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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