Where are all the jobs going? Lessons from the first Industrial Revolution and 150 years of pain.

In a world which is seeing a simultaneous increase in the capabilities of robots and artificial intelligence to do many factory and service sector jobs, and a significant increase in the world’s interconnected population, a natural question to ask is: “Are there enough good jobs to go around for everyone?”

To many people, particularly those who hold positions of power in government and industry, the answer is simple: “Yes, so long as our population is sufficiently educated to take advantage of the jobs that will emerge in the future.” This column suggests that this view is too simplistic and wrong.

Due to a collective amnesia and lack of historical awareness, this view forgets about the disastrous, multi-generational, consequences that rapid industrialisation had for the have nots, not just in societies that were experiencing industrialisation, but also for countries that did not industrialise at all.

The Industrial Revolution, starting in Great Britain, resulted in widespread pain and unemployment, followed by significant prosperity and a golden age for those countries that experienced it first. People who live in the developed world today have inherited a world that was built on an early mover advantage over the rest of the world and have forgotten the initial growing pains. We have a material quality of life that is perhaps the highest it has been in history. We are lucky. Few of us would chose to live in 1800, rather than in 2012.

This column goes back to the first Industrial Revolution, starting in 1776, and follows the impact of rapid changes in employment to people in the West and in the rest of the world to show why this second Industrial Revolution will be as uncomfortable a revolution as the first.

When the Scotsman Adam Smith was writing in 1776, co-inciding with the year of the US Declaration of Independence, he was describing a world that was on the cusp of industrialisation, with references to items such as nails being produced on a production line. Forty years later, in 1817, industrialisation was starting to accelerate, allowing David Ricardo to write about the comparative advantages of nations and how certain nations should engage in high value activities and other nations in low value activities. These two books (and arguably Karl Marx’s Capital in 1867, based on the 1848 The Communist Manifesto, which described the workings of capitalism for the first time) formed the intellectual basis of the interlinked concepts of industrialisation, capitalism and free trade.

When you read these books and novels of the time, it is clear that industrialisation was extremely painful for many people. Why? It made people who had previously been gainfully employed suddenly become unemployed. The 1811-1817 Luddite movement, now permanently synonymous with backwards thinking people, was a symptom of a serious social crisis. Millions of people moved from the countryside into the cities. In the countryside they had had farming, garden farming and cottage industry to sustain them economically. While life was no picnic, being evicted from your land and being forced to work in an early 19th century factory or being forced into prostitution was even worse. This process was not quick. It was not a brief recession, followed by years of prosperity. It lasted from the late 1700s to the end of the Second World War: over 150 years.

Europe was convulsed during this period by multiple revolutions and upheavals. The French Revolution, inspired by the French backed American Revolution, set the stage for the concept of nationalism with the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1848 multiple governments across Europe were toppled by revolutions. Many of these revolutions were caused by an influx of new ideas and a drop in the numbers of jobs. This process only accelerated towards the second half of the 19th century which saw millions of Europeans flee conditions at home to lives of hoped for prosperity in America, Canada, Argentina and eventually Australia. Life in Europe had become unbearable and the value of life had dropped with it. 19th century European factories were able to be so inhuman and awful because the products that they produced were so cheap that they destroyed all of the cottage industries and jobs that had previously existed, leaving people with few alternatives.

And this pain was for the successful, early industrialising countries. The rest of the world had it even worse: subjugation and colonisation.

China and India had had had the largest populations on Earth for a long time. In a pre industrial world, where there were few machines, there was a simple economic truth: if you had more people you could produce more things. The more things that you could produce the more wealthy you would be as an economy. China was a major manufacturing hub of the world and produced goods that were in significant demand in the West. When the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, closing off the silk road to China, it set off a wave of innovation in Western Europe as city states and small countries tried to find a way to get back into the Chinese and Asian markets. Early adoption of cheap guns enabled these small European countries to dominate other wealthier and more populous countries with surprisingly few people. They used this power to control markets and purchase spices and manufactured goods, paid for by Latin American silver and gold (the Spanish and Portuguese empires), innovative corporate structures (the Dutch empire) and finally the sale of early manufactured goods (the British empire).

