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“Hi, My Name is Phil”

Since the Industrial Revolution, business has been all about labor. We invent technologies to save labor, and we shift jobs around the globe in search of cheap labor (to the southern United States and Mexico, then to India and China and, soon, to Africa).

In the future, says Lecturer Paul McManus, executive director, social enterprises and sustainability sector, business will be all about natural resources. As global labor rates equalize (wages are already rising in China and falling in the United States) and natural resources become scarce, business will shift focus. Instead of investing in offshoring and automation, we’ll invest in environmental stewardship and technologies that enable more efficient use of “natural capital.” Low-priced labor and high-priced commodities are the reverse of the Industrial Revolution, says McManus, so “buckle up—the entire global economy could turn upside down.”

This shift won’t bring middle-class jobs back to the United States. “Production is coming back,” says McManus, but it’s robots—not people—doing the work.