China is becoming a great power because it can mass produce goods more cheaply than America can. It’s economy is growing at a very high rate as the corporations of the world move their manufacturing operations to that region. What if this factor applied to America at some point? It already does. Manufacturing is changing as the world enters another industrial revolution. However, juxtapositioned with the last industrial revolution where unskilled masses worked in factories which belch smoke into our skies, this industrial revolution will be defined by a few highly educated individuals working in environmentally friendly mass production centers. As opposed to reducing workers to about the level of the machines which they operate in the production process, this revolution will unleash creativity and expression in each worker. This isn’t another industrial age. It’s a Meta-Industrial age.
In the Meta-Industrial age, 3-D printers will be the major piece of equipment which a company purchases. A 3-D printer is a device which can take the schematics of anything from a children’s toy to a jet engine and reproduce that object without human assistance. In other words, 3-D printing is another step in the automation of the manufacturing sector. While it is true that corporations may outfit factories in third world countries with this technology and hire staff local to that factory, America has a major advantage. America has a world-class post-secondary education system. In fact, America’s universities and colleges attract students from around the world. In the future, it will be cheaper to hire a handful of very well compensated engineers to operate a fully automated economy inside the United States. These engineers will spend money which will create more jobs in hospitality, healthcare and entertainment. The other benefit, will be that as prices drop due to the fact that goods do not have to be shipped, people who are employed by the educated classes in the above mentioned industries will drive those engineers to innovate with their spending. Thus, as we have seen several revolutions in computing, we will see similar revolutions in other consumer goods. If an engineer has an idea for a better flat screen television or has worked in concert with a doctor to design a better pair of shoes for a particular segment of the population, then he or she will only need design the product on their laptop and press a button to generate a prototype. If the private sector or government were to invest in a high-speed rail (which would create more jobs, in addition to yeilding long-term economic and national security benefits), then products printed at six in the morning in Los Angeles could be on store shelfs in Boston by eleven in the evening which would cause technology to advance even faster than it is today.
There is a darker side to 3-D printing. If individuals were allowed these devices, they could print their own goods, which would cause the shipping industry to take a hit in a manner which paralells the decline of the postal service following the internet as only food and the handful of goods which could not be printed would need to be shipped. Furthermore, a highly deluded individual could print weapons without the governments knowledge (even if the machines were blocked from doing this, someone would find a way to remove this block) and carry out mass murder. Therefore, only businesses should be allowed to possess 3-D printers.
The virtue which society needs to embrace for this future is education. A private sector solution would be for homeless shelters and soup kitchens to require that people utilizing their services attend vocational training events and lectures which those qualified to teach a skill in the economy of tomorrow could provide pro bono.