In the late modern era, equality rapidly became the dominant value in human societies almost everywhere. This was partly due to the rise of new ideologies like humanism, liberalism and socialism. But it was also due to the industrial revolution, which made the masses more important than ever before. Industrial economies relied on masses of common workers, while industrial armies relied on masses of common soldiers. Governments in both democracies and dictatorships invested heavily in the health, education and welfare of the masses, because they needed millions of healthy labourers to work in the factories, and millions of loyal soldiers to serve in the armies.
Now, as we enter the post-industrial world, the masses are becoming redundant. The best armies no longer rely on millions of ordinary recruits, but rather on a relatively small number of highly professional soldiers using very high-tech kit and autonomous drones, robots and cyber-worms. Already today, most people are militarily useless. The same thing might soon happen in the civilian economy, too. As artificial intelligence (AI) outperforms humans in more and more skills, it is likely to replace humans in more and more jobs. Humans basically have just two types of skills – physical and cognitive – and if computers outperform us in both, they might outperform us in the new jobs just as in the old ones.
Once the masses lose their economic importance, the state loses at least some of the incentive to invest in their health, education and welfare. It’s very dangerous to be redundant. Your future depends on the goodwill of a small elite. Maybe there is goodwill for a few decades. But in a time of crisis, it would be very tempting, and easy, to toss you overboard.