In the broadest sense of the word, industrialization is the process of any work undertaken for economic gain and promotes employment which increases societys capacity to produce a wide range of goods (Crow, 2004). The word may be applied to a wide range of activities, from farming to manufacturing to tourism. It encompasses production at any scale, from the local (cottage industry) to the multinational or transnational. Industry in the last 200 years, however, has meant the production of goods, especially when that production is accompanied by machines.
The experience of some of the world’s oldest and largest industrial economies demonstrates the stages of industrialization. In the pre-industrial economies of the United Kingdom and the countries of Northern Europe, most activity was directed towards commerce, concentrating on the feudal system of land ownership and trading. Most people lived at a subsistence level, concentrating on the production of food. Technology was comparatively primitive, and any crafting of wood and metal goods was generally done to support farming, trade, or to provide hardware for everyday use. There was minimal long-distance transportation of goods. The opportunity to accumulate capital to fund economic growth and generate more wealth was limited: land owners kept workers dependent on their economic and physical protection.
Not until the end of the feudal system did the economies of Western Europe begin to explode with economic prosperity. There was a large population of people available to work in industry in by the late 18th century the industrial revolution had arrived. As Crow pointed out in his lecture, summarizing Chattaway and Allen (2000) in their article Industrialization and Development the single market economy enabled a trading class to focus on exports and therefore, the beginning of world trade. This led to a different kind of colonization that enabled the potential for market expansion (Crow, 2004). In the United States, the abundance of raw materials allowed and a rapidly expanding population allowed it to become the worlds leading producer.
The United States revolutionized production with an increase in scale (Chattaway 2000). In 1913, Henry Ford pioneered mass-production methods in his vehicle plants. The analysis of production into its component tasks, which were then performed in order on a production line, allowed higher wages to be paid while reducing operating costs. The US excelled in the techniques of mass production and led the world in productivity. In recent years, however, the “Fordist” approach has become discredited for its lack of flexibility and for diminishing the skills of the labor force. It has been replaced by more flexible and responsive systems of production, especially within East Asian countries.
Particularly in Japan and South Korea, industry took on a new look and feel: flexible specialization. In the post-World War II world, the demand for quality over quantity has gone up and given rise to manufacturing giants known as the Asian Tigers. Their system of production allows for better, more flexible technology, a more conducive workplace for the employee (allowing employee input and self management), a community centered version of production, and just in time production– which cuts back on overstock and space (Film: Korea: Tiger of Asia, 1995). An export centered model of production, along with a large domestic market allowed Korea to rapidly industrialize and become a world power in auto-exporting. Setting an example for the entire world to follow through its industry, Korea and the rest of the Asian Tigers have created a form of production to be emulated by developing countries.
Korea gained its success by focusing on exports to developed countries, where the emphasis on exports was declining (Edwards 1992). Developing nations hope to lead their economies on a similar path to industry as the Koreans did. Countries like Brazil, India, and China have a large, every growing middle class and a growing demand for an internal market. This sets the stage for a similar journey to the relative prosperity that Korea has seen.
Korea and the Asian Tigers experienced rapid industrialization and economic growth with ingenuity and dedication, but many of the lesser developed countries of the world today will not be able to have the same success. The current pre-conditions in many Latin American, South East Asian, and African countries are not conducive to high scale export production. It will be more difficult for these countries to spur their own development; most likely large multinational companies will come in and set up industry in their own way, with their own system. Internal markets will not flourish the way Koreas did and the economic prosperity will be concentrated in the hands a few, out of country neo-colonialists.
Korea got lucky: there was a need for a new system, and they were able to come forth with it. But in the world today this need is rapidly being swallowed by multinationals, and lesser developed countries may very well stay that way: lesser developed.
Crow, Ben. What Is Industrialization. UC Santa Cruz, 10 Aug. 2004.
Edwards, C. “Industrialization in South Korea.” Industrialization and Development. Ed. Hewitt, Johnson, and Wield.
Korea: Tiger of Asia. Videocassette. BBC Productions, 1995.
“Poverty and Development in the 21st Century.” Industrialization and Development. Ed. T Allen, and J Chataway.