The Next (Regenerative) Industrial Age

October 22, 2012

Last week we visited Dan Swinney, Executive Director of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council and the Center for Labor and Community Research, as Capital Institute puts the finishing touches on our first iBook, The Next (Regenerative) Industrial Age: The Story of the National Manufacturing Renaissance, part of our Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy project.

At our meeting we spoke about Dan’s concern that pundits and policymakers are increasingly referring to a “post industrial” age where manufacturing plays a marginal role in economic and societal transformation. We at Capital Institute agree with Dan that, on the contrary, in the “new industrial age” that is upon us, manufacturing can and must play a central role in restoring our damaged economic, societal, and biophysical systems.

In the following guest post, Dan talks about a growing global movement of innovators committed to values-based, private-public partnerships in support of this new vision for manufacturing.—Susan Arterian Chang, Director of the Field Guide to Investing in a Regenerative Economy project. 

Are we in a “post-industrial” age? Some US policy experts recently used this terminology. This got me thinking. I believe that we are in fact in a “new industrial age.” In the next 20 years, we need to address the challenges of creating a modern, sustainable global society for 10 billion people and solve the challenge of climate change, among other things. Manufacturing is the essential means to this end.

The first industrial revolution was driven by the emerging private sector and gave us modern society as we know it. The limits of a mode of production being guided by those committed to private accumulation of wealth has displayed its limits with the environmental crisis, the growth of income inequality, all the challenges revealed in the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and the various challenges we face in global society. The limits of the first industrial revolution and the consequence of the financialization of our society have become clear.

Fortunately over the last 30-40 years, there has been the beginning of a public/private movement that seeks innovation and development in manufacturing as the means to promote a sustainable and restored society on a global level through manufacturing. This movement shares our values of meeting the full needs of 10 billion people—not just ensuring populations reach survival mode. They see the need to reverse the impact of the first industrial era on the environment with a focus on renewable energy, new sustainable processes through chemistry, bio and nano technology, etc. Production is developed for social needs not only a means for individual wealth.

All of this becomes possible when those with public values (whether from the public or private sector) step directly into the process of production and the creation of wealth. Explicit in this thinking is the recognition of the capacity of the public sector (broadly defined to include government, civil society, and labor) to engage the range of challenges and issues of production as effectively and appropriately as the private sector, and in partnership with a High Road segment of the private sector. One of the real values of Rob Atkinson’s work at the Information Technology and Innovation Fund is to recognize that it will be a private/public partnership that will drive innovation, not just the private sector.

I think there is already a movement for this New Industrial Age. It’s a global movement of those who are committed to a private-public partnership leading innovation in manufacturing to build a society that is economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable and restorative. It includes:

• Leaders in Mondragon, Emilia Romagna, and other European initiatives.
• The high road sector in China’s private and public sectors, and in other countries in both the developed and developing world that may also have different economic systems—capitalist, socialist, and social democratic.
• Innovative leaders in Scandinavia (particularly Finland) who are doing cutting edge stuff in on workplace-based innovation. The Finnish are investing €170 million to become the world best in workplace-based innovation by 2020.
• The US and Australian Manufacturing Renaissance movements.
• And others

I think we are in the early stage of this new industrial age where new partnerships are seeking a global paradigm shift in development. We are contending with the neo-liberal trend and combating the image of the old industrial age. We need to attract “creatives” and entrepreneurs to our efforts. Our creatives should clearly embrace our social objectives, and recognize that the weak bonds they enjoy and love should turn into strong bonds as they come to be part of an emerging and powerful paradigm premised on sustainable development. The kind of shift in the development paradigm is beginning at the periphery of global society, but as it gains strength, it will seek to be at the center.

America? The big question is where does America fit in the global supply chain of this new industrial age? Do we want to be at the high end of advanced manufacturing and production that can be the foundation for broad-based development of our communities, or do we want to play a role focused at the high end of design, finance, marketing etc., that will benefit a much smaller segment of our society? I believe that we want to be the global leaders in advanced manufacturing production as a means to build a truly sustainable and modern American society. To play a lesser role ensures increasing income inequality, the growth of poverty, a reduction in the capacity of the state, an over-proportional contribution to global warming, and a reduction of the social wage as well as becoming increasingly marginal in the global economy.

We should contend to be in the leadership of the New Industrial Age.