The Service Sector
The Service Sector and Progressive Politics
Have you ever noticed how many political activists romanticise the primary and secondary sectors of the economy? The positives of working on the farm or in the factory are exaggerated and the negatives overlooked. It has struck me as peculiar that nobody seems to have done this for the tertiary sector. This is unusual, as there are many benefits that are arising from the growth and dominance of a service economy, particularly from the perspective of progressive politics. Consider the following:
Ecologically Sustainable Development
In any industry there is a significant level of resource consumption associated with establishing a farm or factory or whatever. Once the site is operational, the level of resource consumed at any one time reduces compared with the time in which it was established. This reduction in resource usage between establishment and operation is much more significant for services than for agriculture or manufacturing. Consider a car factory and then compare it with - say - a cinema. The car factory consumes a particular level of resources for every car it produces. In contrast a particular film reel is produced once but then can be played many times over. Every time it is played a service has been rendered to consumers and wealth has thereby been generated but the resource consumption associated with that product is nominal. Think of other services such as a barber or a website designer to see how little is consumed in producing their product.
It is almost as if wealth is produced from next to nothing. The services sector is driven by humans interacting with other humans moreso than by the use of natural resources and so has much more potential for growth regardless of any natural limits to growth. As such a service economy is much more conducive to ecologically sustainable development than older forms of economy.
A Diverse and Tolerant Society
The services sector depends on the interaction of humans for its existence. Many services can be defined as the conducting of relationships, including the transfer of information from person to person, rather than the making of things. The fewer barriers to human interaction the more vibrant a service economy becomes. Differences of gender, sexuality, culture, creed, generation, locality and interest are overcome by those who wish to have more customers or partners.
Contrary to the old saying, familiarity breeds respect, and the more that prejudice is set aside for the sake of success in working life, the more it will be abandoned altogether. This would be particularly strong in an economic activity that is defined by human interaction. Whether it is a case of correlation or causation, it seems that the growth of the service economy goes hand-in-hand with the development of a more tolerant and diverse society.
What to make of all this?
I have written this short item just to explore some processes and associations that seem overlooked by many. It seems that the development of a service economy may be conducive to key objectives in progressive politics. What are the implications of having political activists recognise this connection?
It may make sense for us to develop policy positions that work alongside rather than contrary to these processes. It may even be worthwhile to factor the prominence of the service sector into political self-promotion - who advocates for the needs of service sector workers as a distinct group in society? In the end however it hardly matters what political activists do. Such processes have a life of their own independent of what governments or political interests may do. The service economy is here to stay and hopefully that is a good thing.