New Paradigm in the Service Economy The Search of Economics for Scientific Credibility: In between Hard and Soft Sciences

After the very long cycle (about 10,000 years) of societal and economic development based on agriculture, followed by a short cycle in which the industrial revolution became the prime mover (for less than 3 centuries), the world has entered a phase marked by the growing and determining importance of service activities (both monetarized and non-monetarized) . This transition is a key to understanding many of the current ‘crises’ confronting humanity and to benefitting from and promoting emergence of a new era in human development. The right starting point is to redefine the notion of value on which the Wealth of Nations is now more and more based. This is not simply a technical issue concerning the growth of services over purely industrialization processes. It implies a fundamental change. In a modern service economy, the production of value starts long before the actual point of manufacturing with fundamental research, continues through numerous stages of technological and social process, and extends beyond the time of sale through a prolonged period of utilisation of products and systems – the true basis for measuring added value), and finally ends with waste disposal (a negative value). All this happens during a period of time largely based on uncertainty and management of all sort of risks (foreseeable and unforeseeable). From this perspective, all the pretentions of classical economics to generate and measure value based on the idea of static equilibrium appear more and more antiquated and inadequate. Prices and costs have to be estimated based on hypotheses including the future.

1. Introduction
The Economic Wealth that has to be developed in the future must, inevitably, take account of the context of the New Economy which is characterized by the predominance of services as factors of production. This, rather than the limits to the industrial revolution, is the key change in economics as the basis for building the wealth of nations. The Club of Rome achieved worldwide renown, sometimes stimulated by strong criticism, after the publication of its report on Limits to Growth in 1972. This was a very critical time since, after World War II the high rate of growth of the economies of most of the industrialized countries had, until then, been around 6% per year. From 1973 until the present this rate of growth has declined, on average, to about 2% and less per year. The “scandal” of the Club of Rome consisted in the fact that doubts were expressed as to the possibility of a continued and, as one would say today, a “sustainable” growth.

This article summarizes another point of view: during these years there has been a fundamental change in the way in which wealth is produced. The industrial revolution, based essentially on investment in new machines, tools and products, had, in all sectors of the economy, given way to the emergence of service functions as the key factors of production. This issue therefore is essentially a view from the supply side of the economy. Through the Club of Rome a series of reports were proposed to support this analysis based on the experience of over two decades in the manufacturing sector as well as in the traditional service sector.1

The difficulty, which persists today, is that classical and neo-economic analysis is still bound essentially to fundamentals linked to a reality in which the manufacturing system would be dominant. When services become the determinant in the production of the wealth of nations the very basic notion of economic value changes its connotations and the issue is, in the end, philosophical: value can no longer be defined as the result of an equilibrium system where disequilibria have to be considered a matter of imperfect information. In the service economy such information is bound to remain constantly imperfect because it involves the utilization of products and systems in time. An ever larger part of costs in the performance of such systems in time is linked to future events where even the duration of utilization is uncertain. The value system, therefore, is basically dependent on the uncertainties of reality.

The assumption is that the deterministic model, which is still dominant in the traditional macroeconomic analysis, has in fact given way to indeterministic systems. As a major consequence, the key economic issue today is that of understanding and managing risks, uncertainty and vulnerability as fundamental problems. Today, the main problem is to redefine value as the basic point of reference for the wealth and welfare of nations.

2. The Legacy of the Industrial Revolution

2.1 Producing Tools and Goods to Increase the Wealth of Nations
Of course economic analysis and even economic theories had existed long before Adam Smith. But it was Adam Smith who, in 1776, laid the foundations of economics as a specific discipline or science, as distinct from more general societal or historical analyses. So why Adam Smith? His impulse was by no means exclusively intellectual. It was prompted essentially by a new economic revolution brought about by the descendants of Adam and Eve in their struggle against scarcity. Indeed, during his lifetime Adam Smith experienced the birth of the Industrial Revolution – the big switch from an agricultural to an industrial economic system.2 This transition is very well illustrated by his opposition to the views of Francois Quesnay, Madame Pompadour’s illustrious doctor, and a physiocrat (the French school famous for the saying “laisser faire – laisser aller”) of even greater celebrity status.

The dispute between Adam Smith and Francois Quesnay focused on the origin of the Wealth of Nations.3 Both had an explanation. For Quesnay, looking at the main source of wealth in France, it was obvious that the wealth of nations derived from a flourishing agricultural system. Adam Smith, however, was more concerned with the new development of manufacturing activities he saw around him in Scotland. Since Adam Smith’s times, the industrialization process has come to be seen as a crucial weapon in the fight against scarcity, as the road of progress leading, in a sense, back to the Garden of Eden. After all, Adam Smith was essentially a moralist, like many other great economists such as Thomas Malthus and Alfred Marshal would later be.