It was the final group, the British, which radically changed the lives of people living within India and China and then resulted in a military and political dominance over Africa (resources and slaves) and Asia (captive markets for industrialised products). Ricardo’s comparative advantage and Smith’s free trade crushed the spirit and the economies of the rest of the world. Britain and the industrialised west could produce products that were comparatively better and cheaper than those of their competition. When China refused to import any more products, worried about the destabilising impact of cheap western goods on their economy, the British and other western powers first forced opium into China (the Chinese did not want the manufactured goods) and then manufactured goods with the Unequal Treaties of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which reduced China to a semi colonial status and forced them to lease Hong Kong and Macau.

So looking back in history, it is clear that the use of the word “revolution” in the context of Industrial Revolution does not refer to something warm and benign, but rather a violent convulsion which upset the global balance of power and the societies that lived through it.

So if increased automation, 3D printing (see previous column) and computerisation (see previous column) are forming the basis of a new Industrial Revolution which has the potential to be as radical as the first Industrial Revolution what are people and societies to do? The view that all a society needs to do is invest in education and things will be okay, is wrong and abandons a large chunk of society.

Why? Firstly, in any country there will be a standard mix of smart / hardworking people and stupid / lazy people. No matter how hard you try as a government to persuade companies otherwise, stupid / lazy people will always be less attractive to employers than smart / hardworking people. As companies can hire people from all over the world, they will rather pick smart / hardworking people from other countries than pick stupid / lazy people from their own country. So what happens to all of the stupid / lazy people? Just because you are stupid, or lazy, or both, should you be condemned to a life of misery and being unemployed? Education may help you move up a little in the employment pecking order but remember: we are all now competing with the entire planet’s population. This is a terrible outcome for you as an individual and just as destabilising for your country as a whole.

Secondly, a highly educated population does not create that many jobs, compared to what was available in primary and secondary industries and parts of the service industry. Google, Apple and Microsoft are great technological giants but hire relatively few people, even if you include people who work within their ecosystems. Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing giant with over 480,000 employees, which produces goods for these three technology companies is a big employer today but even they are planning to automate thousands of jobs with robots.

So if education is no panacea, what are we to do? Stop free trade? Become autarchic? De-industrialise? Reduce computerisation and mechanisation? King Canute is famous because he sat on his throne and commanded the tide to not come up the beach. People today remember this part of the story and Canute is mocked, as of course he could not stop the tide from reaching up to his throne and wetting his clothes. They forget the beginning of the story, however. In this, Canute was so fed up with the flattery of all of his courtiers, who told him that anything that he commanded would come true, that it was he that decided to mock their flattery by telling them that he could turn back the tide.

Like Canute, in our story of the second Industrial Revolution, there is nothing that we can do to turn back this tide of innovation, automation and computerisation. In fact, our problems may be even worse. Unlike in the 19th century, we have no population release valve of an empty continent with a government that would welcome the huddled masses of people seeing their lives upturned by industrialisation.

We can only hope for a new New Colossus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

In a later column we will explore options of how we many be able to harness the multiple benefits of technology change in a way that allows us to avoid the possible convulsions of a new Industrial Revolution.

To read more about work click on one of the links below.

History Future Now, ebook edition, is now available from the Apple iBookstore!  So if you have a iPad or iPhone click on this link to download it.  It is currently on at a special offer of 99c.   The Kindle version has been submitted to Amazon and should be available shortly.
  • Pingback: Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria: why Planetary Resources is so important for the future of mankind, but not its investors « History, Future. Now.()

  • Sam

    This is the challenge for us today, how to provide for a population that is doubling in size every 40 years without imploding and the potential apocalyptic results. Does this mean nationalisation on a mass scale? No, as the failure of this has been demonstrated by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismal performance of North Korea. How about a true free market? Unfortunately, when the leading entrepreneurs are presented, there are usually very few who benefit outside of their immediate family. Does China have it right? A touch of free market enterprise within a very centralised government? Probably works well with a homogenous population. Would this work in the UK with our broad ethnic and religious mix of people?

