I was recently reading Simon Winchester’s book, “The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible” which was published last year. It’s an interesting exploration of important parts of American history that have gotten lost in the standard renditions or even the standard counter-renditions.
He spends a bit of time on New Harmony, Indiana, Robert Owen’s failed utopian experiment because its establishment enabled the growth of geology and geological exploration in the US, which was an important part of his story.
But the description of New Harmony raised a question in my mind. For those of us who have studied even a basic history of the industrial revolution, we’re aware of various reactions over more than two hundred years.
Just for a few examples … There were the Luddites who tried to stop it. There were the utopian communities, like New Harmony, which hoped to offer an alternative to the way industrialization was occurring – sometimes even using industrial tools, but in new forms of society. Along with that, the Romantic Movement in the arts and the Arts and Crafts movement in the US were a kind of a reaction to industrialization.
The modern corporation was invented in response to the need to somehow manage and then build the industrial revolution’s manufacturing plants.
Marx, of course, developed his critique of capitalism which was the predominant form of economic organization that supported and was supported by the industrial revolution. Later still, governments started to enact various laws to improve labor conditions, reduce monopolies, and provide for the more even distribution of the wealth created by the industrial revolution.
We’ve learned to understand these reactions, see them in context and know which failed and which succeeded. That’s easy with the benefit of hindsight.
Although some parts of the world are still in an industrial transition, as I’ve written in various posts, the more economically advanced societies are now going through a transformation as great as the industrial revolution. We are at the beginning of developing and emerging into a post-industrial society, a knowledge economy, a sharing economy, a digital economy, or something we haven’t coined a name for yet.
So here’s my first question: what responses and reactions to this new economy are we seeing now?
Thinking about the longer term:
- Which responses will flame out the way New Harmony did? But what residual benefits will such short-lived responses leave for the rest of this century?
- What new laws do we need and really expect to see? Or even new forms of governance?
- What new business arrangements do we really expect to see? Will we need to invent something as new in the same way corporations were invented?
Trying to look out over many decades into the future as this new economy develops, I only have some inklings and guesses – but no answers. What are your guesses or boldly stated answers?
© 2014 Norman Jacknis