What technology did to economic life throughout the past century can be boiled down to more choice, less security. There is no reason to think that this trend is about to change. In a world in which individuals have an ever-expanding array of options, here's the challenge for individuals and institutions alike: to maximize their ability to seize opportunities and to minimize their exposure to the inevitable disruptions.
At the turn of the previous century, the United States in many ways remained closer to the still-forming nation of 1800 than to anything we would recognize today. In 1900, more than 40 percent of American workers were involved in farming, and manufacturing employed 30 percent. The entirety of the services sector- — from the professions, finance, and retail work to education, government, and "white-collar" activity of every kind — employed less than 30 percent of the labor force. Those figures are roughly comparable to contemporary China's — and radically different from today's American workforce, with more than 80 percent in the services, less than 2 percent in agriculture, and manufacturing making up the rest.
Behind this change in numbers are revolutions in technology, especially the industrialization of agriculture and the mechanization, globalization, and digitization of nearly everything else. The effects on social and economic life have also been nothing short of revolutionary, especially in the nonstop expansion of individual choice and the resulting need for constant institutional change.
The shift in power that has given individuals more choice has also rocked all institutions.
In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, available in any color the customer wanted "as long as it is black." This typified the options available to Americans in many realms. Most grew up, lived, and died within a few dozen miles of their birthplace. That changed only after the sequential disruptions of the Great Depression, World War II, and the rise of the Sun Belt. Women now make up a majority of the American electorate; in 1900, only Wyoming and three other lightly populated Western states let women vote. Such barriers lasted much longer for African-Americans and other minorities.