A Source of Wealth or Stagnation?

by Don Boudreaux on July 6, 2011

in Growth, Innovation, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living

Here’s a familiar but fun scenario to ponder:

Suppose a replicator, similar to the one in Star Trek, is invented.  And what an invention it is!  Each replicator can itself be produced for only pennies.  Its inventor – either out of carelessness or magnanimity – doesn’t patent it.  Competition among replicator producers soon drives the price of replicators down to $7.99 each.

Each replicator allows its owner to produce a wide assortment not only of foods and drinks at near-zero cost, but also flowers, clothing, detergents and other cleaning materials, paints and inks, personal-hygiene products such as soap and toothpaste, contact lenses and eyeglasses, and even antibiotics and other medicines.  Within a couple of years, nearly every household in America has its own replicator.

One plausible consequence of this invention – and the material wealth it makes possible – is that Americans’ demand for leisure rises significantly.

What happens to GDP?  Would the replicator’s failure to ‘create’ lots of jobs cause it to be thought an innovation not quite on par with, say, the assembly line or the automobile?

Should we lament the invention and near-universal use of the replicator?

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{ 125 comments }

rhhardin July 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

I don’t see what holds the price of replicators at $7.99.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 11:33 am

Competition – which should, of course, be stifled. Only regulated firms that regularly submit to cavity searches and painful torture at the hands of government bureaucrats should have the right to manufacture replicators.

Peter McIlhon July 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm

In this case, I don’t see where the competition comes from. How much better can one company make a replicator than the other? I suppose one can make better tasting eggs than the other one, but…actually…nevermind.

Mikekikon July 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

It doesn’t have to compete on quality, just price.

Smash Equilibrium July 6, 2011 at 1:48 pm

License fees due from replicating patented or copyrighted items, perhaps? If so, $7.99 would be a bargain.

vidyohs July 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I don’t see why the first replicator isn’t used to immediately replicate itself endlessly and thus produce copies for virtually nothing.

Peter McIlhon July 6, 2011 at 10:33 pm

That’s a good point. Why couldn’t the first replicator just replicate more replicators?

vidyohs July 7, 2011 at 9:22 am
jcpederson July 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm

The price is at $7.99 because it’s the price of the materials cartridges that kills you.

Single Acts Of Tyranny July 7, 2011 at 12:32 am

ha ha ha…..

Seriously though, thank God you don’t have a dunderhead chief exec in the USA who thinks that improved efficiency is bad for the economy, thus demonstrating staggering economic ignorance, but who nonetheless decides that he knows where jobs will come from in the future because after all, the cash printed out of thin air has been so successful in both creating jobs, keeping down inflation and maintaining the dollar’s purchasing power abroad.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

No, of course not. We should regulate it!!!

What if people replicate stuff that government bureaucrats and busybodies don’t think is good for them? Tragedy.

T Rich July 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Just think of all of the transactions that wouldn’t take place when everyone could make the food, wine, etc that they need/want. And, what would the government do without their cut from every one of those transactions (think sales tax, tax on restaurant foods and wine/liquor sales). Also, if people moved to more leisure and forfeited the additional salary of working an extra X hours per week. Government revenue would collapse. How could they tell retirees and any other bought constituency, “hey, we need to cut your payment.”?

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

T Rich,
Don’t worry. The government will always find a way to rob you. Always.

John July 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Good point — and this particular case already has a government tax solution: the consumption tax. Buy on the internet or make it at home via the replicator if you consume it you must pay your taxes on it.

Pricing the consumption, so a tax can be calculated will be interesting.

Scott July 7, 2011 at 1:43 am

They could impose the wickard vs filburn to see to it that you are not allowed to produce as much as you want for your own personal use.

morganovich July 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm

isn’t this really just a real wages issue?

if the price of a couch drops to a nickel and a steak to tenths of a penny, how much do you really need to work?

99.9% deflation would let you live on an awfully low nominal salary.

John July 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm

The problem an economy such as ours will face here though is the settlement of outstanding debts.

Gil July 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

Can replicators make other replicators?

SaulOhio July 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I’ve always thought that only technology as powerful as a Star Trek style replicator could possibly give us the socialists’ dream of a world without money. But can a replicator fix your leaky roof? You plumbing? Where does al lthe energy needed to run the replicators come from?

I remember a episodes of Voyager where replicator use was rationed because a starship capable of faster than light speed was running low on power. Re-arranging matter on an atomic scale uses a lot of energy.

Tim July 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Then you only saw one episode. The “replicators are rationed” bit was in every show at least once.

Krishnan July 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Ah yes “energy” will be required … And even if we can figure out how to generate energy through fusion (as the Sun does) or perhaps some other way – there will be some progressive who will say “Well, the big bang occurred some 15 billion years ago and the earth will disappear in 15 billion years – and we are consuming things that may shorten the life span of earth … The sun will burn itself out in a few billion years so we better stop making energy from mass”

vidyohs July 6, 2011 at 2:37 pm

You beat me to it, I see.

Perhaps replicators would produce replicators if they could get past the shame of machine incest.

BZ July 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

I will take a stab Dr. Boudreaux.

The replicator will create SOME jobs, of course, even if it is just transporting the things around. However, the newly leisurely Americans will have all this surplus cash they didn’t have before, and will spend it enhancing their leisure: buying tours of museums, watching movies, plays, and concerts, etc. The increased demand for these things will cause their prices to rise.

So, here’s my guess… GDP is unaffected in the long run, but devastated in the short run as former cotton pickers slowly discover they are better off in hollywood filling the increased demand for Dolly Grips.

tdp July 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm

But you could replicate all those things for yourself rather than paying people for those leisure activities, could you not? It might be the end of economics. Once everyone has a replicator, there will be no more scarcity, so nobody will ever have to work for anything.

