The market economy is undergoing several and simultaneous transformations. These transformations or ages are striking insofar as each of them seems plausible on its own, but when taken together, they might question or contradict each other. Thus, we should not try to find a general theory of economic or social change. Rather, we should fine tune our abilities to discern and act on multiple economic and social possibilities.
The information age, generates wealth and power through the exercise of knowledge. It came about through the new technologies as well as changes in economic and social preferences, including changing needs of the industrial society.
The postmodern economy of images, depicts the collapse between images and the objects they claimed to represent, as well as the banishing of boundaries between aesthetic and economic domains. The economy becomes dominated by skills where symbolic, creative, artful are core elements (visual arts, graphics/package design, virtual reality, TV and video productions) rather than material production dominating. Fast foods are the icons of the global culture.
The age of global interdependence, refers to the complexity of global manufacturing, where even to generate goods and services for domestic markets require companies to become involve in multiple interactions and relationships. Companies as well as countries and regions that prosper in this economy, are those able to adapt such to economic interdependence. The global economy fosters multiple exchanges creating artistic, scientific, sport and athletic work and markets.
The new mercantilism, considers advanced technologies and sophisticated manufacturing as strategic resources for the prosperity of societies. While more people than ever are employed in services rather than manufacturing, these services depend on advanced manufacturing technologies, produced by companies that invest heavily in research and engineering.
The age of corporate control is related to the rise of global finances, where the largest corporations are owned by countless investors and by other corporations. Under these conditions of wider separation between ownership and control, big multinationals corporations world-wide are controlled by an interlocking and influential managerial elite, performing in a network of mutual obligations which deny corporate power to any outsider (societies with few or any links to the managerial elite would be in trouble).
The age of flexible specialization, is predicated upon the premise that markets for mass products and standardized items have become saturated. In affluent economies, consumers have constantly shifting desires for more specialized goods, almost tailored to individual tastes. Bureaucracies are at a disadvantage in this environment, while entrepreneurial organizations perform better because they are more adaptable to product and service changes. Workers in this setting are more educated, flexible and multi-skilled.
The age of new social movements, addresses the changes that might occur in the identities and alliances of members of dynamic market oriented societies. In this view, economic and social transformation and prosperity creates awareness in social actors (who are better educated and informed) that they could exert force in directing the economy towards social ends. Participants organize around social problems, particularly those which deal with the natural environment and with issues of inequity, violence and oppression.
The age of new fundamentalism arises because of the threat posed by rapid transformations to personal identities, traditional bonds and original values. It recreates a kind of fantasy of eternal verities or permanent conceptual foundations. Different from the new social movements, these fundamentalisms avoid pluralism and compromise.
Our modes of thinking about the economy are under the spell of the 19th and 20th century societies. It is time to develop a new interpretation that can provide wisdom into the changes overtaking the organization of work.
Copyright 1999 QBS, Inc.