Beginning a hundred and fifty or so years ago, we were cranking up a highly energized production economy that was unprecedented in the history of the world. The British, who had actually invented the industrial revolution, were a few steps ahead of us. But they did not have the benefit of a vast, undeveloped continent, and so we passed them in volume and productivity.
So, for a solid hundred and twenty years or, we Americans were going like gangbusters supplying the world with fancy new mechanized goods. We were setting the standards and benchmarks for new industrial development on such a massive scale that we thought the rest of the world would never catch up.
Well guess what. The rest of the world has now caught up. And furthermore, their newfound economies of scale, and their lean and hungry looks, have enabled the developing nations to surpass us in efficiency and in sales.
Therefore the great American industrial machine is no longer cranking out goods, widgets and whoopfizz things to supply the whole world. The world is supplying itself according to the old dictates of supply, demand, and efficiency. And we are just one bully on that manufacturing hill instead of being, as we once were, the king of the hill.
So what do we do now?
Chris Anderson has spotlighted for us an innovative technological strategy by which we may find a new path of development. Furthermore, it is squarely in the tradition innovative entrepreneurship that made this country great. And he has written a book about it:
Because I have been wondering about this problem for a few years now, I was astounded this morning at the timely profundity of his first chapter. It just seems to me that he has hit on exactly what needs to happen next in our quest for a strategy to revitalize diminishing American manufacture capacities. So here are, without further ado, several quotes:
"America and most of the rest of the West is in the midst of a job crisis… …manufacturing, the big employer of the twentieth century(and the path to the middle class for entire generations), is no longer creating net new jobs in the West. Although factory output is still rising in such countries as the United States and Germany, factory jobs as a percentage of the overall workforce are at all-time lows. This is due partly to automation and partly to global competition driving out smaller factories."
But guess what. There is hope for "smaller factories," and small companies, because of the democratizing effects of the internet web. The developing internet infrastructure of our age is functionally the same as the railroads web that our great-great grandparents built from coast to coast. Their double-tracked steel web ultimately enabled our unprecedented, expansive prosperity, the end of which we now observe in languid perplexity.
My thought is that we've got to find a profitably productive way out of this deadend track, and it won't be accomplished in selling MBSs and CDOs and CDSs in HFT to each other while trying to buy the dips and sell the peaks. No, it ill not. And I think Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine is onto something, a light at the end of the tunnel, as it were, a beam of light shining through the dark clouds of post-industrial obsolescence and capitalist decadence.
Continuing quotes from Mr. Anderson's Makers: The New Industrial Revolution:
"Automation is here to stay--it's the only way large-scale manufacturing can work in rich countries…But what can change is the role of the smaller companies. Just as startups are the driver of innovation in the technology world, and the underground is the driver of new culture, so, too, can the energy and creativity of entrepreneurs and individual innovators reinvent manufacturing, and create jobs along the way."
Now just how, exactly, will this magic bullet of creative entrepreneuship be shot forth?
Are you skeptical of Mr. Anderson's fresh optimism? I was too, as I have generally been for a few years now, ever since about September of '08, until I started reading about his idea. And, as we say in the publishing business, you'll have to read the book to find out what it is! Ha
But hey, I'll give you a hint of what the new approach to design/manufacturing on a massive micro-scale is all about. It has to do with design, and 3-D printing, and the electronic transportability thereof.
3-D printing, at your fingertips, no less! You may laugh. I daresay there were a few laughing at the likes of Edison and Bell and Ford, back in, oh, 1880 or so. And there were a few, no doubt, who laughed at Jobs and Gates and Bezos long about 1980.
Nevertheless, all skeptics aside, there will be some among us who laugh all the way to the bank. Will you be one of them?