BZ July 6, 2011 at 7:15 pm

A replicator is like a copy machine — you need an original first. In a world of replicators, I would still want a Peter Jackson-quality movie made of the Earthsea Trilogy. That means actors, and Dolly Grips.

tdp July 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Sorry. I’m not too familiar with Star Trek so I probably misunderstood the concept of replicators.

morganovich July 7, 2011 at 9:56 pm

even if it can create items from nothing, it still needs a design.

you can’t replicate even a rudimentary complex machine without a blueprint and the materials list. consider a wristwatch. it’s got tons of moving parts that you cannot see. you’d need to describe them and what they are made of to the replicator.

i see a booming market for IP or even in items.

wine is not just wine. the IP to create 52 petrus is far more valuable than that for 2 buck chuck.

if i know how to make petrus and you don’t, you might buy wine from me rather than make plonk just as you buy software rather than use freeware.

just because raw scarcity gets eliminated does not mean that scarcity in assembled items is.

there is not that much different in terms of the raw materials of a ford mustang and a ferrari f430. it’s how they were put together.

morganovich July 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm

“So, here’s my guess… GDP is unaffected in the long run, but devastated in the short run as former cotton pickers slowly discover they are better off in hollywood filling the increased demand for Dolly Grips.”

in real terms, this is precisely wrong.

in the short run, you’d get 99.9% deflation for most goods. suddenly, even a paper route could buy you a new car. in real terms, gdp would explode. you could have a new car every day and a new suit and shoes to go with it.

Dan H July 6, 2011 at 11:52 am

(judging by the examples you gave, I’ve assuming the replicator can only replicate items of a certain size and mass, not cars)

- The amount of wealth greatly increases. There is more stuff than before.

- People have much more money left over in their pockets, which they save, invest, or spend on other things replicators can’t make (cars, boats, houses).

- Capital, resources, and machinery once reserved for making things which the replicator can now make are applied to more productive uses. The supply of cars, boats, and other luxury items greatly increases, and thus they become cheaper.

- Since GDP is measured in present dollars and does not represent the amount of MONEY in an economy, but rather the monetary value of all wealth produced in a given year, I would say “Yes”, GDP does increase.

John July 7, 2011 at 8:03 pm

GDP doesn’t really represent the “monetary value of all wealth produced” annually. It measures that value based on the exchange of the materials as they move through the production process. SInce the amount of exchange will fall due to the replicator, it’s all home production, measured GDP should fall. Individuals’ material wellbeing should increase but there will not be any associated market transactions since producer and consumer are one in the same.

Preston Speed July 6, 2011 at 11:58 am

Wealth will only increase as long as we raise tariffs on imports, to prevent the Chinese from selling Americans replicators at $5.99 each.

Tongue-in-cheek, hopefully obviously.

MLM July 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Well considering needs are generally fulfilled. Wants still remain.

You will see a boom in the luxury market giving a whole new meaning to “organic”. “My wine was made with real grown grapes…muhhh”.
Secondly not poking a hole in the replicator theme. But replicators can only do what their name suggests. Invention is still needed for new products; in fact invention would take off considering the basic ingredients and supplies are cheap.

However the market for luxury goods would grow immensely. We are desperate to establish individuality, status, rank and ect in a system constrained by scarcity, imagine a system where scarcity is less of a problem?

Demands will shift especially towards inventive and creative ventures and products. So in short people will create things that cannot be replicated.

Ty Margheim July 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson explored this idea. They didn’t have Star Trek type replicators, but they did have nanotech which could make almost anything.

The demand for hand-made items would go up. Some people would start to value the time and effort that goes into making something unique.

Personal service industries (maids, etc) would become more expensive as fewer people would need to work in those fields to survive.

Repair shops would start to disappear (which already seems to be happening to some degree) because it’s easier to replicate a new item than try to fix an old one.

morganovich July 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm

“Personal service industries (maids, etc) would become more expensive as fewer people would need to work in those fields to survive. ”

i don’t think that owuld be the case at all.

you’d get vast unemployment from the whole manufacturing industry. that would keep wages low.

so would the massive deflation replicators cost. if a day’s food and lodging cost only 2 cents, wages would drop to match.

Slappy McFee July 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Measureable GDP would disappear. With the ability to replicate any good (including currency) there would be no widget I would be willing to trade for. Any exchanges would be limited to the services we could provide for eachother.
In short, you have solved the problem of scarcity. Both the “economy” and “society” collapse because people were able to solve their unlimited wants for material goods, but found it increasingly difficult to trade services.

*Assumptions —
1) The subatomic materials required for replication are universally unlimited.
2) The replicators themselves can be replicated, thereby removing the need to actually purchase one. (think digital music)
3) I don’t need an “original” to replicate. (I can push the TV button without first placing a TV in the replicator) *this is noted in the Holodeck part of the wiki article

STATISTICULOUS July 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I think some people might lobby to outlaw the replicator.

Daniel Kuehn July 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I find this highly unlikely.

Frictions get thrown up. The ATM did cause short term unemployment. People will raise hackles and sloppy allusions.

Let’s not turn these real short-term frictions into some kind of massive long-term Ludditism. I think a lot of people are making mountains out of molehills here.

Daniel Kuehn July 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm

btw – it’s precisely this projection-out-of-sample that makes most reductio ad absurdums such massive logical fallacies. Intro statistics students know the dangers of projecting out of sample. Apparently the lesson is lost on fans of reductio ad absurdum. The reason is clear: sound logic is sometimes less fun to write.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Certainly seems to be a lot less fun for you to write.

Krishnan July 6, 2011 at 1:52 pm

This is certainly a projection out of the sample space – but if we look back – at the actual sample space – what technology has done is to make it far, far easier for people to live and have the ‘luxury’ of time – In fact, I am convinced that BECAUSE of time on their hands, “progressives” are always thinking of how to make things even worse by strangling further development – “stop anything that may case someone to lose their jobs”

It is embarassing to listen to the President of the USA complain about ATM’s and technology – how could anyone with a pulse ignore data on how technology has changed all of our lives for the better – we have better jobs and more things to enjoy even as we continue to see creative destruction

Talking about projection – It is indeed the “progressives” who are almost always “projecting” into the future USING CURRENT technology – “oil will run out in 30 years” or “if all the homes have a phone, we will not have enough copper” or “we will run out of land for food” or …

Daniel Kuehn July 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

And yet the president of the United States has never, ever called for obstructing the implementation of ATM technology…

…odd isn’t it? Maybe it’s because you all are making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe he understands quite clearly that technological progress is good and that you guys are just chuckling yourselves into complete irrelevance over a point I don’t think Obama would disagree on.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Yes, Danny. The president and the congress delegates that responsibility to the alphabet soup of regulators who answer to no-one.