Concentration of production meant that production-consumption for own use began to diminish: specialization increased and with it the need for trade and the exchange of products. It was this phenomenon of the specialization of manufacturing activities and the growth of an independent structure (i.e. a market) to make them available, which provided the empirical background to Adam Smith’s conclusion that the real wealth of nations can be built through the development of the manufacturing process, i.e. industrialization.

The key to industrialization was the increase in productivity, i.e. the ability to use scarce resources so as to produce more goods with fewer resources. Industrial technology had thus moved to centre-stage in the struggle to increase wealth and welfare, in a situation in which both human culture and environment proved capable of developing it and putting it to use in an efficient way.

It is important to note here that the technical leap at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution was not a qualitative, but a quantitative one. Technology has always existed in the form of tools since man first became active. One could equally apply the notion of technological performance to artifacts developed in the animal kingdom (a bird’s nest, for instance).

Intrinsically there is no major difference between the technology of the prehistoric “engineers” who specialized in shaping stones in order to produce arrowheads or cutting tools, and the “engineers” of the first Industrial Revolution who developed tools, which by contemporary standards would be deemed extremely simple. In fact most of the inventions of the first industrial revolution have been designed in such a way that almost anyone of us, without specific university or scientific education, could probably reproduce the same design with the tools available in most hardware stores. The “steam engine” is in fact nothing more than a sophisticated system for controlling the increased pressure produced by a volume of water transformed by heat into steam in a given space. The common pressure-cooker, which many people now use in their kitchen, is based on the very same principle. The real problem is to produce the materials, recipients and related mechanisms, capable of resisting the pressure and controlling its release. Similarly, the notion of the flying weaver-shuttle is very simple: the problem was how to produce a fixed hammer capable of hitting the shuttle with enough force to send it to the other side of the loom.

Only much later, towards the end of the 19th century, did the manufacturing of tools and products start to depend on scientific knowledge, i.e. on the examination and understanding of problems and materials beyond the immediate perception of our senses. We know how to cut a piece of wood and we understand how boiling water transforms into a larger mass of steam. However, we need scientific research to discover that the same molecules found for instance in cotton fibres can be reproduced in a similar, although by no means identical, way by using oil as the raw material. Scientific research and the exploitation of technology based on science thus started to gain ground at the beginning of the twentieth century and have come to be fully and professionally exploited only during and since World War Two.

Up to the middle of the 1920s there was no consistent investment in research laboratories in industry or elsewhere. The cost of production, till then, could be accounted only in terms of the cost of labour and capital. It is only since the 1930s that more and more money has been invested in research and development and this activity has achieved professional status. Nowadays, research and investment, frequently ten to twenty years in advance of actual production, can in some cases cost a company twenty five or even thirty per cent and more of its total sales income.

The period of the Industrial Revolution has witnessed tremendous evolution, punctuated by many discoveries and new technological adventures. The main discontinuity has been the changeover from the sustained period of development of traditional technology that had lasted throughout human history up to the end of the 19th century to a new period in which the main, although not exclusive, impulse has come from the coupling of technological applications with the advance of scientific knowledge. This new process or marriage reached its peak of full maturity after World War Two and has been responsible for twenty-five years of continuous high growth rates in most industrialized and industrializing countries. In terms of quantitative economic growth this has been a unique phenomenon in the entire history of mankind.

The legacy of the Industrial Revolution as a whole has been, then, one of a series of victories in the struggle to increase the wealth of nations giving priority to the production of new tools and products in an increasingly economic way, i.e. enhanced product output for diminished resource input.

1. See Orio Giarini, Dialogue on Wealth and Welfare (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980); Orio Giarini and Walter Stahel, The Limits to Certainty – facing risks in the new service economy (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993) New version published in Germany in 2000 (Metropolis, Marburg) with the title Die Performance Gesellschaft; Orio Giarini and Patrick Liedtke, The employment dilemma in the Service Economy German version Wie wir arbeiten werden (Hamburg: Hoffman-Campe, 1998).
2. R.H. Campbell and A.G. Skinner, Adam Smith (London: Croom Helm, 1982).
3. R. Heilbronner, Les Grands Economistes (Paris: Seuil, 1971), 4648

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