Steve Burgess has written an interesting essay for KurzweilAI on “The (Needed) New Economics of Abundance.” You’ll want to read the whole thing.
I agree with Burgess that personal manufacturing (first by fab labs, later by molecular manufacturing) will bring incredible abundance. I also agree that this abundance will be very disruptive to society as it is organized today. I don’t think that fact, as Burgess argues, is going to necessitate incentives on the part of existing business to allow these technologies to be adopted.
Today’s retailers and manufacturers will have as much success in stopping the trend toward personal manufacturing as record companies have had in stopping the rise of digital media outlets like iTunes. Which is: no success at all.
Even if Congress were to outlaw personal manufacturing completely – not a popular move – it would be embraced legally elsewhere and illegally here anyway. It’s far too powerful of a force to stop or even slow effectively.
War is largely fought over scarce resources. Widespread wealth (through universal distribution of PNs) would remove the apparent fuel for most wars.
Well, most wars are fought over resources. Many wars, including the war that we are currently fighting, is over ideology – competing views of how the world should work. The September 11 highjackers weren’t poor or down and out. They were, for the most part, middle-class. It wasn’t a lack of material possessions that fueled their rage – it was a viral ideology.
Perhaps the societies that have succumbed to this viral meme would improve with universal wealth. If the populations that currently produce terrorists get busy loving the good life, maybe their desire to kill infidels will slack off. I certainly hope so.
The problem is whether wealth from personal manufacturing would be universal – or limited to those already in power. Oil wealth hasn’t been widely distributed in Muslim countries. Can we expect a better distribution of wealth from personal manufacturing?
We have reason to be optimistic. Oil requires massive infrastructure that is easily controlled by a central bureaucracy. But if you let a single self-replicating fab lab get smuggled into the Kingdom, the kleptocracy is over.
UPDATE: Don’t miss Will Brown’s response at The Warrior Class Blog.