Maybe it’s not that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill, maybe it’s just that you’re uninformed.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

You see the progress which has been made. You don’t see what has been squashed.

Krishnan July 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I am glad you believe that Obama does believe in technological progress. I do not. It is not just what he says, but what he has done.

I am convinced that Obama DOES BELIEVE that technology is in general BAD for jobs – He only sees what he wants to see – he ignores the NET CREATION of jobs because of technology/progress and will do what “progressives” like him always do “See? See how this techno/that techno/gizmo caused Joe Blow to lose his job? As President, I am working to make sure that anyone with a job – ANY JOB – can keep that for as long as that person wants that job” (so, yea, I imagine, he would have loved to outlaw ATM’s and computers and laser printers and email and websites and …) (even as he uses his blackberry and twitter and the internet to gather money for his campaign)

Morbius July 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm

no one can argue with a straight face that Obama understands economics, the purpose of jobs or anything else from a base level about the ideas that will continue to be presented here.

I am frightened because my 13 year old daughter absorbed a better foundation on the subject by living with me and ignoring me than our current or last President has/had.

STATISTICULOUS July 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

How about the long term losses we experience from farm subsidies, tariffs and anti-immigration laws. Interest groups on these issues are imposing costs on Americans. Why do you think manufacturers and farmers won’t lobby to outlaw a product that will put them out of business or at least increase competition in their industries? They already do it.

morganovich July 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

so, you’re saying that the US sugar lobby wouldn’t lobby to ban (or at least tax the hell out of) replicated sugar in just the same way they successfully have done so with imports?

? July 6, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I think it would be banned under the Interstate Commerce Clause and would be upheld by the ruling of Wickard v Filburn.

Scott July 7, 2011 at 7:51 am

Looks like you beat me to the punch on wickard vs filburn

There is plenty of industry after the design of such a device. That is the improvement of other devices.

Had the device been invented around the time of the VCR for instance, people would have still invented the DVD and then blueray. These jobs would still exist – design and manufacture of new products and technologies.

Second, individuals and corporations wishing to profit from their labor would develop technology to limit the number of replications a replicator would be permitted to make for a given good. This technology would be highly desired by other individuals wishing to protect the value of their labor.

Third, individuals and governments would work together for means to limit replication due to the abundance of trash. Now people could replicate their computer just to relieve stress by throwing it out the window.

Dallas Weaver July 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

We already have such an experiment underway where several good of high value are virtually free. We have the rapid increase in non-rivalous goods like Wikipedia and the internet where people can obtain huge value at no cost.

A poor farmer in nowhere-ville can access the internet and find a solution to his immediate problem. That value is real, but free.

How is the GDP measurement respond to this shift?

Krishnan July 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I’d say – almost free – since the farmer (or anyone else) has to spend time reading the wiki and may have concluded that the cost of NOT reading the wiki is greater

GDP as we calculate (AFAIK) cannot account for “information” that is available on wiki’s – but I imagine we can figure out some way to relate the presence of “information” on wiki’s and the production of real goods somehow (if we need to that is)

Jack Costello July 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Judging by his comment on the supposed depredations inflicted on the economy by ATMs, presumably when President Obama watches Star Trek, he bemoans the fact that Captain Picard doesn’t have to employ anyone to make his Earl Grey tea. Indeed, by the president’s logic, surely, instead of being powered by the warp core, the Enterprise should be powered by people employed to run on treadmills all day. No jobs crisis then.
Probably no Enterprise either.

Mark Bahner July 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Hi,

I have a very similar question, but it’s about a much more concrete piece of equipment than a “replicator.”

If Ray Kurzweil is essentially correct, and a computer with the capability of a human mind will be available for $1000 in the 2020-2029 time frame, and a $1000 computer with the capability of the whole (hydrocarbon) human race is available circa 2050, what will that do to world per-capita GDP?

I have predicted that world per capita GDP (in year 2000 dollars) will exceed $10,000,000 by 2100. Arnold Kling has made a similar prediction. (Robin Hanson has said that said that the curve will go up more steeply than Arnold or I predict, but Robin doesn’t seem to want to put a time frame on when this knee of the curve will occur. ;-) )

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/11/why_economic_gr.html

Robert July 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm

There are two limits to the replicator; the size of the replicator limits the size of the item and the time in which the user has. All demand for items the replicator can create would plummet to almost 0 (some people might not use the replicator, i.e. the Amish). Everything the replicator cannot create would be greatly sought after; leisure. Leisure would take over as the main function of the economy. The initial shift (from our current economy to the replicator economy) would cause a collapse of the economy. GDP would be higher because replicator items would not be restrained by government regulations and poorly developed markets. A highly competitive leisure market would allow consumers to maximize their utility.

Mark Bahner July 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Hi,

Sorry, trying to get around the “moderation.”

Mark

I have a very similar question, but it’s about a much more concrete piece of equipment than a “replicator.”

If Ray Kurzweil is essentially correct, and a computer with the capability of a human mind will be available for $1000 in the 2020-2029 time frame, and a $1000 computer with the capability of the whole (hydrocarbon) human race is available circa 2050, what will that do to world per-capita GDP?

I have predicted that world per capita GDP (in year 2000 dollars) will exceed $10,000,000 by 2100. Arnold Kling has made a similar prediction. (Robin Hanson has said that said that the curve will go up more steeply than Arnold or I predict, but Robin doesn’t seem to want to put a time frame on when this knee of the curve will occur. )

markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/11/why_economic_gr.html

Gordon Richens July 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm

“What happens to GDP?”

Your assumption implies that the inventor of the replicator was foolish enough to reproduce the replicator and sell copies, instead of keeping only the original in existence and selling its use. Accordingly, GDP should asymptotically approach zero as more copies circulate and the necessity for trade approaches zero.

Then, as inventors wisen up and keep their new inventions off the market – selling only the use of the originals so that they are not in turn replicated – GDP will slowly climb again. However to the extent that each new invention falls into the hands of someone with a replicator, GDP growth is suppressed.

