The quest for cheap energy and cheap labor is a conquering human urge, one that has played out with notable ferocity starting with the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of coal into British manufacturing and the more recent outsourcing of Western manufacturing to Asia have marked key thresholds in this ongoing progression.
But despite the harvesting of additional productivity gains from the more recent revolution in information technology, the suite of macro data suggests that the rate of advancement in physical production has slowed, notably, in the past thirty years.
Seen in this light, the greatest gains to global industrial production were probably enjoyed from the late 18th century (when coal extraction and use began in earnest) into the mid-20th century (when oil reached broad distribution). In contrast, computers, the Internet, and the leveraging of developing world labor might eventually be seen as the finishing touches on this great industrial wave.
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