity for longer periods of time, a mortgage for 35 years is no longer half of your lifetime so your long-term thinking shifts and you might take things in a different way if you know you will live a healthy youthful life for 130+ years.
Also in a scenario such as this maybe aging and eventually withering away until death if technologies such as this are too expensive at first and no way for people to have access to this biological death caused by aging could become somewhat of a “poverty-tax” where only poor people or those who cannot afford anti-aging treatment will age while those who can afford become younger, remain healthier and have better lives than those aging.
I think a potential solution is just looking at the numbers and thinking about the savings and the increased productivity and welfare for society if we have longer healthier lives. Just like the obesity epidemic, aging is a costly disease for our healthcare systems that we could save by having preventive anti-aging measures and technologies being developed or funding more research for this. For example, just in Europe people over 65 consume 60% of all healthcare resources incredible! We could be saving those funds which could be used for other welfare programs or funding even more and better medical research or subsidizing for the people who cannot afford these anti-aging treatments.
Human Enhancement and the Choice Dilemma
And finally we have human.enhancement the great boogeyman in a certain way, also because out of all it is one of the more esoteric. For the sake of argument we will talk only of cognitive enhancement, no super muscles, or other superpowers here. This means using synthetic or biological means to enhance our cognitive capabilities to solve tasks, be more productive / creative etc…
This area seems pretty interesting on one hand we have neural implants as one possibility. This consists of inserting implants which could stimulate certain areas of the brain to recover or heal and recover lost capacities but also the plan is afterwards to have a capacity of transferring information unto the brain and increasing the bandwidth of communication from the brain to digital systems. So far this technology seems to be advancing also the development of circuits directly grown on brain tissue seems in theory to be safer than opening up someone’s skull and inserting the implants.
Now here is where I see that we will be faced with a complicated situation because let’s say the technology reaches a point that it is safe to be used by people. Who will say no to that? It makes you more competitive and capable for doing your job or of pursuing creative endeavors, if you don’t enhance you will be left behind, inevitably. And trying to compete as an unenhanced person would be like trying to get hired by NASA as an aerospace engineer and your only tool for calculations is an abacus.
We will be seeing situations like these shortly, with the exponential rise of AI tools such as GPT-4 entering the market and working alongside these AIs will be a requirement for anyone in the labor market regardless of position or industry, so cognitive enhancement technology is just the next step of integrating our technologies with ourselves to further increase our productivity and enhance our creativity as well.
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Now, this I think is one of the hardest types of inequality to deal and figure out, because on one hand, it could create a divide between enhanced and unenhanced humans the likes of which we have never seen before.Then there are the incentives in a world where cognitive enhancements become a real thing. Because, the incentives to become enhanced are clearly visible, you are smarter, more productive and competitive in whichever work you do that requires you to think.
But what about those that voluntarily chose to remain unenhanced? It is difficult to say what would happen for them in the future, because they will be underperforming compared to the enhanced people in almost any task. And if the technology is at first expensive and unaffordable, and it makes you more proficient and productive in cognitive tasks.This is an assurance of nitro boosting any trends regarding income inequality we’ve seen in the past.
Again, governments goals are aligned with bringing these technologies to as many people as possible and also the goals for those in the production side of this technology is to enhance as many people as possible. Of course we need proper regulation and safety assurance before this is ever implemented. And the rollout timing of these technologies will sure be tricky to avoid extreme inequality creation between enhanced and unenhanced humans.But how? Maybe specific tax brackets for super earners who are enhanced? Health subsidies and corporate tax breaks to incentivize human enhancement? And what about those left behind will they be supported by a more robust welfare state or are going to let people fall through the cracks?
Where do we go from here?
I think that these problems have solutions. We need to be proactive about these, generate discussions and propose solutions so that these can help us uplift humanity as a whole, increase welfare for everybody. These technologies hold the potential to solve many problems currently affecting humanity since time immemorial. They could also lead us into a new age of human progress and wellbeing. But if used incorrectly or without the proper rules and institutions they could lead us towards a dark future.
I think we have some pressing issues that we have to deal with today, but not thinking about these topics and the future repercussions leaves us with a weak understanding of future problems we might face. We have seen time and time again humanity failing at being proactive and taking preventive measures for when we are faced with global catastrophic risks. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about these things and just start thinking about them once they’re knocking at our doorstep.
I hope you enjoyed this overview. I might return for a more in depth view of each topic and add more things and also some more theoretical approaches for each one. Also I would love to hear what are your thoughts about these issues, do you agree, do you disagree? Or have you ever thought about these issues before? Please let us know in the comments down below.