Gordon Richens July 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Considering human nature, the planet would soon be awash with junk. The inventor of a de-replicator who maintains the only copy would literally and figuratively clean up.

anomdebus July 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Although to us, this is pie in the sky, we still need to bring it to earth to be rational about what would happen.
Replicators will likely require a lot of energy to create its output and you can’t create fuel in a way that is self-sustainable. Yes, you will likely be able to create (for example) solar cells to generate more energy, though it will likely fall well short of the demand. Fusion research would need to become the next big thing. This will likely slow down the introduction of replicators, if only because most people couldn’t afford the energy cost.

Also, just because you can create anything that is in a program, that doesn’t mean you can create good things. Not only would there be money in the old fashioned materials, but also in good programs. Cheap or free programs might get you by, but the good ones will cost you.

LE July 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Wouldn’t such a device greatly reduce the incentive to innovate? That is, if someone can replicate a product and give it to all of their friends and family at essentially no cost, then wouldn’t it be very difficult for an entrepreneur to make a profit on a new product?

anomdebus July 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Innovation and entrepreneurial activity are two separate things. Did garage bands decline because mp3s made it easier to share commercial music?
Btw, replication does not imply duplication. You still need the program to be able to recreate it. For simple, simple single material products, you are right, but that isn’t much different that now. Freed of the constraints of manufacturing, the profitable programs will likely be molecular works of art that push the boundaries of strength to weight ratios. These would be very non-trivial to copy.

John Dewey July 6, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I agree with Dan H:

“Capital, resources, and machinery once reserved for making things which the replicator can now make are applied to more productive uses.”

Those resources would be free to meet the demand for services. And the demand for those services would grow just as fast as they have been growing for decades.

Even if replicators eliminated the demand for manufacturing employees, they would not eliminate the demand for most of the far more numerous service employees. We would still demand the services of physicians, nurses, medical technicians, and orderlies. We would still attend football games and concerts. We would still seek lawyers, insurance agents, and accountants.

All manufacturing jobs would not be eliminated, of course. The replicators might be able to replicate any design, but they wouldn’t be able to create new designs and fabricate the initial models.

All in all, the replicators would simply transform our economy in much the same way that agriculture machinery did. A tiny portion of the workforce would be employed in research and design work just as a tiny portion of the workforce is now employed to operate farm equipment. Just as automation of agriculture freed workers to work on other demands, the replicators would likewise free factory workers to work on other demands.

My guess? GDP would rise just as it has risen the past two centuries.

kyle8 July 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm

A few of those jobs you mentioned would probably disappear. Why would I need insurance of any kind once I have all of my materiel needs and desires met by my trusty replicator?

Likewise, pharmacists. While we may still need surgeons, all the drugs we need would essentially be gotten for free.

What this would do to innovation however is unknown. I suppose some other sort of reward system would have to be assigned to those who we wish to continue to do research into better drugs.

Mark Bahner July 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm

“My guess? GDP would rise just as it has risen the past two centuries.”

The world GDP rise of the past two centuries hasn’t been a fixed rate. It’s been an accelerating rate (add http:)

markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

Time period…Percent Annual Per Capita GDP Growth

1600-1650…………………..0.12
1650-1700…………………..0.18
1700-1750…………………..0.16
1750-1800…………………..0.18
1800-1850…………………..0.87
1850-1900…………………..1.65
1900-1950…………………..1.76
1950-2000…………………..2.83

John Dewey July 7, 2011 at 9:57 am

mark bahner: “The world GDP rise of the past two centuries hasn’t been a fixed rate. It’s been an accelerating rate”

Good point. So let me alter my guess:

“GDP would accelerate just as it has accelerated the past two centuries.”

Mark Bahner July 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Hi John,

Well, that’s weird. I had a response to your revised comment, but my response seems to have been lost.

You wrote: “GDP would accelerate just as it has accelerated the past two centuries.”

However, this ignores the likely influence of computers on economic growth. As Julian Simon noted, it is human minds that cause economic growth. And as Ray Kurzweil has noted, computers are likely to equal and then vastly exceed the capability of human minds in just a few decades.

As I noted on my blog, a reasonable extrapolation of you comment, “GDP would accelerate just as it has accelerated the past two centuries” would be that world per-capita GDP growth would average 2.8% per year in the first decade of this century, increasing to 3.4% per year by mid-century, and 4% per year by the end of the century.

But I predict, due to computers equaling and then vastly exceeding the capabilities of human minds, that world per-capita GDP growth will average 7% per year even by 2040, a mere 29 years from now. In fact, I’ve got money on it. (Google “Long Bets #194″).

Mislav Ilija Vulic July 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I’ll offer just a several observations:

1) Star Trek replicators don’t run on air. They require wast amounts of energy. That is the reason why the use of replicators needs to be rationed in situations where the energy supply is scarce (as seen in ‘Voyager’). Thus it would be necessary to largely increase the supply of energy.

2) Replicators in Star Trek are not universally used for producing everything. In ‘Voyager’ they went to great lengths to acquire ‘natural’ resources (primarily resources needed to produce energy and also foodstuffs).

3) Taking this into consideration, a society dependent on replicators would actually become dependent on energy suppliers. Also, increase in energy demand would increase demand for engineers and other workers needed to maintain the energy-producing and -distributing systems. This would largely increase the political and economic power of the energy sector.

4) With people no longer needing other people to produce material goods, the need for non-material goods would increase. For instance, people would require more education, a lot of new jobs would be opened in the leisure sector etc.

5) Replicators are not copy machines. If we copy something we reduce its quality every time we copy it. Thus, to my understanding, it is necessary to have the exact specifications of the product in the replicator’s data base. These specifications need to be precise to the slightest imaginable detail. This would allow the government to control the catalogue of products available for replication. And it would allow the government to tax the replication of these goods.

Please, comment!

p.s. I’m a Croat living in Croatia so my English might be slightly off. I apologize in advance.

John Dewey July 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Your English didn’t seem off to me, Mislav. Of course, I’m a Cajun from the southern U.S., so my English might be off as well.

I’m not so familiar with Star Trek, but your first three points seem logical to me.

