Industrial Revolution Equality Illustration
Mark Smith for TIME

The Next Industrial Revolution Is Coming. Here’s How We Can Ensure Equality

For the first time in decades, the same topic currently dominates the conversation everywhere in the world. From Shanghai to San Francisco, the top-of-mind subject is inequality. It’s even worrying the winners who gather at Davos. In 2018, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report called it “an increasingly corrosive problem.”

Although it is a tentative process, big economies have begun recovering from the financial crisis. The trouble is that the rewards of that recovery are mostly going to the people who were already rich. In the U.S., the top 0.1% of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 90%, and the ratio between a top CEO’s pay and the pay of a typical worker has grown from 30 to 1 in 1978 to 312 to 1 today. In the richest and most powerful country the world has ever seen, poor men die 15 years younger than rich men, and overall life expectancy is falling. Frustration at this state of affairs has driven voters to populist and nationalist parties in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. The upshot is that both the 2017 and 2018 reports from Davos called for “fundamental reforms to market capitalism”—a startling thing to emerge from the capitalist winners’ enclosure.

Capitalism, however, has been here before. One of its great historic strengths has been its ability to reform and change shape as social needs and democratic demands shift. In the late 19th century, parties of the right in Europe brought in a wave of progressive reforms to suit the times, from expanded union rights to the social insurance that began the creation of the modern welfare state. In these cases, there was a pragmatic and also a moral imperative


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