The industrial revolution kicked off a wave of growth that the world hadn’t seen in centuries. The simple concept of leverage suddenly eliminated the need for productivity from being tied directly to the amount of labor or thought a single person can generate: and this wave has built over the years. Sometimes ebbing and flowing, but boosted by a few wars and technological developments until much of the developed world hardly has to work in order to survive.
If you think about it, it’s quite a change. Just a few generations ago, your survival depended upon your daily grind, sunup to sundown, work or you die. Many did both.
Depending upon where you live and in which economy you’re doing business in, you might be in different points on this wave of productivity. Fortunately for all, this advancement boosts both the health, quality of life, and span of productivity for everyone. But perhaps unfortunately, with this ease comes negative side affects that we haven’t quite figured out how to shake.
Emerging economies are just on the upswell of this wave, which is why BRICS nations like Russia, Brazil, and China are speedily seeing an improvement in income, health, longevity, and everything else associated with this sudden increase in productivity.
But many see that some countries…ironically the ones which were first spearheading the institution of technology and development…are waning in their productivity. Countries like the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy are seeing numbers shrink as birth rates decline, workforce participation rates decline, and individual productivity plummets from highs seen in the 1970s and 1980s.
With the exception of bubbles like the dot-com boom of the 90s, the real estate bubble of the late 2000s, and the current academic bubble, growth is almost non-existent (or even negative) when compared to inflation and population rates.
As professionals in the western world, we’re living on the momentum of generations of constant growth and production. That’s not to say there isn’t growth out there: there is, but it’s limited to artificially stimulated bubbles, essential industries, and emerging economies.
Because of this, we’ve lost incentive. The need for survival is no longer there for the majority of the western world. Unless you possess an ambitious character or desires for certain gains, there’s little that motivates today’s middle class to exit their own bubble of systemic stability.
Incentive…the promise of something more which provides a motivation to do more…isn’t easily understood, or applied very intelligently, in today’s developed world. I suspect this is because we’re on the tail end of a few generations of success and constant growth. With the exception of a motivated few, we haven’t had to do anything.