Your fourth point is, IMO, the most important one. Once demands for manufactured goods are satisfied by replicators, demands for services will increase.

Your fifth point is scary – one that I hadn’t considered. Consolidation of agriculture enabled government to exert more influence on the production of food. Perhaps replicators will make it easier for government to also control production.

John Dewey July 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

“Once demands for manufactured goods are satisfied by replicators, demands for services will increase.”

And I fogot to write the other part: once resources devoted to manufacture of goods are freed, the supply of services will increase as well.

kyle8 July 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm

The star trek writers wrote themselves into a corner. You may need an equivalent amount of energy to create mass, as in the equation E=mc2, in which case you would need the power of a small atom bomb to create a steak sandwich.

If the energy costs however are more modest, then what is to stop you from replicating fissionable materials and thus having an endless source of power? Or for that matter, merely producing thousands of solar panels.

John July 7, 2011 at 9:20 am

You don’t need to worry about your english — if you didn’t mention it I doubt anyone would have taken it to be your second language (or 3rd, 4th, 5th — whichever).

You’re right in points 1 through 3 but the thought experiment explicitly assumed those away so that’s changing the game.

I think you’re right about the level of education/knowledge/special skills needed. Clearly the growth industry in the post-replicator world is upgrading the replicators with new product/materials specifications. Coming up with those new things will generally require a solid knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology (depending one just what you’re trying to make). Still, I can definitely see the kids playing with new things by simple trial and error. (Which then opens up the whole question of creating highly unstable molecules/compounds that might immediately blow up spectacularly).

I suspect getting ever better specifications will be a growth industry as well. I’m not sure we need to have the government involved in regulating any and all specifications. The question of dangerous output will certainly lead to such calls and might be the best solution. Alternatively safety controls in the replicator might be sufficient. It’s not clear to me that the replication database would need to be centralized under some government control. I would think it would be a “cloudish” type data set: some would be local, some P2P, some on demand services and some in some corporate and government databases.

Just my thoughts.

Jim July 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Check out this 3D printer / replicator:

http://youtu.be/ZboxMsSz5Aw

Awesome!

vikingvista July 6, 2011 at 2:51 pm

And getting cheaper all the time. You are looking at a future common household appliance.

yet another Dave July 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Jay Leno has been using such a device for years to replicate otherwise unavailable parts for old cars.

http://www.jaylenosgarage.com/extras/articles/jay-lenos-3d-printer-replaces-rusty-old-parts-1/

Martin Brock July 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Mind blowing.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Amazing!

Now, are these printing facilities compliant with all the relevant and irrelevant regs that may or may not pertain to them (depends on the examiner’s mood that day) from OSHA, EEOC, Workers Comp, FTC, FDA, Patent office, EPA and SEC? Somewhere in there they must be violating something so we can put them out of business if they’re donating to the wrong political party.

Krishnan July 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I imagine they are violating some rules for some agency … For example, just because they created that factory and a new printer, means that they have deliberately added additional CO2 to the atmosphere – and as the EPA reminds us, CO2 is as deadly as cyanide (OK, it was the Supremes that essentially said that CO2 is as dangerous as any gas)

All these innovators are the reason we have such a problem with everything …

vikingvista July 6, 2011 at 5:18 pm

We are all inevitably violating some law. That’s part of what makes the state so powerful.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Oh, let’s not forget the deadweight loss of regulation. The endless hours of compliance with useless regulation, the fact that regulators are paid based on how much they confiscate from firms. I know of no business in any industry that is not under severely increased regulatory scrutiny.

Yeah. Our economy is not doing very well because the stimulus wasn’t $16 Trillion. That’s the ticket.

vikingvista July 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm

And you better comply with a smile, or they WILL find an infraction.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

They find them no matter how much you smile. It’s how they get paid.

FINRA, for example, gives examiners a cut of the fees they bring in for egregious violations like interpreting a rule the way FINRA has interpreted it for the previous 35 years and today it decides to interpret it differently because it couldn’t find any other violations to fine you for (FINRA is referred to as “fine-ya” when they’re out of earshot). Rinse and repeat for the building department, OSHA, you name it. If you don’t smile while you’re getting……they will find a way to make you pay millions or put you out of business entirely. Think I’m exaggerating?

No, it’s far easier and cheaper to buy political cover (one call, and the Orc backs off). But, then, all us libertarians start screaming about rent seeking! It’s a marvelous system. Really.

vikingvista July 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Frickin shakedown parasites.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Just think how much these leeches have slowed progress! How many resources have been wasted. How much competition destroyed. Innovation continues, but at an unnecessarily slower pace. What diseases could we have already cured. How much lower is our standard of living because of these ^$#@&? Boggles my mind.

One economists Crain & Crain published a study that estimated the cost of compliance with federal regs (compliance with state and local regs was not included in their study, I believe) was about $1.75 Billion. That’s over 12% of GDP. I can’t believe it’s that low. When you add in state and local regs, the deadweight loss grows.

How many replicators has that cost us? How many new surgical devises? How much leisure time? Ugh.

Methinks1776 July 6, 2011 at 8:05 pm

That was exceedingly bad editing. There were two economists and the cost of compliance was $1.75 TRILLION (my fingers rebelled against such a number) which was about 12% of GDP at the time of the study.

Mary in NW DC July 6, 2011 at 1:25 pm

A replicator would have limits. There are power concerns (how much juice this thing pulls) and quality issues. Remember the early Star Trek people ate what looked like uninteresting crap. In the newer Star Treks (NG, Voyager, DS9) there were products like booze and regional dishes that were not made by replicators, though people had access to one. Also how does a replicator know how to make Earl Grey tea, hot? I figure an Earl Gray tea app, which would create jobs for replicator app writers. Also since human want and need is a bottomless pit, how would replicators create things invented and would the State force you to install something that keeps you from violating those patents and copyrights? Or would inventors make sure that their products were so complex that replicators could only make poor copies?
Even in a replicator world there were still jobs in transportation, mining, defense, retail, maintenance, medical services, restaurant and entertainment management (Quark’s bar) and other jobs requiring skills.

EG July 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm

“a society dependent on replicators would actually become dependent on energy suppliers.”

