Thursday, September 06, 2007

Services Surpasses Ag as World's Largest Employer

The International Labor Organization notes an extraordinary milestone in the history of mankind, met and surpassed with no fanfare:

So, firstly, modernization of large ecnomies [sic] is largely bypassing industrialization and going straight for service industries - in our western economies the service sector was about two-thirds of the economy, and has grown further (to 71.2%). But the so large parts of the world economy are moving straight to service industries that their roles have changed. Worldwide, in 1996 agriculture employed 42%, industry 21%, and services 37%. In 2006, the numbers are 36%, 22%, and 42%. So in the period, services has overtaken farming on a global scale.

To me this stuck out as the news of the day. This is a tremendous milestone. In the west we’re accustomed to the farming sector being 4-6% or so, but that certaintly not true in most of the word. You might think the industrial revolution was a long time ago, but the reality is that more people have continued to work in farming. Until sometime in these past few years that is.

And thus passes a tremendous milestone in the history of our species. Farming, invented around 8000 BC, quickly dominated human activity and has so continued to for the following 10,000 years (give or take a few). And we even find that the tradition agriculture->industry->services transition doesn’t hold up globally. The industry segment simply isn’t big enough, so many workers skip to services.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world agricultural production has climbed steadily even as a smaller and smaller percentage of the world's workforce has been devoted to it. This is the definition of improved productivity of course -- a smaller workforce producing equal or superior results.

The United States and the advanced western world have devoted a larger share of their labor force to services than agriculture for many years. It's the sign of an advanced and wealthy economy that so many workers can focus on services to improve the lives of others. The fact that the world as a whole now enjoys this state is an indication that the globe is becoming a more comfortable place to live -- and will continue to improve.

That's not to say that there are not places of extreme poverty and starvation in the world of course; there are. Sub-Saharan Africa is one such place, as are parts of asia. The goal of us in the west should be to continue to promote the spread of western-style capitalism -- which allows the development of capital and the communication of tools for more productive agriculture. We should also continue to eliminate the barriers to trade, which allows all products to flow to where they are most needed.

No comments: