The Third Industrial Revolution
by Gary Reber
The Economist, in its April 21st-27th issue, has published a MUST READ 14-page special report entitled “The Third Industrial Revolution,” which especially young people should absorb in their assessment of future careers.
THE first industrial revolution began in Britain in the late 18th century, with the mechanisation of the textile industry. Tasks previously done laboriously by hand in hundreds of weavers’ cottages were brought together in a single cotton mill, and the factory was born. The second industrial revolution came in the early 20th century, when Henry Ford mastered the moving assembly line and ushered in the age of mass production. The first two industrial revolutions made people richer and more urban. Now a third revolution is under way. Manufacturing is going digital. As this week’s special report argues, this could change not just business, but much else besides.
The old way of making things involved taking lots of parts and screwing or welding them together. Now a product can be designed on a computer and “printed” on a 3D printer, which creates a solid object by building up successive layers of material. Such additive manufacturing will use new materials, which are lighter, stronger and more durable than the old ones. Carbon fibre is replacing steel and aluminium in products ranging from aeroplanes to mountain bikes. New techniques let engineers shape objects at a tiny scale. Nanotechnology is giving products enhanced features. But additive manufacturing is only one of a number of breakthroughs leading to the factory of the future, and conventional production equipment is becoming smarter and more flexible, too. Factories are becoming vastly more efficient, thanks to automated milling machines that can swap their own tools, cut in multiple directions and “feel” if something is going wrong, together with robots equipped with vision and other sensing systems. Everything in the factories of the future will be run by smarter software. Digitisation in manufacturing will have a disruptive effect every bit as big as in other industries that have gone digital, such as office equipment, telecoms, photography, music, publishing and films. And the effects will not be confined to large manufacturers; indeed, they will need to watch out because much of what is coming will empower small and medium-sized firms and individual entrepreneurs. As manufacturing goes digital, it will allow things to be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibly and with a much lower input of labor, thanks to new materials, completely new processes such as 3D printing, easy-to-use robots and new collaborative manufacturing services available online. Thanks to smarter and more dexterous robots, some lights-out manufacturing is now possible. Manufacturing revolutions never happen overnight, but this one is already well under way. There is enough transformative research going on in the biological sciences and in nanotechnology to spawn entirely new industries, like making batteries from viruses. And if the use of carbon-fibre composites were to spread from sports cars to more workaday models, the huge steel-stamping presses and robot welding lines would vanish from car factories.
“Like all revolutions, this one will be disruptive. Digital technology has already rocked the media and retailing industries, just as cotton mills crushed hand looms and the Model T put farriers out of work. Many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean—and almost deserted. Some carmakers already produce twice as many vehicles per employee as they did only a decade or so ago. Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills. Many dull, repetitive tasks will become obsolete: you no longer need riveters when a product has no rivets.”
“The revolution will affect not only how things are made, but where. Factories used to move to low-wage countries to curb labour costs. But labour costs are growing less and less important: a $499 first-generation iPad included only about $33 of manufacturing labour, of which the final assembly in China accounted for just $8. Offshore production is increasingly moving back to rich countries not because Chinese wages are rising, but because companies now want to be closer to their customers so that they can respond more quickly to changes in demand. And some products are so sophisticated that it helps to have the people who design them and the people who make them in the same place.”
“Consumers will have little difficulty adapting to the new age of better products, swiftly delivered. Governments, however, may find it harder. Their instinct is to protect industries and companies that already exist, not the upstarts that would destroy them. They shower old factories with subsidies and bully bosses who want to move production abroad. They spend billions backing the new technologies which they, in their wisdom, think will prevail. And they cling to a romantic belief that manufacturing is superior to services, let alone finance.”
“None of this makes sense. The lines between manufacturing and services are blurring. Rolls-Royce no longer sells jet engines; it sells the hours that each engine is actually thrusting an aeroplane through the sky. Governments have always been lousy at picking winners, and they are likely to become more so, as legions of entrepreneurs and tinkerers swap designs online, turn them into products at home and market them globally from a garage. As the revolution rages, governments should stick to the basics: better schools for a skilled workforce, clear rules and a level playing field for enterprises of all kinds. Leave the rest to the revolutionaries.”
“FOR OVER 100 YEARS America was the world’s leading manufacturer, but now it is neck-and-neck with China (see chart 1). In the decade to 2010 the number of manufacturing jobs in America fell by about a third. The rise of outsourcing and offshoring and the growth of sophisticated supply chains has enabled companies the world over to use China, India and other lower-wage countries as workshops. Prompted by the global financial crisis, some Western policymakers now reckon it is about time their countries returned to making stuff in order to create jobs and prevent more manufacturing skills from being exported. That supposes two things: that manufacturing is important to a nation and its economy, and that these new forms of manufacturing will create new jobs.”
I have devoted an entire Web site (www.foreconomicjustice.org) and Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/For-Economic-Justice/347893098576250) to advocating for a paradigm shift in economic thinking, which to date is based on one-factor labor worker input and excludes a “reality” discussion of the second factor in production––the non-human factor embodied in productive land, structures, machinery, superautomation, robotics, digitally automated factories, sophisticated computerized operations, etc. As the production/manufacturing/delivery of products and services continues to transform exponentially and employ advancing non-human productive capital digitally realized, the necessity will be to recognize that primary distribution through the free market economy, whose distributive principle is “to each according to his production,” delivers progressively more market-sourced income to the capital owners of the non-human factor and progressively less to workers who make their contribution through labor. This means that the GOAL of Full Employment will not and cannot solve our income distribution problems. We can no longer ignore the advances constantly being made in the scientific world or the business world or the industrial world, which embrace the ever-expanding role of the non-human factor of productive capital input. What needs to be adjusted is the opportunity to produce, not the redistribution of income after it is produced.
The consequences of all these changes, this report argues, amount to a third industrial revolution. YET, throughout the entire 14-page special report, never is the term “OWNERSHIP” addressed. In fact, the entire subject of WHO OWNS the productive capital that comprises the third industrial revolution is NEVER addressed!! The report does, however, raise questions about how many manufacturing jobs will be created.
“As the number of people directly employed in making things declines, the cost of labor as a proportion of the total cost of production will diminish too. This will encourage makers to move some of the work back to rich countries, not least because new manufacturing techniques make it cheaper and faster to respond to changing local tastes.”
“America’s productivity strides raise questions about how many manufacturing jobs, particularly of the white-collar variety, will be created. And some of the manufacturing breakthroughs now in the pipeline will bring down the number of people needed even further.”
“Yet manufacturing will still need people, if not so many in the factory itself. All these automated machines require someone to service them and tell them what to do. Some machine operators will become machine minders, which often calls for a broader range of skills. And certain tasks, such as assembling components, remain too fiddly for robots to do well, which is why assembly is often subcontracted to low-wage countries.”
The government should acknowledge its obligation to make productive capital ownership economically purchasable by capitalless Americans using capital credit, and, as binary economist Louis Kelso states, “substantially assume financial responsibility for the economy through establishing and supervising the implementation of an economic, labor and business policy of democratized economic power.” Historically, capital has been the primary engine of industrialization. But as used, as Kelso has argued, has, as well, “been the chief cause of the institutional deformities that have created and maintained two incompatible classes: the overcapitalized and the undercapitalized.”
We need to arrive at a new market economy structure in which people are in a position to earn the wages of their capital as well as the wages of their labor. In companies that employ people the company would be in a position to be more competitive through lower labor costs and increased technological innovation, while achieving higher employee incomes through the employee’ capital.
If we change direction and systematically build earning power into consumers, we have the opportunity to reverse the depression perpetrated by systematically limiting the 99 percent to labor wages alone and through technology eliminating their jobs. We need solutions to grow the economy in ways that create productive jobs and widespread equity sharing. We need to systematically make capital credit to purchase capital accessible to economically underpowered people (the 99 percenters) in which the income from the capital investment is isolated until it pays for itself, and then begins to produce a stream of dividend income to the new capitalists. This can only be accomplished by enabling every person to have access to productive capital ownership and purchase the capital, and pay for it out of what the capital produces. It’s time good and well-intentioned people woke up and adopted a just third way beyond the greed model of monopoly capitalism and the envy model of the traditional welfare state. This will promote peace, prosperity, and freedom through harmonious justice.
Once this goal becomes the national political focus we will see an unbelievable discussion of workable plans to realize the goal. Remember that planning begins with a vision and a goal. This is not rocket science but it does require national leadership. Implementation requires amending a few laws that basically authorize the transactions that will broaden capital ownership paid for with the future earnings of capital investment. Allowing such transactions will provide incentives for profitable opportunities to employ unused capacity and promote stable economic growth.
Still, after a half-century, we have no leaders with a growth strategy that could restore the economic productiveness of the American economy. The growth strategy I have presented is not new, but it has not yet registered in the minds of leaderless politicians and their advisors from the left to the right of the political spectrum and a population of people who have been mis-educated and mis-led by conventional economists from all the conventional schools of economics.
We need leadership to awaken all American citizens to force the politicians to follow the people and lift all legal barriers to universal capital ownership access by every man, woman, and child as a fundamental right of citizenship and the basis of personal liberty and empowerment. The goal should be to enable every man, woman, and child to become an owner of ever-advancing labor-displacing technologies, new and sustainable energy systems, new rentable space, new enterprises, new infrastructure assets, and productive land and natural resources as a growing and independent source of their future incomes.