But we are already dependent on “energy” for producing anything. The only difference, is that energy is abundant, and can come in any number of forms. Undoubtedly, so it would be with such a system. If you can plug it in, you can run it on anything. Just as today, there is competition from different forms of energy sources, and ultimately we are less dependent on any one source of energy, and we have more energy than ever before.

Star Trek is one man’s poor dream of a “socialist” future where things are done for the purpose of “exploration” while we no longer have to care about profits and money and wealth. Except that…who builds the replicator? Who fixes them? Who flies the ships to get them around? Who mines the energy to run them? Who builds the mining equipment? Doing it out of a want to “explore” is such a boring explanation, which is the biggest problem I had with these type of shows. Columbus didn’t discover America because of curiosity!

Don’t we have “replicators” today? “Machines” that turn any input into any output we want? Isn’t that what capitalism is?

PS: You can’t replicate flowers. its a living organism.

Martin Brock July 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm

… who builds the replicator?

All we need to know is that the labor and other resources required to create a replicator and deliver it to market are equivalent to one hour of minimum wage labor, and the replicators then produce practically anything for next to nothing … for the Boudreaux tells me so.

Martin Brock July 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Unemployment would skyrocket initially. People produce blackeyed peas with their replicators, but people growing blackeyed peas in West Virginia are not suddenly available to meet the leisure needs of millions of former blackeyed pea consumers across the United States. A magical replicator displaces people from their current employment far faster than unemployed people can reorganize themselves to produce other goods satisfying markets. Aggregate demand would also fall initially for the same reason.

Of course, if I have a replicator, I don’t need “employment” nearly as much. Who needs a division of labor when everything I want pops out of my replicator?

GDP would plummet, because GDP doesn’t measure the value of things that I produce for my own consumption. If I pay you to mow my lawn, your labor contributes to “GDP”. If I mow my own lawn, my labor does not contribute to “GDP”. Everything produced by replicators for a replicator’s owner would cease to count as “GDP”.

Eventually, people would reorganize to produce other goods for one another. Employment and GDP would rise again, but people’s real consumption far exceeds the level before replicators long before nominal GDP reaches its previous value (ignoring), because much of the prior consumption never contributes to GDP again.

Jim July 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Sure the warts of measuring our current system would show, including the definition of ‘unemployment’ that you used in the first sentence.

Remember, at $7.99 everyone would own one. So if you can replicate all food and consumer goods, are you really unemployed, or idly rich?

But forget the measurements; standards of living would rise.

John July 7, 2011 at 9:33 am

Small quibble but I don’t think you can say unemployment will skyrocket. Employment, defined as working for someone else or in your own business for a market output, will definitely fall as people start producing for themselves at home. It’s not clear that all these people will be looking for work. If you have a replicator most of your material need are met so it’s not disrupted production that will motivate people to look for jobs.

I agree there will be disruptions and unemployment will increase but I’m not sure it will happen with a large initial spike — I think the peak will be a delayed one.

Simon July 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I think that GDP would be boosted enormously. Lost jobs would be quickly compensated by increase of demand for services and energy. In addition to that, enterpreneurs would have to focus on massive innovation as mere production of goods would no longer be demanded (i suppose that replicators only produce pre-defined products and do not innovate themselves, therefore updates would be needed and probably quite costly).

Martin Brock July 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

An open source replicator able to replicate itself?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap

Jim July 6, 2011 at 3:44 pm

The answer is too easy. Everything that is happening now would happen faster.

The replicator would provide such a leap in productivity that services and technologies deemed too expensive would now become common place.

Our standard of living would immediately skyrocket, our freedoms expanded in the same manner that technology has done so in the last 20 years. It would literally transform the world and render poverty moot, just as technology and productivity is doing now on an albeit slower time line.

Also, governments would shrink. There would be little need for social safety nets, or ‘equality’ programs which are now their principal activity. Crime rates would go down even faster since there would be even less need to covet thy neighbor’s stuff

R&D, innovation and investment would make the current S curve look like a horizontal line

We might well conquer space a few years later.

John Dewey July 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

I like your answer. We agree on almost all points/

I’m not convinced, though, that governments would shrink. Humans would still find some sort of status goods to possess and use their abilities to acquire them. Other humans would .still rely on coercion rather than ability to steal those status goods. Politicians would still know how to manipulate envy to gain power.

Sorry that I’m not as optimistic about human behavior changing as your note seemed to be, I hope you are right and I am wrong.

Jim July 7, 2011 at 11:14 am

just thought of another thing. The price of labor would rise significantly, maybe astronomically. Also likely the cost of land.

Inequality, measured as measured in the current form, would also skyrocket, albeit between the merely ‘idle rich,’ and the astronomically rich. Like now, an observer would be hard pressed to tell them apart on the street, but there it is.

Jim July 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

I am sure it is not lost on Don that he was made a more realistic example of the Singularity question, which many people are afraid of because they believe their livelihoods will be replaced by a sentient robot.

kyle8 July 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm

The only real commodity that would remain would be energy, since it is assumed the replicator would require some sort of energy.

If the replicator cannot recreated life itself, then the ultimate means of exchange after replicators would be humans themselves. The demand for human performances, art, sports, instruction, sexuality. These would become the new medium of exchange.

steve July 6, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Forget the replicator, I want a halo-deck.

Jim July 7, 2011 at 11:16 am

You get it! The demand for halo-deck types experiences, and other services, would drive land demand through the roof.

Observer_Guy1 July 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Don, what do you predict will happen to GDP, both in the short term and long term?

Michael Garrison July 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm

Haven’t read all comments, maybe someone mentioned this. My guess would be that research and development spending would increase dramatically as traditional manufacturing became obsolete. There would be a race to invent things that the replicator could replicate. I imagine patents and copyrights would still exist, you would probably have to pay a fee to replicate items protected by law. Initially, unemployment would be high as many blue collar jobs were eliminated, but then would fall as this workforce was retrained to rejoin the workforce in some more advanced capacity (inventors, engineers, and whatnot).

John Dewey July 7, 2011 at 8:54 am

Michael,

I agree pretty much with your assessment. Do you think that, in addition to inventors and engineers, the demand for personal services might also increase? Would consumers demand more personal groomings, more entertainment, and more of other services which could not be replicated?

