Are we better off now than in 1900?

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Published on July 07, 2014 with No Comments

Daily headlines remind us that we’re not making enough things and this lack of manufacturing is sucking the life out of our economy. But that’s just not true, if Peter Marsh, author of “The New Industrial Revolution,” is to be believed. The world is now undergoing the latest version of an industrial revolution, a new one, where opportunities for creating health, wealth and happiness will be nothing short of spectacular. Or he could be wrong about that. Regardless, Marsh says that today’s Global Industrial Output is around 57 times greater than it was a century ago. Around that time windshield wipers, crayons, double-edged razors and tea bags were the latest “technology.” Of course, world population estimated back then at under two billion, is now estimated at around seven billion. And yes, China took dominance over manufacturing in 2010, but go back to 1800 and you’ll quickly find that China already occupied the top manufacturing spot until it fell into 200 years of decline.

While today’s factories across the globe are making ten billion products every year, that number will be eclipsed by the trend toward mass customization. Combine the technological advances along with the ability for ideas to spread rapidly across the globe, and the trend toward combining and refining those ideas, and the future of manufacturing is a completely different picture. If we believe Marsh’s theory, then it is old-fashioned to think that all manufacturing has moved to China. Anyone anywhere can manufacture anything. Even more collaboration can occur across continents, allowing products to be designed in one place, materials sourced in another, and assembled in a third or fourth or more location. Much more than place, the new Industrial Revolution will be driven by skills, motivation, imagination and creativity. “The social benefits and economic rewards from the emerging epoch will be shared not just by a few countries (as happened in the original Industrial Revolution) but by many.” What he’s really saying is – Don’t worry, be happy.

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