Inequality and iTunes

by on September 16, 2006 · 16 comments

So I’m having a party this evening, and while poking around the web, I discovered this tidbit: if you’ve got Airport Express, you can now play your music to multiple speakers. That means I can plug my laptop into the speakers into my bedroom, plug a second set of speakers into the Airport Express in my living room, and have perfectly synchronized music playing to both speakers simultaneously, filling the whole apartment with music.

The equipment needed to do this cost a grand total of about $200. Ten years ago, I’d guess the equipment required to do this would have cost thousands of dollars. Thirty years ago, home consumers probably couldn’t have gotten equivalent functionality at any price. The best you could have done would be to run wires through your ceiling, and even then, you would have been limited to playing records or casette tapes.

All of which is an excuse to link to my friend Will Wilkinson’s great article about inequality. Will points out that while monetary inequality is increasing, what we should be really worried about is material inequality–and by almost any measure, this has been rapidly decreasing. My $200 iTunes/Airport music setup has features that would have cost thousands of dollars a decade ago. In this sense, technological progress is the greatest egalitarian force the world has ever known. Although the financial gap between the rich and poor is growing, the gap in the material quality of life between rich and poor is shrinking, as more and more luxuries once available only to the rich become widely affordable to everyone.

Will puts all this much better than I can, so go read his article.

Update: I’ve got another story along the same vein: I’ve been to several weddings recently, and all of them have dispensed with DJs, using their iPods as electronic DJs. None of them has regretted it. Indeed, in at least one respect, the iPod is better: you get to decide exactly what’s on the playlist. No worrying about whether the DJ has good music taste, or whether your guests will request bad music. One more distinction between more-expensive and less-expensive weddings has been obliterated by technology.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Will points out that while monetary inequality is increasing, what we should be really worried about is material inequality–and by almost any measure, this has been rapidly decreasing.

    No, the metric that you use (availability of a luxury good) is not, to me, very relevant to quality of life issues.

    For example, I would rate these measures as more important:

    1. Access to health care

    2. Time available to spend with one’s family and friends.

    3. Life expectancy.

    4. Access to healthy food and water.

    5. Freedom from crime, and from fear of becoming a crime victim.

    And that’s about it.

    Off to the balloon race…than I have a party, too.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Will points out that while monetary inequality is increasing, what we should be really worried about is material inequality–and by almost any measure, this has been rapidly decreasing.

    No, the metric that you use (availability of a luxury good) is not, to me, very relevant to quality of life issues.

    For example, I would rate these measures as more important:

    1. Access to health care

    2. Time available to spend with one’s family and friends.

    3. Life expectancy.

    4. Access to healthy food and water.

    5. Freedom from crime, and from fear of becoming a crime victim.

    And that’s about it.

    Off to the balloon race…than I have a party, too.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Enigma, I think the average household in the bottom 20% of the income distribution is better off on most of those scores than it was 30 years ago. That’s certainly true of #2, #3, and #4, and it’s at least arguably true for #1 and #5 as well.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Enigma, I think the average household in the bottom 20% of the income distribution is better off on most of those scores than it was 30 years ago. That’s certainly true of #2, #3, and #4, and it’s at least arguably true for #1 and #5 as well.

  • http://www.oscarm.org/ Oscar

    I would think 30 years ago, well no more than 20 years ago, you could buy a low-powered radio transmitter to broadcast the output of your receiver to other radios in the household. :)

  • http://www.oscarm.org/ Oscar

    I would think 30 years ago, well no more than 20 years ago, you could buy a low-powered radio transmitter to broadcast the output of your receiver to other radios in the household. :)

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com enigma_foundry

    The fact living standards have increased over time should not be a surprise, but rather where does the United States stand compared to other countries, and based on the following measures:
    (1)Probability at birth of not surviving to age 60, (2) People lacking functional literacy skills, (3) Long-term unemployment, & (5)Population below 50% of median income, here is the listing:

    1 Sweden
    2 Norway
    3 Finland
    4 Netherlands
    5 Denmark
    6 Germany
    7 Luxembourg
    8 France
    9 Spain
    10 Japan
    11 Italy
    12 Canada
    13 Belgium
    14 Australia
    15 United Kingdom
    16 Ireland
    17 United States

    So the United States ranks below some other countries, some of them with quite lower GDP.

    source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Poverty_Index

    I would also note that the USA has a much more violent society than all of the developed world, and this fact is very rarely taken into account in the relative indexes.

    The trickle down economics, at their core immoral and uncaring, generate a society that is likewise immoral and uncaring, and lacking in community values. The apologists for this society are also guilty of perpetuating this society, which seeks to destroy all it can not understand and values only that which can easily be monetized.