    Regardless of the formula, as we progress towards greater automation and a service driven economy, especially here in the UK, we will create (or are we already creating) a permanently unemployable segment of the population…and this segment will grow as unskilled labour is required less and less. Greater burdens will be placed on the working masses until eventually no matter what the latter contribute, it will not be enough to support the growing numbers of unemployed.

    What can be done now? Interestingly, 90% of all goods are still shipped by sea and this means ships are and will be required. Assuming that a ship takes 12 – 18 months to build (which is 12 – 18 months for one of the unemployed to learn welding, plumbing, electrics, etc.), why not encourage, dare I say, require, goods coming into the UK to arrive on UK built ships?

    We are a mobile population and need new trains and infrastructure…the construction and supply of these needs to be done by our domestically unemployed.

    Yes, it goes again the grain of open markets and free trade but the alternative is the tipping point and the subsequent collapse of life as we know it.

    • When my father was born in 1930 the world’s population was 2bn. It is now over 7bn. That is a big increase.

  • Simon MW

    Unfortunately time does not presently permit a full reply. A Gladstonian might disagree about some of your history. An anarcho-libertarian (me) would say the answer lies with the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson and the methods of Sir John Cowperthwaite, that utter paragon of a civil servant. Many might be usefully employed in agriculture, specialist and otherwise. The de-industrial revolution! As Jim Rogers says, in the future it is the farmers who will driving the Ferraris. Av. farmer age 58 and no followers. Population will mean civilisation, which was at its zenith in the west in around 1900, is irrecoverable. Sadly, we must accept that. Matt Ridley is rarely wrong but e is this time, the world is not better. Toothache is temporary and death is irrelevant; the same is not true of the loss of free speech; in Europe, demographics and migration trends (unreported!) suggest the Muslims may succeed in returning us to the Stone Age; the so-called moderate ones are not moderate but quiescent, a subtle difference which will become evident. This will be bad for jobs. 2030 will probably see the first unilateral declaration of sharia law by a local authority here or the Netherlands, possibly France. Thereafter, employment difficult as the rule of law progressively becomesthe rule of sharia law. Collapse of $ and hyperinflation will bring recall of US Constitution and ejection of pols, bureaucrats, lobbyists and all the zillion zombie parasites of the productive sector and a new dawn of the Great Republic. A Coolidge will be found and then someone better. India will be unable to shake off socialism for 100 years and totally disappoint; revolutions, war with Pak. etc. and a long dalliance with the fatal nostrums of Gandhi even among the high-rises. China… ah! Whither China? Well, let’s hope it does not invade Burma at least, even if it is doing so already, without the guns. Parts of Africa may surprise but don’t ask me to invest there; I’ve seen it. The shots are called by whoever happens to be physically biggest at the time (have you thought of eating numerous pies and going to Africa, Tristan?) though I suppose they have mostly been replaced by gentlemen from the East who have pensioned him off. Much work provided by recruitment for wars over water. This is too big to contemplate. Probably it’s out of our hands as we become part of the Chinese 5-year plan and are sent out into the fields to grow rice.That’s a thought. I think we could grow rice, it’s bloody wet enough. Peasants all, with conical hats and bare feet and maybe no Ferraris after all. Oh well. Join the IEA and the Cato. They need your support. Simon.

  • Anonymous sends in his comments:

    I think we’re shagged unless we can control population growth:(. Did you ever read Stand on Zanzibar or The Sheep Look Up, both by John Brunner and both horribly prophetic

    Problem with quality of life is that:
    – It is a race to the bottom in the professions. Spoils go to those who put quality of life second and that drags us all down.
    – We’ve only managed to maintain apparent levels of standard of living by the use of debt. Now we have to repay this, and to pay the costs of the vast swindle perpetrated by the banks
    – Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. The more is happens, the less there is for the rest

    • What is fascinating from these initial comments is that they have been written by strongly capitalist orientated smart people, not left wing tree huggers. These views are verging on the edge of apocalyptic.

