December 8, 2016

How the Industrial Revolution Robbed Men of Work, in a Nutshell

December 8, 2016

The Industrial Revolution is understood as a period of technological and manufacturing innovation that began over two hundred years ago. I often think of this particular historical ‘event’ because of how important it is to our understanding of our present times and its impact on men’s work life.

In reality, the Industrial Revolution continues today. Lewis Hackett sums it up thus:
“The most important of the changes that brought about the Industrial Revolution were (1) the invention of machines to do the work of hand tools; (2) the use of steam, and later of other kinds of power, in place of the muscles of human beings and of animals; and (3) the adoption of the factory system.”

You can see it clearly if you read it between the lines: No more need for hands, muscles, or human beings. This wasn’t the side effect—this was the point. As anyone in the business world will tell you, payroll is the greatest expense of business. Cut that and you will increase your competitiveness and profits. This made the invention of machines a glorious prospect for the businessman and investor.

Machines are cheaper than men.

In the following 1951 photograph, notice that a single garbage truck provided 3 jobs.

City of Toronto Archives. Source: Historicist: Trash Talk | news | Torontoist

Today, thanks to technology, a single garbage truck now provides one (lonely) job.

Image result for modern garbage truck

As seen in the video below, in Loja Ecuador, where such technology has not yet caught up, a single garbage truck can provide four or five jobs and a little bit of community throughout the day.

In other words, it benefits someone out there to figure out how to eliminate jobs.

It gets more interesting when you factor in how in recent decades machine-based manufacturing jobs have been largely shipped to places like China (the cheapest labor around). Walmart is said to be a creator of jobs in otherwise jobless areas. They employ 1% of America, or 1.4 million people so it must be good for us, they say, epecially when 40+ million Americans live in poverty. But on closer look we find that a typical big box retailer like Walmart will employ 100-200 people in a single store and move around $150,000 of goods in a single day. That’s a lot of goods–the majority of which are made in China and other Asian countries. The labor force needed to make all those goods sold each day is far more than a couple hundred people. It’s thousands of people working 11-13 hours a day or more, often sleeping in the factory. If Walmart is creating jobs, it’s not creating them where they build their stores. In addition the worker to customer ratio in a typical Walmart is incredible: 200 workers serve 5000+ customers in a single store each day. That’s 1 worker serving 750 customers needs per month and earning around $1500 for it. There are no skills necessary nor learned as long as they do this.

For comparison, if I repair a single person’s timing chain on their vehicle I earn almost the same amount of money in about 2 days of work. The difference is that I am learning and using a skill that takes time and practice to develop. However, as soon as someone develops a machine to replace timing chains, my skill suddenly becomes worthless and I go back to work for minimum wage pressing buttons to operate it–in sheer boredom. Shoe crafting was once a skill that took time and practice to develop. It made for a mind-engaging and rewarding kind of work. Now, shoes roll on by on a conveyor belt where they are put together by machines and the modern day ‘shoe crafter’ does little more than just watch and put them into a box. He needs no skills.

This is not to attack Walmart nor technology, but to illustrate a very real problem that men have today and one of the big reasons why men are unemployed in droves. Few skilled jobs exist anymore, they are highly competitive, and it costs exorbitant amounts of money for the training. So competitive in fact, that having the necessary skills is no longer enough and in some cases having the right connections is more important. How promising does an economy like that sound? Not very. And because the principle of skill is at the heart of manhood—the fiber of his soul—he suffers.

500,000 Chinese workers provide the labor for Apple, Inc. alone.

Military efficiency: Hundreds of workers line up for roll call at the Pegatron factory in Shanghai, China, which makes iPhones for Apple50,000 Chinese workers in a single Apple plant.

The need and desire to cut human labor is one of the dark side effects of technology and at the heart of the industrial revolution. It shows no sign of stopping today. Already companies are trying to figure out how to create driverless vehicles, drone-powered shipping services, human-less kiosks at fast food restaurants, and on and on and on.

This all bids a very important question for men, especially the biblical man who’s first and foremost call is to work.

“Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” Proverbs 24:27

God created the water for the fish, the air for the birds, and the garden for Adam and put each of them in their respective place—to work. When you take them out of their place, it’s bad news.

If work is being taken away then I think it follows that we must somehow fight to take it back. Or pray for divine intervention. Or both. And that will be a subject of discussion at a later date.

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