Asia.Com: Asia Encounters the Internet

By K. C. Ho; Randolph Kluver et al. | Go to book overview

3

Catching up and falling behind

Inequality, IT, and the Asian diaspora 1

Anthony P. D'Costa


INTRODUCTION

The revolution in IT (including the Internet) presents new opportunities for economic development and social mobility. Yet for many belonging to disadvantaged groups, accessibility to new technologies and economic well-being is highly constrained. This tension manifests itself in increasing inequality, set in motion by the rapidity of innovations, itself let loose by global economic integration and unequal access to new technologies. This chapter examines this tension by identifying the economic and social processes behind inequality in some Asian economies and how that inequality is reproduced in the larger world economy.

Inequality is a relative notion. It precludes neither income growth nor a reduction in poverty, although improvements in both are likely to reduce inequality. Inequality is argued to be a composite product of global integration involving pre-existing social structures and processes of inequality. Consequently, they lead to highly uneven economic and social outcomes in Asia (see United Nations Development Program, 2001). Economic interconnectedness among nations allows some to integrate themselves favorably into the world economy due to specific advantages, such as a well-educated workforce and high-quality physical and technological infrastructures. Others might witness a process of immiserization due either to adverse movements in the terms of trade or to a lack of competitiveness in general and the IT industry in particular. Even in the case of those countries that manage to integrate well, well-placed social classes tend to benefit the most. This uneven development on a global scale is characteristic of capitalism, a system that is necessarily expansive but in which greater gains are secured by dominant classes, social groups, and nations (see Shari, 2000).

There are two levels of inequality that result from differential access to higher, especially technical and professional education. The first is the persistent inequality in developing countries due to pre-existing social inequality. Higher education is also in itself a key marker of such inequality. Inegalitarian social structures compound the problem. Second is the mobil-

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