  • I like the comparison between what’s happening today and the Industrial Revolution. We’re in the early stages of our IT Revolution. Remember what happened in the first phase of the former in what are now mature economies – workers flocked from farms to factories. And then in the second phase those factories got more efficient (as they pioneered time-motion studies) and fewer workers were needed…one of the major contributing factors to the US Great Depression double tap: 1) unemployed factory workers and 2) a natural disaster that displaced huge numbers of those still left on the farm.

    Colonizing space is a very good target for our intellectual offspring – self-replicating sentient and semi-sentient robots. Biological life evolved to live in our biosphere are very inefficient in space. That will not be our legacy…without substantial genetic engineering over a very long period of time. And none of that helps those trapped at the bottom of our local gravity well for the next few decades. We are trapped in a closed ecosystem. I’m a fan of George Friedman and the political limitations of geography. It’ll be interesting! http://www.amazon.com/The-Next-100-Years-Forecast/dp/038551705X
    Posted by Paul Teich

    • To Paul and Karthikeyan: I am coming depressingly close to agreeing with you that colonising space could be our way out. I use the word “depressingly” because I am currently feeling stumped about alternative solutions that dont sound too awful to contemplate.

      To Angela: Clearly access to resources is a major issue and a green economy is critical. But ultimately there are fewer absolute resources available, a lot more people and higher consumption aspirations for those people. The maths does not add up.

  • Intersting. Our current work on resource scarcity indicates structural inequality and access rather than resource limits have become the key drivers. The Green Economy emphasis is also part of the next wave of industrialisation. This might be associated with decentralised, less capital intensive forms of industry which involve more labour e.g solar and building retrofit compared with nuclear power? On the other hand the reality of the structural shift to an ageing economy….
    Posted by Angela Wilkinson

  • karthikeyan arumugathandavan • .-

    Tristan , thanks and it is Good article .

    What about colonizing Oceans and then Moon or Mars ……>> ??

  • Paul Teich • I like the comparison between what’s happening today and the Industrial Revolution. We’re in the early stages of our IT Revolution. Remember what happened in the first phase of the former in what are now mature economies – workers flocked from farms to factories. And then in the second phase those factories got more efficient (as they pioneered time-motion studies) and fewer workers were needed…one of the major contributing factors to the US Great Depression double tap: 1) unemployed factory workers and 2) a natural disaster that displaced huge numbers of those still left on the farm.

    Colonizing space is a very good target for our intellectual offspring – self-replicating sentient and semi-sentient robots. Biological life evolved to live in our biosphere are very inefficient in space. That will not be our legacy…without substantial genetic engineering over a very long period of time. And none of that helps those trapped at the bottom of our local gravity well for the next few decades. We are trapped in a closed ecosystem. I’m a fan of George Friedman and the political limitations of geography. It’ll be interesting! http://www.amazon.com/The-Next-100-Years-Forecast/dp/038551705X

  • Intersting. Our current work on resource scarcity indicates structural inequality and access rather than resource limits have become the key drivers. The Green Economy emphasis is also part of the next wave of industrialisation. This might be associated with decentralised, less capital intensive forms of industry which involve more labour e.g solar and building retrofit compared with nuclear power? On the other hand the reality of the structural shift to an ageing economy….

  • Writing from the other side of the pond, I’m a bit puzzled at the immediate connections in the comments to population growth. We don’t seem to feel that much over here.
    Second point: you seem to be describing “creative destruction”, which is probably the force most responsible for the success of capitalism. To try to kill creative destruction in the name of income equality or fairness is to kill the goose that laid the egg.
    The biggest issue is opportunity equality, not outcomes equality. The fact that some people “suffer” dislocation with change is unavoidable, as the rate of change is increasing. In the US, extraordinary dignity is shown by people (immigrants are the best example) who work hard and who are focused on ensuring opportunity for their children, not demanding economic parity for themselves.
    Perhaps the answer to your question is to figure out how we we teach people to cope with change, so that change can be an opportunity vs. a sentence.

