Forces Driving Change

I have been reading a lot of history lately, mostly U.S. history from 1620 to 1914, trying to understand the nature of changes that occurred in that period.  The dominant businesses are interesting – cod fish in the Grand Banks, whales in Nantucket and New Bedford, ships for fishing and commerce (including slaves), textiles in Fall River, canals in New York, coal and steel in Pennsylvania, and railroads everywhere.  People migrated for jobs, worked in the same industry generation after generation, and then the economy shifted.  For example, refrigeration was invented and the masses of ice cutters on northern lakes were obsolete.

People were reluctant to change but finally had no choice.  They did not see the changes in the offing and prepare for new vocations.  Consequently, there were often many lean years until they finally moved to where the new opportunities seemed attractive.  I could not find many cases of large numbers of people moving simply for better weather or scenery.  They were usually driven by promised or imagined opportunity.  The next few generations stayed with that opportunity, if it was real, until change was forced again.

Another common pattern was people seeing an emerging trend – cod, whales, canal, railroads, etc. – and thinking that they might catch this trend and become wealthy with minimal effort.  As more and more people got this idea, prices kept increasing.  People began to make lots of money from the speculation itself rather than the canals or railroads.  Eventually the bubble burst and prices plummeted.  As recent history shows, we have a tendency to do this again and again.

There are many forces for change, including technological change, economic need, and outright greed.  Mae West said, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”  However, too much harvesting of cod and whales resulted in these industries disappearing.  Too many railroads, or automobile manufacturers, or airplane manufacturers, eventually led to just a few.  Too many houses being flipped depended on continual soaring prices that were unsustainable.  Good things are only really good for a period of time, not forever.


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