They don’t understand that we have a mandate. I can’t just refuse to build these things: it’s my responsibility. All the engines, bridges, and cities that we put in place are nothing in themselves. They’re only makers in what we think of as time—like the separations of notes in music. Why do people resist them so? They are symbols and products of the imagination, which is the force that ensures justice and historical momentum in an imperfect world, because without imagination we would not have the wherewithal to challenge certainty,and we could never rise above ourselves. But look! We have already set the wheels spinning. Their progress impels us forward in like proportion and, when they rise, we too will rise. Such rising, Mr. Maratta, will make the end of history as have known it, and the begins of the age that imagination has known all along. Machines challenge certainly so well. They should not be able to move. But they do. They turn, and move, and never cease—there is always an engine going, somewhere—like generations of silver hearts that keep the faith of the world and stroke imagination in its continued and splendid rebellion. –Jackson Mead in Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
There is an odd feeling that we’re at the beginning of a period of lower quality of life and fewer rewards, that innovation is slowing down, that prosperity is halting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In light of the most recent Democratic debates (and not to mention the repeated call for a return of manufacturing jobs from the more dim GOP candidates) it would appear the theme this year will be who can promise the most without actually using the words “and the kitchen sink” and who can be most socialist without actually quoting Marx. But this is hardly anything new. Liberals and progressives love to whine about minimum wage or living wages (while for some reason not embracing intelligent ideas like a negative income tax), handouts, subsidies, grants, one entitlement program after another. The problem is at the heart of this is not the usual liberal idiocy that sees the economy as a zero sum game of the rich are rich only at the expense of the poor (despite the fact that history has shown that capitalism creates wealth unlike every other system in existence) but an actual belief that seems to think that we have reached the limit of human progress. You see it from the debates about industries that have not seen any advance in a generation, from ideas like too big to fail and the inherent assumption that nothing can replace the behemoths that they think must be saved, the obsession with equality as if the pie will never grow.
And this is just preposterous as we are on the verge of an economic boom that will redefine human existence as much as the discovery of agriculture and industry had done before.
(Just a few highlights of what you can thank capitalism for already.)
Now that seems like a strange claim. After all there are numerous economists out there who will tell you anyone of these advances I’m about to go over won’t have that much of an effect on the economy. That this or that advance will not contribute to the kind of jump in efficiency and quality of life that we saw in the Industrial Revolution…but that’s because they’re not only listening to any one point. Standardized parts didn’t have a huge contribution. Steam engines didn’t have a huge contribution. Cars didn’t have a huge contribution. The assembly line didn’t have a huge contribution. One their own. It was only when these, and a hundred thousand other parts of the Industrial Revolution, both huge and minor, came together that the Industrial Revolution became vastly more than just the sum of its parts.
One of the problems with my side of the aisle is that we have no ability to sell things. This is partly because we have nothing anyone wants to buy. We have work, they have free stuff. We have thinking, they have a government that will do that for you. We have personal responsibility and learning from the consequences of your mistakes, they have bailouts and subsidies for all your needs, wants, and mistakes. Honestly what would you buy? The group promising you only hardship and work and an intrinsic benefit or the one promising you time to have fun and ease and shiny things right now (which always trumped the worldly paradise that religion claimed would come from work and virtue).
But more than that they have us beat with the eventual goal. Goal? What goal? Think about it for a second…since even before Marx the Left has promised a worldly paradise which always trumps the otherworldly paradise promised through hard work and virtue…and certainly more tangible than that Happiness thing promised by Aristotle and Aquinas as the wages of virtue. The Left has always promised a world of equality, harmony and easy living if we just hand over more and more power to the government and then that utopia is just around the corner. Just listen to any leftist, “well Communism just hasn’t been done correctly.” With it the implicit promise that if it did work the world would be great. As if it could ever work if you just had the right people or circumstances. No. No it can’t. It is so antithetical to the very nature of the human it can never work. Guess what, a perfect capitalistic free market has never been tried at any point in history either…but the closer to a capitalistic free market* a society is the better it does–always. Without exception.
