How open manufacturing is related to the end of neoliberal globalization

Though there is often a focus in the open manufacturing community on technologically enabling individual self-sufficiency as a means to achieving post-scarcity, that comprehensive production capability is a long-way off.

Interesting thoughtpiece by Eric Hunting, from the open manufacturing mailing list:

(this is a must read, a very plausible interpretation of our present and future)

“I think we are talking about a convergence of technology, cultural shifts, and economic factors rather than any particular pivotal technology. Though there is often a focus in the open manufacturing community on technologically enabling individual self-sufficiency as a means to achieving post-scarcity, that comprehensive production capability is a long-way off and will have to achieve a very advanced state -in recycling more than production- to cope with the non-homogeniety of many important materials resources.

I see several key convergent trends that point toward a post-scaricity situation that’s not rooted in just personal industrial technology but rather in the emergence of a Post-Industrial culture combined with a highly automated resource-based (rather than cash-based) global economy. What Open Manufacturing is doing is on the bleeding-edge of a general tend in industrial automation for progressively increasing productivity and production flexibility (mass customization/demand-driven flex production) with systems of decreasing scale and up-front cost. At the same time the economics of manufacturing has used-up the potential of Globalization as a means to exploit geographic spot-market bargains in materials and labor costs and is now dealing in a world of increasingly homogenous materials costs and expensive energy -and therefore transportation- costs. The efficiency of manufacturing logistics really matters now. It no longer makes economic sense to manufacture whole goods in far away places no matter how cheap the labor is. And -though the executive class remains slow on the uptake as usual- the trend is toward localization of production with increasing flexibility. So, ironically driven by the profit motive, commercial manufacturing is on a parallel track to the same goal as Open Manufacturing; progressive localization and diversification of production.

I foresee this producing a progressive ‘commoditization’ of global economics. In other words, global trade will increasingly be trade of commodities materials and components, because it no longer makes economic sense to move finished goods around when their transportation is so inefficient. Commodities trade is highly automated because commodities production is highly automated, produces uniform products, and deals in large volumes relative to the number of workers. Production costs are highly quantifiable when the amortized cost of equipment supersedes the human labor overhead and that tends to factor out the variability in that only remaining (and deliberately) ‘fuzzy’ valued commodity. The result is that there is increasing global price capitulation in the value of commodities – largely because its increasingly difficult to hide costs, find exclusive geographical spot-market bargains, or maintain exclusive distribution hegemonies. Trading systems have a very high and steadily increasing quantitative awareness of the costs of everything and the projected demand and production capacity for everything. At a certain point they can algorithmically factor out profit and can start trading commodities for commodities without cash indexed to projected demand/production. (profit in trade is based on divergence in the perception of value between buyer and seller. Scarcity is often a perception created by hiding data -and that’s increasingly hard to do in a world where quantitative analysis trading knows more about an industry than the CEOs do. When everybody knows ahead of time what the concrete values of everything is and you have an actual open market where everyone has alternate sources for just about everything, profit becomes impossible. The more automated trade becomes, the closer we get this this point as production costs become more quantifiable through automation and computer based quantitative analysis becomes increasingly good at cost, demand, and production deduction) This is what I call a resource-based economy; an economy where resources are traded directly for resources and value-indexed to their demand. This is why I suggest that Jacque Fresco’s Cybernation begins not with some giant ‘electronic brain’ sitting somewhere but, rather, in automated commodities trading networks that evolve so much integral quantitative analysis they just come to know the way the world works -on the numbers- very well and can logically arrive at a model for a basic subsistence overhead for everyone with a sustainable environmental impact derived from very broad/deep demand/production projection.

Of course, a lot of people don’t want to wait for this eventuality. They want to force an end-run to this state through an intentional shift in culture and with engineered systems of alternative resource and goods production. And that’s just fine because all such efforts only accelerate this process and make the transition to a resource based economy easier/less traumatic. We don’t have the means to self-sufficiency on a personal level but we are approaching this capability for intentional community groups of modest and slowly shrinking scale. In these community environments it becomes possible to demonstrate some of the lifestyle benefits that this evolution of production and economics can produce. And independent production doesn’t need to be fully comprehensive to have an impact on the larger economics. It can have big impact near-term on some key staples, like housing and food.”

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