virtual work

The New Sustainable Economy

October 4, 2010


Has the prediction of the end of the post-industrial revolution come to pass?    There has been an ongoing transformation of the U.S. economy away from industrial, manufacturing-based activity into a primarily service-based socio-economic structure.   The decline of the manufacturing sector, the global distribution of capital, and the dominance of service-based employment characterized the end of the 20th century, with explosive changes ignited by the Information Revolution. 

Transitions are often painful in the birthing process.  The shift from an Agricultural economy to an Industrial economy took its toll on farmers and hunters as it expanded new economic sectors like steel, textiles, and construction.

“These shifts also created a new class of super-wealthy investors, financiers, and entrepreneurs, along with an underclass of impoverished and exploited laborers who had no alternatives but to work in low-wage, abysmal factory jobs…   By the mid-1920s, a huge bubble economy was rapidly expanding, on the basis of exploding speculation in stocks and real estate.  None of this was sustainable, however, because a vast proportion of the labor force was not able to enjoy these artificially inflated benefits.  And when the great crash came, it was not simply a bursting of an overhyped stock market – which would have corrected itself in a short time – but the harsh, final throes of realignment in the ‘real’ economy.”[i]

Sound familiar?  Economists, business reporters and the Obama administration have taken great pains to use words like “recession” and “recovery.”   But at some point we have to face the fact that we may never “recover” the economic conditions that prevailed for most of the past few decades.  And not everyone benefited in the post-industrial economy.  A new underclass always emerges, this one based largely on race and region, and it persisted while relative prosperity spread to new segments of the population.  It has now been acknowledged that virtually all of this industrial development was heavily dependent upon access to cheap sources of energy, principally coal and oil.  The fundamental supports of this economy were, again, not sustainable.

The experiences that are slowly unfolding across the country, even across the world, are changing the way a generation thinks and behaves.  Shockwaves of frugality and caution rippled through three generations after the Great Depression.  The dreams of a mythical retirement that drove Baby Boomers to grinding work routines has been shattered for many.  That doesn’t mean their lives are over.  It simply means their plans and dreams must change.  And Generation Z is potentially the first generation in centuries that may not do better than their parents.  That is if we maintain the same definition of success that has driven Americans to work hard and get more and more and more.  What if the economic tsunami that has washed over America changes the values and beliefs that shape the definition of success?  What will the new definition be? 

Everyone should be asking the question, “What industry sectors are going to survive and what sectors will be talked about in the Smithsonian?” It is easy to see the changes in media; like the transformation of distribution channels for CDs/DVDs, books and newspapers, movies and television but what else is coming?  It will be a puzzle, a challenge, a landscape filled with opportunity, this journey toward a new sustainable economy.

[i] The End of the Post-Industrial Economy by dnta

Sat Feb 28, 2009 at 04:21:09 PM PST

You Might Also Like