    The problem with this is that much of tremedous human value is missed, and those in America realize this when they travel to other societies, and hence the backlash among the educated and the downtrodden against the present regime, which can maintain its power only through control of the media, and the falsification of elections. It is no accident that the control of the media (thorough change in media ownership laws) and the suubversion of Democracy (through Diebold 51% machines) are at the highest priority for the present regime.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    The fact living standards have increased over time should not be a surprise, but rather where does the United States stand compared to other countries, and based on the following measures:
    (1)Probability at birth of not surviving to age 60, (2) People lacking functional literacy skills, (3) Long-term unemployment, & (5)Population below 50% of median income, here is the listing:

    1 Sweden
    2 Norway
    3 Finland
    4 Netherlands
    5 Denmark
    6 Germany
    7 Luxembourg
    8 France
    9 Spain
    10 Japan
    11 Italy
    12 Canada
    13 Belgium
    14 Australia
    15 United Kingdom
    16 Ireland
    17 United States

    So the United States ranks below some other countries, some of them with quite lower GDP.

    source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Poverty_Index

    I would also note that the USA has a much more violent society than all of the developed world, and this fact is very rarely taken into account in the relative indexes.

    The trickle down economics, at their core immoral and uncaring, generate a society that is likewise immoral and uncaring, and lacking in community values. The apologists for this society are also guilty of perpetuating this society, which seeks to destroy all it can not understand and values only that which can easily be monetized.

    The problem with this is that much of tremedous human value is missed, and those in America realize this when they travel to other societies, and hence the backlash among the educated and the downtrodden against the present regime, which can maintain its power only through control of the media, and the falsification of elections. It is no accident that the control of the media (thorough change in media ownership laws) and the suubversion of Democracy (through Diebold 51% machines) are at the highest priority for the present regime.

  • eric

    I think long-term unemployment is pretty bad in some of the countries you listed, enigma.

    And in Sweden, the party who promised to normalize social benefits to increase competition in the international sphere was just elected, a major upset of the other party’s generational control.

    Even the Swedes are starting to see the light.

  • eric

    I think long-term unemployment is pretty bad in some of the countries you listed, enigma.

    And in Sweden, the party who promised to normalize social benefits to increase competition in the international sphere was just elected, a major upset of the other party’s generational control.

    Even the Swedes are starting to see the light.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Enigma_factory, healthcare access is rarely a quality of life issue for most people. Most people would be just fine with access to the clean water and food they have now and the only medical work they need until they get old or pregnant is dental work and a regular checkup. A lot of the “quality of life” issues with medicine today can be solved by taking care of yourself, which a lot of Americans simply don’t do.

  • http://www.codemonkeyramblings.com MikeT

    Enigma_factory, healthcare access is rarely a quality of life issue for most people. Most people would be just fine with access to the clean water and food they have now and the only medical work they need until they get old or pregnant is dental work and a regular checkup. A lot of the “quality of life” issues with medicine today can be solved by taking care of yourself, which a lot of Americans simply don’t do.

  • http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle Will Wilkinson

    Enigma,

    First, I’d note that all 17 of those places are pretty great places to live. Second, I’d note that it is possible to contruct some mix of measures that that prioritizes important values differently, such that any one of those countries can come out on top. Third, I’d note that all of these societies have relatively well-functioning market systems that generate the egalitarian benefits of capitalism Tim was mentioning. Last, I’d note capital, primary scientific research, and technological innovation, comes heavily disproportionately from the U.S. The quality of life in Sweden (and other places on the list) that so impresses many on the left depends in no small part on the fact that the U.S. is not like Sweden.

  • http://willwilkinson.net/flybottle Will Wilkinson

    Enigma,

    First, I’d note that all 17 of those places are pretty great places to live. Second, I’d note that it is possible to contruct some mix of measures that that prioritizes important values differently, such that any one of those countries can come out on top. Third, I’d note that all of these societies have relatively well-functioning market systems that generate the egalitarian benefits of capitalism Tim was mentioning. Last, I’d note capital, primary scientific research, and technological innovation, comes heavily disproportionately from the U.S. The quality of life in Sweden (and other places on the list) that so impresses many on the left depends in no small part on the fact that the U.S. is not like Sweden.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Third, I’d note that all of these societies have relatively well-functioning market systems that generate the egalitarian benefits of capitalism Tim was mentioning.

    That is, in a nutshell, my point.

    A lot of the “quality of life” issues with medicine today can be solved by taking care of yourself, which a lot of Americans simply don’t do.

    I totally agree with that, and I would say there are a variety of resons for that, but they certainly include lack of an effective public health system, which should include an educational component.

    And in Sweden, the party who promised to normalize social benefits to increase competition in the international sphere was just elected, a major upset of the other party’s generational control.

    There is always a bit of a pendulam swing, but the fact that they have changed their ruling party should be seen as no indication that they want to dismantle their society. They have changed governments before, and it didn’t happen then, and wouldn’t happen now either.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Third, I’d note that all of these societies have relatively well-functioning market systems that generate the egalitarian benefits of capitalism Tim was mentioning.

    That is, in a nutshell, my point.

    A lot of the “quality of life” issues with medicine today can be solved by taking care of yourself, which a lot of Americans simply don’t do.

    I totally agree with that, and I would say there are a variety of resons for that, but they certainly include lack of an effective public health system, which should include an educational component.

    And in Sweden, the party who promised to normalize social benefits to increase competition in the international sphere was just elected, a major upset of the other party’s generational control.

    There is always a bit of a pendulam swing, but the fact that they have changed their ruling party should be seen as no indication that they want to dismantle their society. They have changed governments before, and it didn’t happen then, and wouldn’t happen now either.

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