Technology Exacerbates the Gap
Between Haves and Have-Nots
By Shibley Telhami
March 5, 2002
WASHINGTON - The story was heart-warming: A 30-year-old
woman gave birth to a baby free of her family's curse of
early Alzheimer's disease, thanks to the wonders of
hard not to feel the joy of the baby's family, or the hope
of the many others who feel helpless by their genetic
breakthrough occurred when doctors in Chicago applied
genetic tests to batches of human eggs, helping the woman
to have a baby free of her family's early Alzheimer's
disease. Without such intervention, the child would have
faced 50-50 odds of becoming senile by the time she was
But I had
a terrible feeling as I thought about the implications of
this seemingly wonderful evolution of medical engineering:
Before long, the rich will be able to buy not only better
education for their kids but also better genes. This
thought was especially troubling for someone who studies
development and peace and who can't help but notice the
alarming global gap between rich and poor.
child, I was taught this in school: Given a choice between
being rich and being smart one should always choose the
latter, for a smart person will find a way to get rich and
a foolish person could easily lose the wealth.
simple proposition was powerful for those of us who grew
up with less and whose hope derived from the knowledge
that even poor, talented individuals will have a shot in
an otherwise unequal world. Now it turns out that money
will buy smarts, too. I cannot help but feel that the gap
between the haves and the have-nots only will grow.
the issue is moral: The benefits reaped by some from the
medical revolution will come at the expense of others.
This will happen within our country, where the gap remains
wide, and across nations where the divide is even wider.
In the end, the prospects for the poor, which are now
daunting, will become almost hopeless.
issue is not just about morality; it is also about
fight a global war on terrorism, having been tragically
awakened to the potential horror that can be inflicted by
only a few individuals in the age of globalization, we are
increasingly aware of the desperate conditions and
hopelessness that allow ruthless terrorist organizers to
recruit members and find refuge.
certainly limit terrorism by fighting the organizers, as
we must. But if we increase hopelessness, the danger that
greater numbers will become willing new recruits will also
find a way to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
Technology has been mostly positive (although sometimes
hauntingly devastating, as in the case of weapons of mass
destruction). Generally, most people, rich and poor, have
benefited somewhat. But it is also clear that the rich
have benefited more, and the consequence has been a
without societal and political intervention to address the
moral and other collective needs, technology is likely to
exacerbate the problems of the poor.
Evolution is unstoppable, technology will keep changing
and, in the end, the human race may even be better for it;
the survival of the fittest will prevail.
forgive me for worrying that the "fittest" will be defined
increasingly by wealth alone, and for pitying the poor,
who will have less of a chance - even if I am happy for
the mother of the disease-free baby who can sleep better
Shibley Telhami is Anwar Sadat
Professor for Peace and Development at the
University of Maryland, College Park and a
senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Copyright © 2002, The