This is a chart for the Cowenists – believers in my friend, Tyler Cowen’s, vision of technological progress slowing because humans have already reached all the low-hanging fruits of innovation. I’m of the belief, to borrow his metaphor, that growth means we are getting taller with each invention, making the higher fruit more accessible. What hath the computer wrought? Greater reach for inventors! A democracy of information!
In TWO years, the percentage of people with No Cell Phone was cut in half, down to a level where choice, not income, was probably the deciding factor. The non-adopters are overwhelmingly elderly.
I think Tyler would agree that this is impressive, and maybe dents the pessimists’ case (and he is far more nuanced than the anti-progress pessimist). Nonetheless, I think this chart does much more violence to the Piketty argument that inequality is the defining issue of our time. Hogwash. The young are significantly lower-income than the elderly, yet they have much higher ownership rates of the most amazing piece of property ever, a tangible thing of monstrous value that did not exist half a generation ago.
If mind-blowing, inexpensive, mass-market technological property is the fruit of inequality, then let’s have more. No?