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“Mass production changed human life forever. For the centuries preceding we were primarily an agrarian people living in a natural world, according to our needs and the seasons. Then, literally overnight, most of us were part of some immense process, making a part of a part of something. Universal time didn’t exist until relatively recently, with the establishment of transcontinental railroads. Until then, it had been two o’clock in my village, three in yours. But we needed to agree on the time so we wouldn’t miss our trains. It also took a full generation for the factory owners to get their workers to understand that they had to show up at the same time every day, even if they had enough money for the moment and just didn’t feel like working that day. Last detail—there was, in the nineteenth century, an active campaign, I mean with posters and such, to link poverty with shame. Until then our notion of poverty was more like our notion of cancer—it simply struck some people and not others. But if we’re not ashamed of being poor, we won’t show up for work consistently. In short, it was a profound change, and it was the beginning of the world in which we live now.” – Michael Cunningham (interviewed by Sarah Anne Johnson, “Close Up: Place and Setting”)

Published inEconomics

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