But though capitalism has always resulted in increased prosperity we need to also sell the end game better. What kind of world will capitalism bring? Now if you ask any writer in Hollywood they tell you that capitalism will only result in a world where a very few have everything (see In Time, Elysium, Hunger Games, or any other movie that was written by hacks with no understanding of how economics actually works). They confuse corporate cronyism with Capitalism. And this is the image we need to counter. So, seriously what would a world where free market capitalism reigned in the US look like in hundred years? What would a world where real economic liberty reigned look like in two or three hundred years?
So let’s look at what the future holds and why the image that we have reached peak efficient, quality of life, progress, growth, any good thing, is just preposterous.
The Products of Capitalism
For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves.— Aristotle, Politics Book I Chapter 4
The first issue is energy. As has been pointed out hundreds of times, modern economies are run on cheap energy. And due to fracking, shale, deep sea drilling energy is very cheap as we’ve probably all noticed at the pump. But that is still not forward looking.
We are now using vats of algae to grow an algae that can be turned into crude, no thousands of years of pressure and heat needed. It’s not cost efficient now…but I have no doubt that genetically modifying the algae, finding better ways to grow it, and improving the process, and from there the eventual economies of scale that will come into play you will find a a way to triple sweet light crude for less than a barrel costs today. (And we’ll get to this in a moment but this now endless supply of oil means and endless supply of plastic and energy…but mostly plastic for 3D printing.)
But why worry about fossil fuels. Lockheed Martin is working on a fusion reactor. MIT on a working ARC reactor.
And solar technology may not be exactly fuel efficient right now…but it would be foolish to think that efficiency a generation from now will not be greatly improved from where it currently stands.
And the advantage of all of these is that, whether the hysterics of global warming chicken littles hold any value or not, you do want to try and scrub as much of the pollution from fossil fuels from the air as possible for numerous quality of life issues…and with these coming sources of energy the cost of keeping the environment clean will drop drastically. Meaning that not just the base cost of every kilowatt-hour will drop but that the secondary costs will drop as well.
If economies are based on cheap energy then within the next 40 years it is a safe bet that after adjusting for inflation, energy is going to get much much cheaper.
And with this comes the fact that transportation will be cheaper, not just because fuel will be cheaper, but because self driving cars are only about a generation away. Even if we never embrace the greater logic of high speed rail in every nation, self driving cars are coming. Some people think that we’ll never have large scale self driving cars because you can never create a system that could guarantee self driving cars won’t kill people…but you don’t have to get a car that won’t kill anyone, you just have to create a system that will kill less than the roughly 40,000 people killed on streets at the moment. At that point you will see Uber or a bright competitor switch to a cheaper fleet of cars that don’t require drivers. The cost of calling a ride drops drastically. Such a computer system can probably figure out some basic ride sharing algorithms, and the costs are dropped further. Whole fleets of cabs being available you will see a large portion of people stop owning a car because the convenience of owning a car, of having a car available at any moment, becomes something that the market can provide without owning a car itself. Fewer accidents (and the economic costs associated with them), more time saved by not having to drive, more money to yourself as you will not be paying for the car, upkeep, insurance, etc. Even if only 10% that currently have a car choose to give it up for the market provided and cheaper self driving cars, the compounding effects of increased free time and more money have radically compounding effects.
And ordering things will get much easier as the early work on drones is showing that it has potential to help if not replace most shipping options at drastically reduced prices.
Foolish and stupid politicians talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs to American shores…that will never happen because those kind of factories will only be profitable if they can run for more than a generation…And 3D printing is going to do away with a large portion of the manufacturing market within the next generation.
Soon furniture, toys, plastic ware, heck most of what you buy at Walmart will be made at home from a 3D printer. How much of IKEA’s storage space (which seems to be over half of the store) could be replaced by one industrial sized 3D Printer. Not to mention 3D printed cars.
Even with technology as exists today you can already print a working 1980’s Nintendo Entertainment System on a 3D printer for a fraction of the original cost.
Buildings can be 3D printed for a fraction of current construction costs.
And the medical applications are astounding as well.
And replacement parts can be easily made. (Which will among other things drastically reduce the cost of international shipping).
We’re about to enter a world where most of the things we need in life can be either produced quickly and at relatively low cost (yes it’s slow now, but look at the cost of the Internet and cell phones 2 decades ago, 3D printing will get faster and cheaper in just a short time) and that will provide the basics of modern 1st world living to the entire world at the cost of what is now poverty in the 3rd world.
