When presenting a story of possible futures, I always start with a short journey through the past. The past represents a possible window to the future. Major events throughout history have brought out the best and the worst of humanity. Leaders have emerged in the most difficult of times – and tyrants have as well. A recent book by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge explores the history of Capitalism in America. Robert J. Gordon took a similar journey in his highly acclaimed book titled The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Whereas the authors of Capitalism in America explore the full American journey, Mr. Gordon focuses on what he considers a special century: 1870-1970. Both books highlight the astounding innovation that occurred in the late part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. These innovations improved our standard of living, while the major societal forces of that era (World War One, The Great Depression, and World War Two) presented many challenges. Continue reading
Knowledge is the engine that drives human development – and it has been throughout history. Knowledge expanded in the hunter-gatherer days with the invention of fire. In those days, a human obtained all its food by foraging. Although the source of food did not change, fire allowed humans to cook food and consume more calories. The human brain expanded with this caloric increase, and soon we invented language – the first in a series of innovations that drove the growth of knowledge.
I’ve been talking lately about the two main tipping points in human history: from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, and agriculture to our industrial society. That second tipping point beginning about 1760 ushered in three revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution saw the rise of iron and textile industries and the mechanization of production through the use of water and the steam engine. This second tipping point saw a reduction in physical labor and a shift in where new forms of labor were required. The Second Industrial Revolution started in 1870, riding advances such as electricity, telephone and the internal combustion engine to drive rapid industrialization and globalization. A massive disruption followed, as established sectors were eliminated and new ones emerged.