COMMENTARY | Reason Magazine has a recent analysis of the 3D printing revolution that ought to terrify the powers that be. People who have the ability to make things are going to undercut businesses from which they have previously had to buy them.
Noting the consternation caused by a 3d printed gun called the Liberator, Reason imagined a world in which cottage industries have made a comeback.
“But if armies of Davids really want to transcend the state, there are even stronger weapons at their disposal: toothbrush holders, wall vases, bottle openers, shower caddies, and tape dispensers. All these consumer goods and more you either can or will soon be able to produce using 3D printers.
“Imagine what will happen when millions of people start using the tools that produced The Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now.
“Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can’t function.”
One suspects that this happy future may not actually come to past, considering the ability of big business and big government’s ability to adapt. How about an ownership tax on 3D printers? Or maybe a tax on the materials that are used to make things?
On the other hand, in the future imagined by Star Trek, something called a “non-monetary economy” adheres because of the replicator, a device that can create anything, thus allowing people to make all the creature comforts. That future also featured cheap, limitless energy, necessary for people making their own shoes and even building their own homes. Will there still be energy companies, or will everyone have their own home fusion unit?
A final thought. Big retail may be able to survive the 3D printing revolution, not be selling things anymore, but by selling designs of things. That will be tough for the eventually to be obsolete occupation of store clerks, but wonderful for product designers.