Economy and Work




Economy and Work:

The economy is a basic social institution which organises production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Every society has to fulfill material needs in order to maintain itself. The basic needs of all its members must be aptly satisfied. Adults today, spend most of their day making a living. So, along with a system of production, and the efficient distributive system is important and equally important is the normative system regulating economic life.
This section thus attempts to explain the economy as part of a complex society. The economy is interdependent with other institutions like family, religion, and political system. In fact, in today’s time, economies are more closely interconnected internationally than ever before.

While understanding the changing nature of work and economy, three broad stages of transformation can be outlined:

(1) Agricultural Revolution:

From hunting-gathering and then pastoral phases, human society entered into a new stage with the discovery of agriculture. Agriculture involved using the technology of large-scale farming using ploughs harnessed to animals. This increased the productive power of hunting and gathering more than ten-fold. With the development of agriculture, food production increased, and more specialized
tasks developed; like designing tools, creating crafts, raising animals. The economy expanded through agricultural technology, the complex division of labour,  permanent settlement, and advanced trade.

(2) Industrial Revolution:

The industrial revolution which happened around the middle of the eighteenth century, first in England and soon after elsewhere in Europe and North America, transformed social and economic life like never before. Industrialisation brought four notable economic changes:

(i) New forms of energy:  With the pioneering invention of the steam
engine in 1765 by James Watt, the use of animal and human muscle energy was significantly reduced. Surpassing muscle power 100 times over, steam engines soon operated large machinery with great efficiency.

(ii) Centralisation of work in factories: Use of machinery gave rise to a new workplace called factory. This was a new centralized and impersonal place of work, separate from home. People now ‘went out to work’ in a new formal public economic sphere.

(iii) Mass production: Industrial economy developed the manufacturing sector
very fast. This involved more and more jobs in manufacturing, which turned raw materials into a wide range of goods. For example, factories transformed timber into furniture and wool into clothing on a mass scale.

(iv) Division of labour: Before industrialization, a craftsperson usually
made products from beginning to end. The factory system reduced the importance of human skills. Machines not only took over human skills but also required specialised division of labour. A factory labourer typically, repeats only a single specific task over and over again. Thus, as factories increased their productivity, they also lowered the skill level of the average worker.
Industrialisation was not limited to transformation in the production system alone. It gradually transformed the whole society. Industrialization steadily raised the standard of living with countless new products and services. On the other hand, since the industrial system is based on large-scale capital investment, it also created huge economic gaps in society.

3. The Information Revolution:

By the middle of the twentieth century, the nature of production started to change. The use of automated machinery drastically reduced the role of human labour in manufacturing. On the other hand, service industries like public relations, banking and sales, media, advertising, and so on, expanded and employed bulk of workers and professionals. 

 Three key changes were seen:
(i) Tangible products to ideas: Before the dawn of the Information Age, the economy was mainly driven by the manufacturing of various goods and materials. Today, the tertiary or service sector providing services and dealing with the production of ideas and symbols is expanding very fast. A range of professionals from computer programmers, writers, financial consultants, architects, advertising executives to service providers like shop assistants, cleaners, security providers represents the workers of an Information Age.

(ii) Mechanical skills to literacy skills: The Information Revolution demands a new set of skills such as literacy skills – the ability to communicate, to write, to present, and use computer technology. New opportunities are available to people possessing these new sets of skills.

(iii) Work from anywhere: Just as industrialisation organised and centralised work under one roof called factories, computer technology is allowing for decentralisation of work. Laptops, mobiles, and accessibility of new information technology can turn any space into a ‘virtual office’.

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