    • tristanfischer

      I think that you are on to something, which is that for over 250 years the United States has been land of immigration and opportunity. Most children could expect to live better lives than their parents. From a longer historical period and looking at other nations, however, this has not always been the case. Ensuring that all of us are equal is a slippery slope to a socialist dictatorship. That cannot be the goal. Equally, creative destruction has shown to be very destructive for millions of people for multiple generations.

      The concern I have is that increased automation and improved software will make whole areas of our economy people free: from manufacturing to services. The lesson is to figure out what jobs cannot be outsourced to machines or other countries. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, therapists etc all seem to be immune to this kind of outsourcing. If they have jobs, they will have income. With income they can then enjoy the benefits the low cost services and products produced by those machines. This is an opportunity, and not the sentence you allude to.

      • For those who thought that the Chinese low-wage workers would take over the world, the article below is instructive. In fact, this move to automation (if successful, which is no sure thing) would most likely just prevent/delay the assembly jobs from migrating to the next low-wage countries….Africa?

        Migrant Workers in China Face Competition from Robots

        China’s giant electronics supplier Foxconn eyes replacing workers with industrial robots.


        Christina Larson

        Monday, July 16, 2012

        Made in China: A 2010 photo shows assembly line workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, a city in southern China. Shifts are 12 hours, with two breaks for meals at a company cafeteria.

        One of the defining narratives of modern China has been the migration of young workers—often girls in their late teenage years—from the countryside into sprawling cities for jobs in factories. Many found work at Foxconn, which employs nearly one million low-wage workers to hand-assemble electronic gadgets for Apple, Nintendo, Intel, Dell, Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung, and Sony.

        So it was a surprise when Terry Guo, the hard-charging, 61-year-old billionaire CEO of Foxconn, said last July that the Taiwan-based manufacturing giant would add up to one million industrial robots to its assembly lines inside of three years.

        The aim: to automate assembly of electronic devices just as companies in Japan, South Korea, and the United States previously automated much of the production of automobiles.

        Foxconn, one of China’s largest private employers, has long played an outsize role in China’s labor story. It has used cheap labor to attract multinational clients but now faces international scrutiny over low pay and what some see as inhumane working conditions.

        “Automation is the beginning of the end of the factory girl, and that’s a good thing,” says David Wolf, a Beijing-based strategic communications and IT analyst. Wolf, who has visited many Chinese factory floors, predicts an eventual labor shift similar to “the decline of seamstresses or the secretarial pool in America.”

        Since the announcement, Guo hasn’t offered more details, keeping observers guessing about whether Foxconn’s plans are real. (Through its public-relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, Foxconn declined to describe its progress.) Trade groups also haven’t seen the huge orders for industrial robots that Foxconn would need, although some experts believe the company may be developing its own robots in house.

        “Guo has good reasons for not waving his flag about this too much,” says Wolf. Keeping quiet could give Foxconn a jump on competitors. What’s more, with the Chinese economy slowing down, “it is politically inadvisable to talk too much about replacing people with robots,” he says.

        China’s leaders see employment as essential to maintaining a harmonious society. The imperative of creating jobs often trumps that of efficiency. For instance, Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, says that labor-saving equipment isn’t always used even when it’s available. “If all the new tunnels were built with the advanced equipment, that would trim the need for the employment of about six million migrant workers,” he says. “In certain fields we don’t want to have fast development in China, in order to solve the national employment problem.”

        About 300,000 Chinese workers currently live in dormitories at Foxconn’s Longhua factory complex, where Apple products are assembled. Most spend their days seated beside a conveyer belt, wearing white gowns, face masks, and hairnets so that stray hairs and specks of dust won’t interfere as they perform simple but precise tasks, again and again. Each worker focuses on a single action, like putting stickers on the front of an iPhone or packing a finished product into a box. As managers told ABC’s Nightline, which aired a rare look inside the factory in February, it takes five days and 325 steps to assemble an iPad.

        Such highly structured and predictable tasks are well suited to automation, says Jamie Wang, a Taipei-based analyst for the research firm Gartner. Industrial robots, typically equipped with a movable arm, use lasers or pressure sensors to know when to start and finish a job. A robot can be operated 160 hours a week. Even assuming competition from nimble-fingered humans putting in 12-hour shifts, a single robot might replace two workers, and possibly as many as four.

