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Alfred Sloan, who ran General Motors as president and then chairman from 1923 to 1956, invented “dynamic obsolescence”—using a flurry of new products to whip up demand and make existing models seem out of date.Honda took this idea to an extreme: in 1981-82 it launched 113 models of scooter in 18 months.The frequency with which consumers shop for groceries, which has been declining for a decade or more, may have picked up thanks to the spread of e-commerce. The rate of new consumer-product launches is probably slowing or in decline. A crude gauge of production speed can be gained by looking at the inventories of industrial firms, which mainly comprise half-finished goods, or “work-in-progress”.The ratio of work-in-progress to sales points to a slowdown over the past decade (though if you exclude Boeing, an aircraft-maker, it is merely flat).There are plausible reasons why the pace of business might be even faster this century than in the previous one.The regular doubling of processing power known as “Moore’s Law” has provided decades of exponential growth in computing power.

Ginni Rometty, who is struggling to revive IBM, recently told the , “People ask, ‘Is there a silver bullet?And there is no obvious evidence that outsourced production overseas differs in this respect.At Hon Hai Precision, also known as Foxconn, which makes i Phones and other gizmos in China, things have gone the same way.The unease goes beyond the activities of individual firms to those of the corporate sector as a whole. It is very hard to prove that it is actually happening. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels noted in 1848, it sweeps away “all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions..new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.” Take transport.In his 2014 book, “The Impulse Society”, Paul Roberts, a social critic, decries a system “so hostile to the notion of long-term investment, or commitment, or permanence, that it is becoming incapable of producing anything of durable social or economic value.” The idea that time is speeding up is clearly popular. In 1913 Henry Ford’s reinvention of the assembly line cut the time it took to make a car from 12 hours to 90 minutes.

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