“The modern economies that will undergo a fourth industrial revolution will not be those that worship machines, but those that support human creativity.”

by Itai Palti

Growth in the first industrial revolution was driven by engineering, the second through electricity and production lines, and the third by technology and information. The modern economies that will undergo a fourth industrial revolution will not be those that worship machines, but those that support human creativity. When we understand how people think and work best, we will be compelled to put our workers’ well-being first in the name of both health and economic productivity.
For centuries, human health has been systematically traded for economic growth. The word labor originated in medieval Europe during a decline in slavery and widespread adoption of money, and symbolizes the monetization of human skill: “productive work, especially physical toil done for wages.” Its modern definition, and how we perceive productivity, came about through the process of industrialization.

The first, second, and third industrial revolutions

In the mid-17th century, the nature of work changed when rural, agrarian societies shifted to become urban and industrial. Economic growth meant going underground for energy and into factories for manufacturing. The detrimental effects to workers’ health in these industries are well documented: In the name of financial gain, miners and factory workers were subject to hazardous conditions that often resulted in illnesses, physical pain, and early death.

The first industrial revolution presented economic opportunities fraught with dangerous labor. The trade off of well-being for economic benefit was clear: Employers knowingly ran businesses that paid workers not just for their time, but also for their health.

Over time, machines took over from humans in dictating the pace of production, and working hours soared. Rising demand outpaced supply, meaning that businesses could maximize profits by manufacturing around the clock. An extensive study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) into working hours explains how the concept of “working time” in early industrialization was based on the perception that hours spent outside work were regarded as “lost time.”

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