And it will not just effect production and construction time and costs.
But of the products that do still need to be manufactured and transported, 3D printing will even further lower costs. Let me explain how. Right now most international shipping is very inefficient. Those huge cargo ships have to carry multiple backup parts for any part that could even theoretically break. Why? Because you can’t exactly order a replacement one through Fed-Ex when you’re a ship in the middle of the Pacific (at least not yet, but we’ll get to the possibilities of drones). It can take up to a third of those ships to hold all of those parts—a third of the ship taken up with parts that aren’t going to be sold, a third that is not making a profit. But even an industrial sized 3D printer would take up only the size of a single cargo container. With 3D shipping every cargo ship in the world could increase it’s hold size by anywhere between 30-50%. Meaning fewer ships have to carry the products meaning costs drop. (And if we can put those fusion reactors on a ship, then it’s even cheaper).
And if cargo ships have to carry back up parts, then you know the same is true of the far more complex ships in the Navy…which could mean in the short term reducing the amount of tonnage of most ships thus being replaced with 3D printers for backup parts (which means faster ships and less fuel expenditures) and in the long run smaller, faster ships with fewer crew members that can do the exact same job…or in very simple terms, it will cost less, translating into tax savings.
The Industrial Revolution changed the world by taking the million and one jobs a household had a community had to be experts in and allowed people to specialize and drastically lower the costs and efficiency of almost every process and product out there. The 3D Printing revolution (along with the Internet of things) could flip the tables on the Industrial Revolution and take all of those processes the factory and offices took out of the house and return them to an individual’s home for personal control.
And then of course you have what computers and robotics are starting to be able to do. While “The Singularity” where computers become self-aware and start a bad sci-fi movie is an impossibility feared only by people who don’t understand how or why the human mind works, these machines are soon going be able do to remarkable things.
Not only will our cars be driving themselves but within a few years you will have robots designed to fruit and vegetables. One of the remaining industries that requires huge amounts of human energy is soon to be replaced by machines that can work larger farms, for longer hours, at a faction of the cost. Prepare to live to see the price of fresh produce drop by over half (be prepared to see meat drop too as along with all that vat grown algae providing oil, we will soon have vat grown beef…sounds terrible but let’s be honest it’s probably already better than anything at McDonalds and for millions of people who are dying from lack of food in third world countries cheaper produce and cheap protein will make a world of difference…just imagine a world where you never have to hear another sob story commercial begging for “just 5 cents a day you can”…all because of capitalism).
And while those 3D building printers can’t do everything in construction, machines are helping to make up the difference. From machines that can lay brick faster than any human, to hydraulic technology (basically the machine from Aliens) that can allow one person to lift and move what ten couldn’t before. The number of humans needed in construction will drastically be dropped along with the time it takes. (So all that land previous used for storing things that can now be 3D printed can be turned quickly and cheaply into offices. apartments or homes at a fraction of the previous cost).
Oh and the costs for cleaning all those buildings are going to drop too. We all knew the Roomba was only the beginning. Work is being done to create similar devices that can do tile, windows, and even bathrooms. Even if it can only be adjusted to industrial level work and not all the jobs can be replaced by machines, that is thousands of man hours saved by machines.
Now cleaning costs probably don’t seem like much to you or me, but as a Value Added Tax destroys economies by adding pennies all along the lines of production, such saving will ripple through saving costs and freeing up money for profits, expansions, raises.
And this is just the tip, GMO foods holds the promise of ending famine, 3D printed and swine grown human organs hold the potential to the world wide shortage of organs needed for transplants, they’re developing a real medical tricorder…hell NASA thinks they may actually have a faster than light engine!
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The Promise of a New World
Economics is the science of dealing with limited resources. And the innovation that comes with capitalism treats that lack of resources not as a problem of distribution but a problem of finding ways to eliminate that lack. It takes human life which requires 80 hours of work to sustain and reduces it to a mere 40. And it doesn’t stop. Yes we have hit a block because of idiotic policy, but that is only temporary. Some day because of capitalism the work week will only have 30, and then 20 hours. And not just in one nation but in all of them.
And will this lead to the end of all fields? No. New ones will come up and certainly there will be more time and everyone will have time to create their own niche industries and specialty products (which almost everyone will have the disposable income to buy it). Businesses will change, but they won’t end.
