In his book ‘A History of the World’, Andrew Marr identifies a recurring process in the development of societies, from an agricultural revolution that releases enough people from food production in the countryside to enable basic manufacturing in town and cities, through an industrial revolutions leading to more sophisticated manufacturing and a large, rapid rise in the standards of living. This process happened first in Britain during the 18th and 19th century, in the US during the 19th and 20th century and then more quickly in Japan, Korea and Taiwan in the second half of the 20th century. It is happening now and even faster in China with the same ‘grim working conditions in the factories, the raucous enjoyment of plenty by the winners in the cities and a certain recklessness about pollution’ to quote Andrew Marr [Marr, A., A History of the World, MacMillan, 2012]. It is starting in India and Africa might be next, though in the Financial Times on Friday 22nd March, 2013 Chandran Nair argues that we should reverse the flow from the countryside to the cities if we want to achieve a sustainable society. This might just be possible in Africa, probably not in India and China seems set to follow the well-beaten path to urban industrialisation.
What comes next in the process? Perhaps a loss of interest in manufacturing industry, followed by over-spending by individuals and governments, economic recession or collapse and stagnation of growth. Andrew Marr suggests that the wealth based on manufacturing derives from ‘mankind’s extraordinary technical intelligence’ and that there is ‘a long lag in advancing our political and social intelligence’. The stale-mate at the heart of US politics and the failure of successive UK governments to avert a multi-dip economic recession would suggest the need to advance our political intelligence. In the meantime we might lose our technical intelligence if don’t train more graduates in technology [see my post on Financial crisis, 27th March, 2013].