One more thought: if everyone can receive the same goods through repication, wouldn’t consumers attempt to seek status through some other means? Perhaps having the most personal servants or the most handmade common items or the most works of art might replace having jewelry or driving a Lamborghini.

Michael Garrison July 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm

John,

To answer your question, I have to weigh in on Dr. Boudreaux’s original question regarding the replicator’s effect on GDP. I think GDP would increase. Profit margins for companies producing manufactured goods would increase substantially as the logistics of product distribution no longer present costs. Demand for goods and services wouldn’t decrease, but the cost of manufactured goods would fall drastically, which would leave more money available for purchasing the services you mentioned.

Regarding status, perhaps. I could see someone trying to show status by refusing to pay for a replicated good. For instance, they might buy a coat that has a specific characteristic that proves it’s made by hand. I suppose the replicator could replicate that also, unless the law requires that replicated products have a mark or signature that shows it was replicated. Frauds may show up on the market, but we have that problem now.

Perhaps the government would maintain a central “replicator” patent office (an online database, maybe), and the replicators would only pull “recipes” for making a product from that database. Then, the only way to fraudulently replicate handmade items would be to hack into that government website. At which point, you would be stuck with trying to track down hackers. Which is hard.

John Dewey July 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Michael Garrison: “they might buy a coat that has a specific characteristic that proves it’s made by hand. I suppose the replicator could replicate that also,”

Good point. Hadn’t thought of that.

I suppose, then, that the status symbols would have to be things the replicator could not produce. I’m not a Star Trek fan, but someone said that living organisms could not be replicated. So servants and exotic pets might become tomorrow’s diamonds.

The miniature giraffe owned by the Russian billionaire in the recent DirecTV ad comes to mind.

Michael Garrison July 7, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Ha! Perfect status symbol.

joe cushing July 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I guess you would download ne plans for products off the internet and there would be an intelectual property fight like there is today for music.

kirby July 6, 2011 at 8:28 pm

World hunger disappears, everybody is satisfied and then becomes bored pretty quickly, and then destroys itself in a nuclear winter.

KingsKnight1 July 6, 2011 at 9:03 pm

It’s a very difficult to imagine scenario. I’m thinking of one (only a little) closer to realization, that of cheap, unlimited energy, such as cold fusion.

Paul Andrews July 7, 2011 at 12:32 am

All goods would become subject to intellectual property laws, much as current replicable goods such as software are.

Any goods you purchase would be under a license that prevents you from replicating them (such as when you buy an audio CD today).

Of course, these laws would be widely flouted.

Goods would become very cheap relative to services. There would be a set of core public domain goods on which you could survive for free by replicating them yourself, but premium goods, or fashionable goods, would only be somewhat cheaper than they are today.

Services, which are not replicable, would become more expensive relative to goods.

Ideas would be at a premium – people would use their extra spare time to create brand new goods, as these by definition cannot be replicated from existent goods.

There would be no increase in leisure time and no increase in boredom as the desire to compete for the still-limited non-replicable resources would lead to a continued striving for profit. Non-replicable resources of note here include access to sexual partners; status; love of family and friends; services; ideas; brand new goods; credit.

Herman July 7, 2011 at 12:47 am

I agree with this. Material goods would simply follow the same path that digital goods have followed, e.g. the cost to produce and deliver a marginal copy of an eBook is zero.

So, some guys would develop an open-source deodorant, etc. And they would make money on premium versions or services to custom-design new goods.

But lots of people would lose their obsolete jobs, as those in the newspaper business can attest.

Jim July 7, 2011 at 11:23 am

Intellectual rights might crumble under the weight of universal duplication. You can’t sue the whole population.

The price of labor would rise because so many people would choose ‘retirement.’

Chris Bauer July 7, 2011 at 2:13 am

This thought experiment is eerily similar to one Peter Schiff mentions in this excellent talk at the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgMclXX5msc#t=46m15s

Warren Smith July 7, 2011 at 5:54 am

Refering to “John Dewey comment # 54″:
This would seem to be the response to the printing press, card controlled mechanized loom, etc. All replicators which initially created a temporary unemployment in scripes and weavers but eventually resulted in more jobs being created due to freeing up of labor for alternative tasks and increased demand for cheaper goods.

Scott July 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

The only point in this impossible scenario is to solidify a notion that services are as equally valuable as any other sector of an economy. One really can’t expect to prove an economic theory by submitting a scenario that breaks most of the rules of economics.

John Dewey July 7, 2011 at 8:57 am

Why does one need to prove that services are as valuable as any other sector? We already know that consumers spend as much for services as they do for goods. We know that wages in most services jobs are as high as wages in goods-producing jobs.

John July 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

I think it’s clear that the difference between actual wellbeing and measures like GDP will increase — making intertemporal comparisons using such statistics increasingly biased.

Given that much of our existing economic relationships are credit based a replicator will cause a large disruption here — what happens to the existing debt? Burn it? Let most just default? In the world of the replicator do those bonds represent any meaningful claim on future production or would their becoming worthless represent any real loss in material wealth?

BCanuck July 7, 2011 at 9:33 am

You dont need to get bogged down in sci-fi technicalities to get the point.
What if Napster won the legal battle and anyone with a computer could share and ‘replicate’ as much music as they wanted to? There still would be bands and music.
What if all the countries decided software copyrights were now null and void and you could copy all the software you needed from your friend or neighbor or buy it online $1? Would we all use the same Word or Excel forever? Would ALL the software companies go broke? No, but people would have more money to spend on other things. I’m not sure how ‘GDP’ would be effected but people’s standard of living would certainly go up if everyone had a replicator.

Chris_Y July 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Almost instantly every American would be richer, the poor much more so. Now incomes that made it hard to make ends meet, now go much further, and they even have access to other goods they maybe did without before, like vitamins or other things that wasn’t a priority before. And they’re not only made richer in dollar terms, but also time. The time it takes to go to the store and buy items, and prepare food and drink items will also dramatically fall.

