Peter Marsh is the author of The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the End of Mass Production. He worked as a journalist at the Financial Times from 1983-2013, where his most recent job was manufacturing editor. During his time at the FT, he also covered technology, economics and the chemicals industry.
At our last Vital Topics event, Peter explored in depth some of the themes outlined in his work – the impact that developing technology and the spread of innovation and collaboration increasingly have on the pace of manufacture and what that means to the business world as a whole.
How the world makes things has always been important. But in the past couple of years it has also become a big political topic. The manufacturing agenda has started to force its way from being an item of technical debate into the media headlines.
Dominating the entire debate about the future of global manufacturing is China, which took over as the leading manufacturer in 2010. In 1800 China had held number one position, but then suffered almost 200 years of decline.
In the middle of the 19th century Britain was the global leader in industry, stimulated by the Industrial Revolution that started in the textile mills of northern England in around 1780, but its lead position lasted barely five decades. By the end of the century the US had become the top global goods producer. In fact, it was for roughly 115 years before China’s spectacular return to economic health.
Much of the current interest in manufacturing worldwide has been driven by the 2008/09 global financial crisis, triggered by a huge overdose of bank lending and an overextended financial industry in the US, UK and much of Europe.
It led to a serious global recession and required a massive injection of funds from governments to prevent the world financial system from collapse, which led to huge cutbacks in government programmes.
Since then, there has been a tendency to ask whether economic strategists have placed too much faith in finance based businesses as economic drivers rather than ‘traditional’ companies based on making things.
I started writing The New Industrial Revolution as a result of this build-up of anxiety about the world economy and how to get it in better shape. I felt my role as the main manufacturing reporter on the Financial Times gave me a unique and privileged position to inquire into the topic.
After a decade of researching and writing, my belief is that the world is going through a new period of change – a New Industrial Revolution – that will have immense ramifications; namely opportunities for creating health, happiness and wealth. In addition, the social benefits and economic rewards from the emerging epoch will be shared not just by a few countries (as happened in the original Industrial Revolution) but by many.
In the era opening up, there will also be a chance for individuals to excel if they understand fully the nature of the changes, have the correct degree of skills and motivation and act with the necessary imagination and creativity. The world contains huge numbers of people with this mix of attributes. These individuals will be the ‘shock troops’ of the New Industrial Revolution. They will deal an upward push to the world economy unparalleled since the first Industrial Revolution almost a quarter of a millennium in the past.
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