By Anand Giridharadas
The Guardian (1/22/19)
A successful society is a progress machine. It takes in the raw material of innovations and produces broad human advancement. America’s machine is broken. The same could be said of others around the world. And now many of the people who broke the progress machine are trying to sell us their services as repairmen.
When the fruits of change have fallen on the US in recent decades, the very fortunate have basketed almost all of them. For instance, the average pretax income of the top 10th of Americans has doubled since 1980, that of the top 1% has more than tripled, and that of the top 0.001% has risen more than sevenfold – even as the average pretax income of the bottom half of Americans has stayed almost precisely the same. These familiar figures amount to three-and-a-half decades’ worth of wondrous, head-spinning change with zero impact on the average pay of 117 million Americans. Globally, over the same period, according to the World Inequality Report, the top 1% captured 27% of new income, while the bottom half of humanity – presently, more than 3 billion people – saw 12% of it.
Today’s titans of tech and finance want to solve the world’s problems, as long as the solutions never, ever threaten their own wealth and power.
That vast numbers of Americans and others in the west have scarcely benefited from the age is not because of a lack of innovation, but because of social arrangements that fail to turn new stuff into better lives. For example, American scientists make the most important discoveries in medicine and genetics and publish more biomedical research than those of any other country – but the average American’s health remains worse and slower-improving than that of peers in other rich countries, and in some years life expectancy actually declines. American inventors create astonishing new ways to learn thanks to the power of video and the internet, many of them free of charge – but the average US high-school leaver tests more poorly in reading today than in 1992. The country has had a “culinary renaissance”, as one publication puts it, one farmers’ market and Whole Foods store at a time – but it has failed to improve the nutrition of most people, with the incidence of obesity and related conditions rising over time.
The tools for becoming an entrepreneur appear to be more accessible than ever, for the student who learns coding online or the Uber driver – but the share of young people who own a business has fallen by two-thirds since the 1980s. …