There no doubt would be impact to a wide variety of industries, the need for agriculture and most industrial goods would be eliminated (I’m assuming large industrial goods will still be needed to purchase, such as cars and the appliances that remain useful). However the people in these industries are not excluded from the benefits of the replicator, so the income they can make or the savings they have will go further. However, and at least initially there will be resistance to this new technology – almost assuredly there will be “experts” and “scientists” that will come up with studies that show that this device is harmful. However, assuming that the replicator produces items at the same quality and substance (meaning, there is NO difference between a replicated item and the original item), then over time these will subside.

One would hope that the change to the market place will be so rapid that these industries will be unable to justify a Farm or Industry subsidy. One can hope…

Investment in these areas will leave these sectors, but it will show back up in the leisure and services sector – at a higher, lower or the same amount won’t be seen until after the fact. The increase in leisure is given in the question, but there will also be an increase in services, because the replicator does have one input – the imagination and knowledge of the user. Some have better imaginations and more knowledge than others, and therefore there will be a market for “Replicator Consultant Services” that people will look to make exchanges for (either by money or barter), creating a new field.

The enormous increase in the demand for leisure will take many forms, some new will emerge that are unknown now, but what we do know is the resources used to create these Agricultural and Industrial goods before will be ‘repurposed’ by the market to meet the new demand needs, given the increase in price for these items. Fields of crops will be turned into golf courses, nature preserves, and amusement parks to meet this demand.

Again, one would hope that this tremendous increase in the wealth of all Americans would decrease the need for Government expenditure for entitlements and welfare, reducing the role of government everyone’s lives. However, there will probably be an attempt to justify their role by claiming that “these replicators need to be monitored because Americans are replicating to many pizzas and not enough broccoli,” and so on. So, one can hope…

What is certain is that the coming years will be a period of radical transition. All measures of GDP will have to be adjusted, and until everything has had a chance to emerge, it will be difficult to know how that will be measured. First, the consumption of the items that were produced are still being produced and consumed, they are just produced at a much much much lower cost than before, so the consumption portion of GDP should be at least the same, and very probably, Consumption should increase considering the increase in leisure and services. So (C) will be higher. Investment (I) very probably will be near the same or higher, but probably not as much as (C) because most of that is reallocation. And (G) could be lower, but it’s difficult to tell. My hope would be that it would shrink to the point that is not as significant a proportion as before.

So, the short answer is no, we should not lament an invention of this “replicator”, surely it makes everyone’s lives better.

Troy Camplin July 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Nothing would happen to creative endeavors. Poets, playwrights, etc. would still have jobs. And so would inventors. The replicator can only replicate known patterns. There would be a lot of people working to invent new patterns (new products) for the replicators to replicate. Of course, replicators can also replicate money, so inflation would destroy the money economy. One would still have to have services, but if you can replicate money, why provide the services? Basically, we would have the economy we are evolving toward having in the U.S.: all service or creative workers. After all, we produce food and manufacture goods through “replicators” known as machines and robots. Fewer and fewer people actually do those jobs as they are increasingly automated. And there are many things we could automate now in the service industry. One could also imagine in a replicator industry, though, specialized works, such as a chef cooking a perfect steak, then putting the pattern into the replicator so others can reproduce it, thus getting this perfectly cooked steak by this particular chef. So there would likely be a whole new way of providing services as well.

Jeremey Arnold July 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm

The Replicator would in effect undo one of the greatest questions of economics, and that’s the question of scarcity. If a replicator could litearlly “out of thin air” create object X or Y at virutally zero cost, then economics hardly matters since scarcity is no longer a problem.

Now, lets say this replicator needs electricity to run and that the replicator does not in fact use “thin air” but uses some sort of chemical compounding agent which it chemically changes into product X or Y, then we would just see an appropriate shift of capital resources to take advantage of the new industries that would be needed to support this invention which everyone would want to take care of the scarcity problem for a vast majority of other goods and services they were previously in markets for.

If anything, the replicator makes the Star Trek Federation’s “New Economy” (AKA Marxist Utopianism) feasible since there would be little to no competition for “Survival goods” like food, water, and clothing and would allow people to specialize their labor to their own utility function as opposed to specializing their labor to maximize personal income to better maximize a more constrained utlity function that exists sans replicator.

Midori July 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

This is quite an interesting discussion — and as it turns out recently I participated in a joint teacher workshop (secondary level) in Science Fiction and Economics. Two of the stories dealt with the appearance of replicators and its effects on commerce and society — fictionally of course, but the sentiments of the authors about what remained essential in economic endeavors in a world of abundance was compelling. You can find both stories “Business As Usual, During Alterations” (1958) by Ralph Williams and “When Nano Came to Clifford Falls” (2006) by Nancy Kress online here: http://www.teacheconomicfreedom.org/sfworkshop/2011/06/economics-and-science-fiction-reading-list-1.html

Doc Merlin July 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm

And this is EXACTLY what happened with computers. Computers are replicators that allow us to replicate information incredibly cheaply. This has all made us famously wealthy, but also made GDP a less and less a useful indicator of growth.

Furthermore computers allow us to connect to people who gain more utility than their costs from activities and thus gain free goods and services from them. (Much like I gain utility from Don’s blog here, which I don’t pay for.)

Troy Camplin July 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm

An interesting point. Is THIS the answer to the Great Stagnation?

LowcountryJoe July 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

Has to be regulated: there’s someone on the Left that is just sure that someone is being exploited in all this. And, no, it’s not that they reasonably conclude that there’s someone on the input side of the replicator being taken advantage of — free lunches have never been an issue to the Left.

Nemoknada July 8, 2011 at 12:52 am

“Would the replicator’s failure to ‘create’ lots of jobs cause it to be thought an innovation not quite on par with, say, the assembly line or the automobile?”

If we assume that one consequence of this device will be a higher level of unemployment, where will the unemployed get their 7.99?

John Dewey July 8, 2011 at 9:18 am

“If we assume that one consequence of this device will be a higher level of unemployment”

Why do you think that? When mechanized farm machinery displaced farm workers, those workers found productive work to do. When automatic elevators displaced elevator operators, those workers found productive work to do. When automobiles eliminated the need for thousands of blacksmiths, those workers found productive work to do. Why would adoption of the replicators be any different?

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