        Wang stresses that Foxconn can’t replace human workers right away because automating assembly lines would require rejiggering its entire manufacturing process. Larger changes in China also won’t occur overnight. Smaller Chinese factories can’t afford to invest in robotics, and factory wages are still relatively low—about $315 to $400 per month in the Pearl River Delta, according to Liu Kaiming, director of a Shenzhen-based labor organization called the Institute of Contemporary Observation.

        Despite that, Foxconn isn’t the only Chinese manufacturer betting on robots. The International Federation of Robotics, based in Frankfurt, tracked a 50 percent jump in purchases of advanced industrial robots by Chinese manufacturers in 2011, to 22,600 units, and now predicts that China will surpass Japan as the world’s largest market in two years. It’s obvious, Wolf says, that industrial robotics “is about to get very hot in China.”

  • Pingback: China has many of the characteristics of an emerging colonial power. How does it compare historically? - History, Future. Now.()

  • Having a highly educated workforce doesn’t create jobs. Our government cannot create jobs – they may rent them or subsidize them, but never create them. Only demand creates jobs.

    Demand is either created by a stronger economy and more spending or by a satisfying an unmet demand. In America we have several unsolved problems that if a solution existed would create millions of jobs.

    1. We have 100,000 K-12 schools and everyone agrees more than half of them are substandard. The only reason we don’t replace them is cities and towns can’t afford them. If they cost 30-40% less that demand could be satisfied, creating millions of jobs.

    2. We need clean AFFORDABLE electricity and yet we haven’t found it. Wind and solar, despite billions in subsidies, are unreliable and 2-3 times current costs per kWh. If we could solve that problem we’d create millions of jobs – real ones, not feel-good highly subsidized ones.

    3. The world has relied on an inefficient agriculture business for too long. Nobody knows what crops will cost next month or next year because it’s a big gamble. Finding a way to produce crops anywhere – despite weather or soil conditions, could create millions of jobs and a valuable product to export.

    4. There is significant demand for urban living by young people (20s and 30s) yet prices are not affordable. For every buyer of a $700,000 condo in San Francisco, there are 1,000 buyers for a similar unit priced at $400,000 – $500,000. Solving that problem would satisfy an existing demand and create millions of jobs in cities across the Country.

    5. Americans are very generous. Each year we contribute $350-$400 billion to charities – here and abroad. If we contributed products made in America for one-third of our contributions – instead of cash, we ‘d create millions of jobs. In the last few years Americans have sent $4-5 billion to Haiti and there’s little to show for it. Experts agree up to one-third of charitable contributions are either misused or stolen. It makes sense to send them what they need, while also creating jobs here.

    It’s time for America to understand job creation and look for solutions. You can see the five solutions above here:


    The most important conversation in America (and the World) right now is about our economy. Having 30 million people unemployed or underemployed won’t be healed with more short-term stimulus funds or tax-cut gimmicks. It’s a big problem that requires an effort to go after demand that is not being satisfied.

    I hope others take this same approach. Incremental “innovation” and government wizardry won’t get the job done. Solving problems with economically viable solutions will.

  • Pingback: Why the loss of middle class jobs will usher in the rise of political extremism - History, Future. Now.()

  • Tricia Lustig

    Nice commentary. All too true both what did happen, what is likely to happen and hte fact that it is being ignored.
    Posted by Tricia Lustig

  • Tom Stroud

    Were it all that simple. There are many not-so-smart hardworking people that can make the most attractive employees in many cases.

    And, there are many smart hardworking people not born into opportunities.

    Many jobs are now shed because of improved demand forecasting on the part of complex consumer supply chains. Smart hardworking people are laid off because 5 factories instead of 8 factories can match demand.

    There is also the continued evolution of the service sector.