And then of course we’ll see the end of built-in obsolescence. Right now as globalization spreads we see companies move into undeveloped areas, pay above the local prevailing wage and within a generation have to move to a new place because the factories and infrastructure has created a thriving middle class that doesn’t make the products…but it does want to buy them. Eventually we’ll run out of third world countries to build up, and cheap workers become more and more limited, companies will have to go back to making products that don’t break down in a few years to remain competitive…which means just about everything you will buy with middle class wages from 20 hours a week will last in your house for a decade or two.
But won’t we have these things no matter what? Yes. Human innovation can’t be stopped, but as in the Dark Ages, the hell of every Communistic country, and the collapse of most of Europe show while human drive may eventually win out there is an extreme difference between having the world I just described in 200 years under capitalism versus thousands of years from now if liberty and free markets are not embraced. Not to mention the billions who may or may not have to suffer due these innovations being created and spread over the globe.
And if I’m right you’ll see war all but disappear as historically democratic-republics (which should be a natural outgrowth of spreading capitalism) have never declared war on each other. Which means that when you get to world wide republics and capitalism there might not be a need for standing militaries (think how much we could save in spending).
And from all of this you’ll probably find that retirement ages will drop and education will need to be going on probably into the mid 20’s just to deal with the complexity of the world.
But I’m not describing a Utopia. It’s nice this world of 20 hour work weeks and maybe only 25 years of working (probably one in which we can actually take a year off every seven years as the Bible actually does command…not sure how they thought that was possible in an agricultural society..but hey…maybe like Aristotle they saw a future of self controlled machines that would leave us to live life.) But it is not Utopia. I may be selling a wonderful vision of the future where we have the free time to live out lives. Where we can work very hard (30-40 hours a week) for ten years and then start up the business or project that we want. Where we have time to find ourselves, to read every book we ever wanted, to consider things that matter…or if we look to more traditional statement of what having wealth can bring you:
If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all.
Those bottom two parts will no longer be an issue if we can fully embrace Capitalism.
Yes we could all have not just the liberty, but the wealth and time to pursue Happiness. But even this great world will not bring Happiness to everyone. In some ways it may be harder because we will not have lots of work to distract us. And some people will retreat further into video games and the internet (or whatever the future version of entertainment and distraction). Not everyone will find Happiness, it will not be a Utopia. I hate to ruin this attempt to sell the future of capitalism with a dose of reality, but I have to be honest. We will certainly have more time to do everything we want, but Happiness will still take great personal effort to achieve. But what I am promising is that if the world embraces capitalism, then everyone will be free of the worries of the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Food, shelter, medical care, security nets, and work will be available to everyone across the globe. The higher levels will still require work but the basics will all be met. But better than any liberal fantasy of utopia, this is possible, this will happen, the only thing is whether we will fully embrace it and see it in only a hundred years or so…or if we continue to let government delay this for generation after generation.
When and if we will see this…
“You can’t stop the signal”–Joss Whedon
I’ve tracked a few lines of logic of how these new technologies will impact and reinforce each other. There are a thousand more I can think of. And millions that I haven’t even conceived of yet.
We are on a precipice for the next 4 years. There is a small slim chance of having an administration that will unleash the flood gates that capitalism promises, and a lot of options for the corrupt and incompetent to try and slow this down.
But these technologies are coming and they will radically reduce the cost of living and increase the quality of life. And even the most vicious of fascists are little more than putting their fingers in a crumbling dyke which is going to break…and nothing is going to stop it. If they are not developed here, they will be developed somewhere, ideas and resources or too scattered to be destroyed or even stopped in a modern world. Slowed down by polices that look to the past out of fear, certainly…but never stopped. The long term benefits of capitalism will come, even if we make an incredibly stupid choice this November, the long-term still looks bright and better than humanity has ever had it. And remarkably by helping to make the necessities of life cheaper we ensure that there is less for the crude populists, fascists, and progressives to bribe people with.
The despair some feel over what is going on right now in politics is not warranted. The future is bright and it will come. Our choices this November only dictate how quickly.
*that means rule of law, protection of liberty, property rights, and contract laws, limited government, open borders for trade, and sound monetary policy.