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The “Third Industrial Revolution”: How Technology Can Also Save The Working Class

We’ve talked here about the demise of  blue-collar manufacturing jobs in the US before: as automation establishes itself in industry and companies outsource their jobs to cut down on labor costs even more, Americans (and workers in other developed countries) find themselves with far fewer unskilled factory job opportunities. The revolution of the assembly line carried cities like Detroit on its shoulders, but subsequently dropped them to the ground once fewer workers were needed and cheaper ones could be found elsewhere.

This may paint a dire picture of the future American workforce, but as we’ve noted before, innovation and emerging technology will help to open up new opportunities in America. The Economist also points out an interesting growing trend as well:

The wheel is almost coming full circle, turning away from mass manufacturing and towards much more individualised production. And that in turn could bring some of the jobs back to rich countries that long ago lost them to the emerging world.

3D Printers, for instance, can again make it economical to produce customized, individual products much like craftsmen and cottage industries did before the first Industrial Revolution. These new factories can also move back to rich countries because their labor costs are so much lower with fewer workers, allowing them to reside where their products are sold and react to that market more quickly.

The demise of manufacturing jobs was not some cataclysmic Singularity signaling the end of a prosperous working class. To the contrary, new ideas are always aplenty—and preserving the Blue Social Model only works to hide the need to examine these new innovations and structures of the work landscape.

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  • Anthony

    One thing is constant in modern capitalism: the composition of the labor force is constantly radically altered by technological change. WRM, the intangibles are developing innovations and social arrangements as you imply.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    It’s amazing how the modern Luddites are identical to their earlier version, both think people are going to be replaced by machines and somehow never find another job. And yet they never try to explain how up until the recent bad economy we had full employment at 4% unemployed.

    We can have full employment again; all that’s needed is a capital market that isn’t being drained dry by the Government. $1.3 Trillion in capital loaned to consumers and businesses each year, instead of going into the black hole of Government waste, would create 13 million $100k jobs, and that would be full employment.

    “There is a reason why it’s called Capitalism; it’s because Capital is what Fuels it.” Jacksonian Libertarian

  • Jim.

    3D printers are going to change the world (and possibly more than just that), and their state-of-the-art is moving forward by leaps and bounds. A week and a half ago I was part of a conversation that resulted in a patent that may well revolutionize 3D printing using metals.

    Life is still exciting and full of possibilities, if you spend your time investigating how the world works (physically) and learning as much as you can. Too much potential is wasted on passive consumption of useless media drivel, chasing down what is “cool”, and just living for your next orgasm.

    There is a shortage of master machinists in the old Rust Belt. A shortage! Amongst so much unemployment! How does that happen??

    How people can allow their minds to be eaten away by television and fashion, how people can allow themselves to be influenced by sensation-seekers, when there’s so much to be gained from (near-obsessive) attention to any number of fascinating, useful, and practical subjects, is beyond my understanding.

    Correction: no it’s not beyond my understanding; it’s because our culture has decided it’s fun to wallow in its own decadence.

    Anyone with any influence in this country who cares about our future needs to use that influence to bring down the reign of the lotus-pushers, sweep away the lowest-common-denominator media, and shatter the idols of adolescent sensation-seeking. These are holding us back.

    They must be swept away, for America to experience the Renaissance we so badly need.

  • Luke Lea

    A fantasy. Manufacturing will always be important as long as people use mass-produced goods. Look at the stuff we buy. Labor-saving technology only effects the total volume of employment required to manufacture those goods, not the number of people engaged. Huh?

    The solution to this paradox is a shorter work week. Either that or a new servant class to cater to the rich. Either the North American or the Latin American model. I know which one I prefer. Not sure about the American electorate as a whole however. Are we a nation of sheep? A nation of sheep governed by wolves? Bah, Bah.

  • Luke Lea

    I hate America’s new ruling class. They are voting for a new American people — drawn from third-world countries with no democratic traditions and no sense of the responsibilities of citizenship, of commitment to the general welfare, of American peoplehood in the sense Lincoln spoke about in the Gettysburg Address. I seriously doubt most of them ever heard of the Gettysburg Address. What a tragedy.

    Who is responsible for this tragedy? That’s easy. The new governing elites who came to power in the aftermath of WWII. They need to be replaced. But first they need to be reviled.

  • Luke Lea

    @ Jacksonian Libertarian – “It’s amazing how the modern Luddites are identical to their earlier version, both think people are going to be replaced by machines and somehow never find another job”

    No, my friend, what’s amazing is how you think with the categories of the past. Sure, there’s always more work to do, but only if you think we need a lot of new stuff. After watching my children waste away their time on facebook and playing video games I think we may have topped out in that department. The choice now is between servitude and inequality on the one hand, or an equitable division of leisure, liberty, and the good things of this earth for all people everywhere who live in the Western world.

  • Luke Lea

    You’ve heard of a bespoke suit? Mead is dreaming of a new bespoke economy. He doesn’t realize it but it’s an aristocratic vision.

  • Luke Lea

    In China they have the gun class and the gunless class. Here we have the money class and the moneyless class. At least that’s the way we’re moving.

  • Luke Lea

    We’re drifting inexorably towards a racially stratified class society. A six layer cake with Ashkenazis, Asians, and Anglos at the top, rednecks, browns, and blacks at the bottom. The challenge of the geographic integration and the cultural assimilation before us is like nothing we’ve ever faced before. The waves Eastern and Southern European immigrants a century ago are as nothing compared — they were all European after all.

    If we fail to rise to this challenge it means the death of the American idea. Among other things we need a new governing elite that reflects the ethnic, racial, and geographic diversity of America. That would require affirmative action for all in our gateway institutions (aka Ivy League) to recruite student bodies who reflect that diversity. Right now two small minorities from two small parts of the country monopolize half the places, legacies another big slice, and the other 95% of the country share the rest of the slots (and even those 95% are geographically skewed. The rural and small-town populations of the South and Mid-West are virtually absent from the pool.

    Either affirmative action for all or no affirmative action at all — those are the only two non-discrimative alternatives. Congress should mandate the former as a condition for tax exemptions and federal research dollars. Mercifully Congress does represent the diversity of America even if right now they are under the thumb of our new plutocracy.

    Sorry. I’m really ranting today.

  • thibaud

    Not ranting at all, Luke – you’re spot on.

    3D Printing, Kickstarter etc are unicorns that play the same role for Via Meadia that green jobs do for Van Jones.

    This is a convenient way to deny overwhelming realities with an ideologically-comforting but ultimately marginal distraction.

    We are not Singapore. A huge, advanced nation needs huge employers who produce at scale.

    Should be obvious, but hey, if Veruca wants another pony, then who are we to deny her?

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