Will the Rest of the World Live Like America?

Citation: Technology in Society 26 (2004): 343–360 2004

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Living like America means producing and consuming at or near the level of the present top consumer.  For material well-being as well as equity, many wish and work for a world in which high economic activity pervades.  Others fear environmental harm from the product of global population times the affluence of America.  I ask, has the world ever had uniform income at the level of the top consumer?  Do swift, cheap transport and communication equalize income?  Historically, incomes vary for the abiding reason that income crowns the successful completion of a series of multiplicative tasks, causing a skewed distribution.  Despite lessening physical obstacles, social wrinkles maintain distributions broad and skewed, as the diffusion of railroads, cars, and electricity shows.  As incomes rise, however, economic social, and environmental requirements and capacities grow to lessen harm.  We are likely to live in a cleaner world, with sustained inequalities.

Keywords: Zipf, golden ratio, inequality, sustainable development

Areas of Research: Diffusion of Social Phenomena, Technology & Human Environment