INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: THE SEQUEL
Rifle|November - December 2021
WALNUT HILL
Terry Wieland

This is certainly one for the books: As more and more people find themselves out of work because of technological advances, some prominent voices are suggesting the answer to the perils of the fifth industrial revolution is a return to the very thing the first industrial revolution sought to crush: self-employed craftsmen, slowly and painstakingly producing high quality items.

That’s right: As we witness the relentless ascent of the CNC machine, with one operator doing the work of a hundred people, maybe those other 99 can earn a living wielding a file and making things one at a time.

This view was evinced by none other than Britain’s illustrious newsweekly, The Economist, a voice of sanity since 1843. Quoting a paper that appeared in the Academy of Management Annals, written by five prominent academics, The Economist suggested that the answer to technology-driven unemployment is a return to creativity and high-priced, high-quality, one-of-a-kind items like a Harry Pope target rifle, say, or a Marvin Huey gun case.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but was this not exactly what all the time-and-motion experts and automation gurus have been fulminating against since the first industrial revolution, which kicked off around 1765 with the emergence of the steam engine and the rise of England’s “dark Satanic mills?” Ironically enough, yes.

Readers will notice that I referred above to the first industrial revolution. According to industrial academics, there were actually four, with the world now on the verge of a fifth. The second dates from 1870, with electricity and the internal combustion engine. Then, in 1969, came electronics and the computer, followed by what is called “Industry 4.0,” with change driven by the internet.

As you can see, the first three were spaced a century apart, whereas the fourth came much sooner, and the fifth is arriving more quickly still.

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