We live in a time known for great innovation. In recent years, we have seen advances in facial recognition software, language translation apps and genome editing, among other areas. As startup founders and tech giants profit handsomely from their inventions, the gap between the highest and lowest wage earners continues to widen. People have begun to wonder: is growing inequality the price of progress?
Rotman Professor Joshua Gans and politician/economist Andrew Leigh were troubled by this growing belief.
“We hadn’t found anyone who had articulated the relationship between innovation and inequality. Many were starting to think that inequality is necessary to have more innovation — but the evidence doesn’t suggest that at all,” says Gans, explaining why he and Leigh wanted to explore this topic further.
In their new book, Innovation + Equality: How to Create a Future That is More Star Trek Than Terminator (MIT Press: Oct 29, 2019), Gans and Leigh set out to dispel common misconceptions and discuss policies that would allow for innovation and equality to coexist.
“We can have more innovation and more equality. There are no big trade-offs with achieving these two social goals.”
Professor of Strategic Management
Author of Innovation + Equality
Luckily, readers do not have to be sci fi fans to understand the book’s central message: we need to steer ourselves towards a future where we can all share and benefit from technology (Star Trek), and away from the alternative (a Terminator-esque dystopia).
Readers could not ask for better, more qualified guides in helping them grasp the basic principles of innovation and economic policy. Gans, who is the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair in Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship and a professor of strategic management at Rotman, specializes in understanding the economic drivers of innovation and scientific progress. Meanwhile, Andrew Leigh is a member of the Australian house of representatives and a former economics professor.
Early on, Gans and Leigh warn readers not to be distracted by debates about whether future technologies will bring more benefits or more problems. They note that we will get a bit of both: while automation will make several tasks more convenient, it will eliminate certain jobs.
The real issue, which the authors explore in the book, is understanding the relationship between innovation and equality. Gans and Leigh discuss the importance of developing ‘insurance policies’ for the future. In very clear terms, they describe effective policies governments can implement to encourage competition, research and innovation.
Additionally, they highlight key strategies for ensuring equal access to future opportunities, including making sure that there are strong educators teaching in public schools, adopting fair college loan standards and strengthening workers’ rights.
“I think our title says it all,” says Gans. “We can have more innovation and more equality. There are no big trade-offs with achieving these two social goals.”
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