October 1, 2012 AT 7:29 am

Manufacturing: The latest chapter

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Manufacturing: The latest chapter @ The Economist.

The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalisation and the End of Mass Production. By Peter Marsh.

SOMETHING big is happening to the business of making things. Those who want to understand it are unlikely to find a better guide than Peter Marsh. A writer for theFinancial Times (owned by Pearson, a part-proprietor of this newspaper), he has spent many years visiting factories that make useful things in clever ways. His observations are sharp and his book is a useful corrective to those who associate the word “manufacturing” with “decline”.

Global industrial output was 57 times greater in 2010 than it was in 1900. In other words, manufacturing has grown far faster than the overall economy. The main reason for this is that factories keep getting smarter in ways that hair salons do not. Now, says Mr Marsh, the world is on the cusp of another industrial revolution, driven by several new technologies. Advances in electronics, biotechnology and the internet are accelerating. So is the pace at which innovative ideas spread, and are combined with each other. The volume and variety of goods soars, even as prices tumble. Mr Marsh estimates that the world’s factories crank out some 10 billion different products each year. In other words, there are more unique products than there are people.

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