Disruptive 3D Technology Considered

The other day our think tank was discussing the challenges of 3-D printing and how “Capitalism will begin to suffer damage when 3D printing starts to affect the retail distribution chain.” Consider if you will that in the future people will be 3D printing at home using carbon composite layering graphene, metallic materials, plastics, ceramic materials, etc. – people don’t need to go to a retail store to buy cheap products, they can merely print them in their living room. What about the jobs at the major retailers, what about the management in retail, the buyers, truck drivers, warehouse staff? All those jobs gone?

When does this happen – as 3D printing technology matures. How fast will that happen – as fast as it takes for people to print out the new evolutions of their 3D printers at home. In other words, the technology will outpace the ability of the markets to react. Capitalism is very good at eliminating losers. The problem is that retail will be a loser almost overnight (10-15 years). Enjoy watching the few remaining Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades.

One think tanker who leans left-politically suggested that “We need to prepare government to step in and soften the coming economic shocks. People with no hope of finding work will need food, shelter and health care.”

Not so fast, my capitalist brain screams – you see, yes, disruptive technology always threatens the incumbents in the market-place, but that’s okay, if the free-market is working right, everything re-adjusts. If we have crony capitalism subsidizing, or governments nationalizing to prop up dying industries that’s when we have problems.

In socialism the leaders who use populist themes have to go with mob rule to bail-out or subsidize such old tech against the onslaught of the new. In free-market capitalism there will be shocks to the system, but the system can realign on its own and continue forward. Printing Press, Cotton Gin, TV, Air travel, cell phones, computers, etc. and yes, what comes next will also disrupt and if companies like Boeing have anything to say “It will fly like nothing else, and GE, DuPont, and other companies will buy up the innovators and make it part of the new business units to carry on.

Why bother propping up things like video rental stores or one-hour photo developing franchises? I guess, I have more belief in free markets, mostly in hindsight. But it will only work if we leave our hands off of it. Price controls, minimum wage laws, subsidies, they all distort free markets, I worry more about that more than the next new thing on the bleeding age in the age of Singularity and the Internet of things. Think on this.