Inequality in the Digital Society

Summary of a joint workshop by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the New Economics Foundation

In November 2016 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the New Economics Foundation jointly hosted a workshop in London to discuss and debate new technological trends and how they impact inequality on society. The workshop was attended by representatives from industry, civil society and government, and discussion was stimulated by contributions from Professor Daniel Buhr from the Universität Tübingen, based on research conducted by himself and colleagues, and Annie Quick and Stephen Devlin from the New Economics Foundation. This paper summarises the key points that emerged from the workshop and serves as a basis for further discussion.

Technology is increasingly central to our lives in all manner of ways and is continuously opening up new possibilities. But who will most benefit from them?

Some claim that tech companies and the products they develop are empowering ordinary people to take more control over their economic and social lives, enhancing their personal wellbeing and smashing up the old monopolies and economic power bases of the 20th century. But is this really the case? Without proper governance, the increasing role of technology in our lives and in our economy could change relations between people and institutions in a way that strengthens existing inequalities of power, rather than dissipating them. This paper explores the channels through which this could occur, the consequences of those changes, and some of the public policy questions that result.

This paper covers three broad and interrelated topics:

  1. Automation & Industrial Transition: Changes to production processes resulting from new technology
  2. Consequences for the welfare state and fiscal policy: The effects of technological change on the need for and effectiveness of social security and redistribution
  3. Big Data & Digitalisation: Changes to how information is captured, stored and shared that affects how people (as consumers, workers, employers, etc.) relate to one another

Inequality in the digital society cover image


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