Big Tech has changed the world, but can it solve the economic inequality embedded in the digital economy?
The power and clout of big tech increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are living in an era of rising inequality, widespread economic insecurity exacerbated by a global pandemic and the potential of labor-displacing changes, including automation and artificial intelligence. Through all of this unsettling change, the combined market capitalization of the big five tech companies reached an astonishing $8 trillion. Even as big tech are in hyper growth mode, other mainstay sectors of the US economy remain sickly. Retail bankruptcies reached record levels, and workers, pandemic-drained, are not coming back quick enough. “At a time when companies such as airlines and bricks-and-mortar retailers struggled to survive, combined revenue for the five biggest U.S. tech companies— Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. , Amazon.com Inc., Google-parent Alphabet Inc., and Facebook Inc. —grew by a fifth, to $1.1 trillion,” observed the staff of the Wall Street Journal, in an editorial this past July.
While the tech-heavy NASDAQ index rises to new heights of the stratosphere, the American consumer suffers. A trip to any grocery store is enough to convince a customer that food prices are rising precipitously as a result of the pandemic. Fuel costs also are rising, causing companies to pay more for shipping. The manufacturing sector is understaffed. The supply chain is also an issue, in part because of that understaffing. The demand for products is outpacing manufacturers’ ability to produce enough supply. Further, the cost of feed for farm animals has risen sharply. The price of corn has more than doubled in the past year, which impacts the cost of beef, chicken and pork.