    Perhaps the best questions to ask, how do we build a post consumer based economy and how do we better distribute wealth to generate more demand?
    Posted by Tom Stroud

  • Barbara Heinzen

    One area that is always neglected in such conversations is the need to restore the biological wealth of the natural world. This is a labour-intensive enterprise, as I appreciate each time I look out over the 15 acres of degraded land I now own. However, the economic signals are not in place to make paying for the labour anything but a rich man’s fantasy. An ecological economy should be rewarding people and organisations who invest in habitat restoration. Instead, restoration and care is simply a cost with only aesthetic and intellectual rewards.
    Posted by Barbara Heinzen

  • Arnold Kransdorff

    Tristan, all your posts are insightful, just like your ‘History, Future, Now’ statement, a variation of my own perspective that there is a sticky connection between yesterday, today and tomorrow. Unfortunately history is not a fashionable word in the business world, too often considered “dry” and/or irrelevant. Would you know it, Harvard is the only university where business history is a compulsory component of all first-year students.

    Its importance is now more relevant than ever. Since the 1980s most organizations have replaced their entire workforce around eight times. And given that when individuals walk out of the front door, they take with them up to 90% of their employers’ own special knowledge and experience, it means that few organizations are able to benefit from their expensively funded and hard-won hindsight. While exiting employees can theoretically passage their ‘memory’, however remembered, to a new employer, the source organisation is typically left in oblivion.

    In truth, we have huge swathes of industry and commerce without any of their own inheritance and don’t – actually can’t – develop organically, an explanation for all those repeated mistakes, re-invented wheels and other unlearned lessons in which we specialise.

    We need to build the significance of a historical perspective into business and industry, including business education. Instead of using the passé word history, I’ve always referred to the subject as organisational memory (OM). it seems to be catching on. Seehttp://biggernumbers.wordpress.com/
    Posted by Arnold Kransdorff

    • Tristanfischer

      Many thanks for your kind words – greatly appreciated!

  • Stephen Russell

    To Unions, Govt workers, overseas,?
    None in the US if any, right.
    Posted by Stephen Russell

  • Dr Rajah Kumar

    Very thought provoking and serious. In the new industrial revolution we are in Kondratiev’s 5th long wave from 1980 with computers, telecom and internet. Roughly this wave will go on till 2030 for 50 years assuming the past is true for the 4 long waves of 50 years from 1780. Where are we in this wave is any one’s guess from recovery, prosperity, recession to depression. Triston looks at what is in store from now till the next phase if I put words in these paradigm changes. This is one of the reasons whenever I talk to a group of youngsters from west who are unsure about their future with rising BRIC and the challenges it has brought and will bring, I always conclude by saying the future is in their hands. The reason is, where the environment is ready the things will happen as shown by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel. The next phase of automation with factories with few people and manufacturing by 3D printing does not need to be located for cost advantage but will be driven by technology, innovation and market power. This will be unsettling for people like in every paradigm change and the question is what can governments do with such tectonic shifts. The world becomes the play ground for job seekers and job givers and will this lead to more regulation than moving away from regulation. Hind sight is easy foresight is not so.
    Posted by Dr Rajah Kumar

  • Gulnara T.

    Computerization and automation are not solely responsible for fewer jobs on offer, nor the cheap labor markets can be held responsible for that. The population of the planet is ever exploding, subject to improved standards of living, eating up world’s resources. According to some, we have already reached the point of no return. Naturally, more people – more job seekers at dwindling job opportunities so the opportunities feel even more scarce.
    This is to add up to other challenges of the Second Industrial Revolution. So, to tap the population growth and to slow consumption could mean to help ourselves for the sake of better, if not to say some, future.
    Going back to automation and computerization, with aging population in industrialized countries, I am not saying Western because the trend is catching up in Asia, too, automating menial jobs in future could be more necessary that we think.
    The Second Industrial Revolution might be also about the revolution in attitudes and values: sensible spending, responsible consumption of resources – sharing rather than excluding, family planning on a global scale. Yes, instead of more people of working age hence higher birth rate to provide for increasing numbers of pensioners simply more automated equipment to help those old people.
    Yes, and regional economy, not global that enriches greedy multinationals.
    The above said goes, of course, beyond a discussion about fiscal policies but is part and parcel of the whole situation.

HFN on Twitter