With Technology Expanding, Inequality Rising

This is an important and exciting time for planners, said Ryan Avent, senior editor and economics columnist for The Economist and author of The Wealth of Humans, in what he considers the dawn of the "digital revolution."

In his keynote address at the 2017 APA Policy and Advocacy Conference, Avent told attendees that technology will be able to perform complex tasks much sooner than predicted. Meanwhile, incomes are stagnant and people are frustrated by the rising inequality.

While there are benefits from the technology booms cities like San Francisco and Silicon Valley are experiencing, Avent said they are concentrated in small pockets.

"When wages aren't growing [for everyone], other parts of the economy stop working," he said. The result: tech booms in cities mean a sharp rise in the cost of living but no added benefits for middle-class and low-income workers.

As a result, "we don't have population growth in our most successful cities," said Avent, because "for those not already rich, cities with lower pay but much lower housing costs are more attractive," which ultimately costs the city more in the long run.

As automation becomes more commonplace, he says these economic and social challenges aren't likely to disappear any time soon: "This is the world we live in. This is the world we've built, where the most exciting opportunities are out of reach for the average American."

Avent offers a few ideas on how cities can move forward, but says planners are uniquely positioned to come up with effective solutions.

2017 APA Policy and Advocacy Conference Keynote Address

Top image: Ryan Avent speaks at the 2017 APA Policy and Advocacy Conference.

About the Author
Mary Hammon is the associate editor at APA.

September 26, 2017

By Mary Hammon