3 Phases of the Economy over 10,000 years in two minutes or less.

This history of the economy in many ways is quite simple. The numbers below are approximates and a bit of a mash up taken from several sources to illustrate trends and shifts in our economy.

Here’s a brief 10,000 year summary of the economy in North America and to a certain degrees the Western Hemisphere. Since the dawn of civilization, there have been three drivers of wealth and job creation in the economy. The Agrarian Age, The Industrial Age and now the Creative Age.

The Agrarian Age
For the first 10,000 years of civilization employment and wealth creation was primarily tied to agriculture. At the turn of the 20th century roughly 60% of the labour force was directly or indirectly tied to Agriculture – as a result of innovation, shifts in the economy, the industrialization of agriculture, mechanization and productivity gains that number is now is just below to 2%. This snapshot occurred during the transition from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age.

The Industrial Age
By the mid 20th century the tides had shifted. Just as the  labour force had peaked at 60%  during the Agrarian Age, approximately 50% of the labour force was employed in manufacturing during the Industrial Age, currently that number is just below to 12% due to the recession, automation, global shifts, labour costs and off shoring! This snapshot occurred during the transition from the Industrial Age to the Creative Age.

The Creative Age
Today employment in the Creative Age is approximately 35% where it was only 5% at the turn of the 20th Century. In other words people who are paid to think represent 35% percent of the labour force. Creative class jobs are expected to grow by about 40% over the next decade or so.

Shifting Trends
As we moved from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age employment growth and and wealth creation shifted from one to the other, now we are seeing a similar shift again. If we want to see our communities prosper, we need to make sure we are focused on future economic growth opportunities versus ones from the past. The previous wealth drivers don’t disappear they just diminish in their importance and contribution to wealth creation and employment, while making room for new ones.

Crystal Ball?
In a recent talk I gave, I asked people to imagine that we were at the end of the agrarian age and the beginning of the industrial age and we could choose to invest further in a building a better buggy or a building a new buggy – the automobile. If you invested in the better buggy you would been out of buisness, if you invested in the automobile you would have been as wealthy as Detroit was at its peak mid 20th Century.

We are now in the same cross hairs of time. We are at the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the creative age. If you are building an economy and community are  you going to bet that industrial based manufacturing is going to carry the day or that knowledge, innovation and  technology driven companies is where the future economy is heading. We have a bit of a crystal ball here. I don’t know about you but I am betting on the future not the past! Look what happened to Detroit they missed the shifting trends and are still paying for it today vs. Silicon Valley who is still capitalized on the shifting trends.

What do you think? Please comment with related links and thoughts.

Brief Background & Bio
As economic development officer, I pioneered the practice of Creative Rural Economy, Economic Development in Prince Edward County, Ontario for a decade starting in 2001. Now as the President and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Economic Development Commission and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster my role has expanded to include both urban and rural creative economy work. I have a keen interest in the economics of urban-rural interdependence. I also speak regularly to groups, organizations and conferences in order to help them grow their economies, in Canada and abroad.

Want to Hear More?
I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise to help others on developing Creative Economies – Rural, Small Town & City. To book me for speaking engagements, facilitation, workshops and more click here or email here.


  1. Megan Tsui

    This is a fantastic visual of what Richard Florida, you, and other innovative economists have been trying to tell us! Thank you for this tool. I plan on forwarding this to everyone I know that is interesting in economic development.

    Thank you for helping me do my job better.

    Megan Tsui

  2. Dr Jake Smith

    Great message Dan. I got my PhD about New Zealand’s creative economy. Sadly, in this corner of the world we are still an agrarian economy, and totally missed the Industrial Age. Rural economic development in New Zealand is very very different from Canada or US. In any case, keep up the good work.

    • cre80300

      Thank-you Jake. Drop in a line any time if you would like to exchange ideas.

  3. Aaron

    Thanks for this – curious, do you have a source for this information?

    • Dan Taylor

      Thanks Aaron, This information was gleaned from Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class and Martin Prosperity Institutes 2009 Ontario in the Creative Age Report.

  4. Dimitri A. Carson

    Wow Mr. Taylor, this information further supported my internal belief to build my businessis using technology (in all it’s facets; skype,e -mail, facebook, downloading rather than printing)
    I live in South Africa and some people form my generation ( Gen Y) over here are definately for the creative age rather than the industrial age and reading this article of yours really strengthens my beliefs in technology being the wealth and job creator for decades beyond us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>