The Conversation

Will 3D Printers Smash the Dual Menace of Big Business and Big Government?

I'm nothing close to a tech geek, but I am a liberty geek and the way in which technology can give power back to the people and strip it from the dual menace of Big Government and Big Business has always fascinated me. It's why I obsessively follow what's happening with Netflix Streaming and why this Reason story about the potential future of 3D printers caught my eye.

Right now we all know that there are 3D printers that can manufacture a working firearm. You buy the raw materials and the 3D blueprint and the printer takes it from there. Reason sees a world in the not-too-distant future where this 3D printing technology revolutionizes the way Americans obtain good and what that means for freedom from The State

Already, according to a study authored by Michigan Technological University engineering professor Joshua Pearce and six others, there are significant economic incentives for consumers to pursue 3D printing. According to Pearce's calculations, a person who constructs an open-source 3D printer called the RepRap at a cost of around $575 for parts can theoretically avoid paying between $290 and $1,920 a year to retailers simply by using the device to print 20 common items (iPhone case, shower curtain rings, shoe orthotics, etc.).

If you are willing to invest some time in its construction-Pearce estimates that the RepRap takes around 24 hours to build-the printer can quickly pay for itself, even if you don't use it all that often. If you start making orthotics for your neighbors, who knows, it could even turn into a profit center.

Soon, we'll begin to see the rise of manufacturing Matt Drudges and printer-sharing Reddits. So many different producers will be producing so many different products that it will become harder and harder for even well-established and trusted brands to charge for anything but the scarcest and most coveted goods. In a bid to survive, places like Walmart and Best Buy will begin to offer stuff as a subscription-you'll get 200 lbs. of goods per year for a monthly fee of $19.99.

…Or Walmart and Best Buy will become retailers for the raw materials needed to manufacture our own goods at home.

Not only will you be saving money paid to retailers, you will also avoid the sales tax. And with 3D printers capable of manufacturing almost anything, imagine how this could affect transportation; all those semis carrying Tupperware and the like across country that can now be made locally, without a factory, or better still in your own home.

Imagine how this could improve the lives of those living in poverty, especially the rural poor.

Do you have any idea how much money the government will lose if they can't tax shipping and hauling? Do you have any idea how much transportation costs add to the price of goods like Tupperware and curtain rings?

Reason also suggests how big  government will react to protect its big business cronies -- in the ways we see now: where you can't sell homemade jam, or charge for trips to the airport in your own damned car, or rent out a carriage house as a motel room.

The government will attempt to regulate, etc…

Well, they can try. Liberty always finds a way.

All I know is that as of right now I own 2000 DVDs and hundreds of books I paid no sales tax on. Now that I think about it, I own a couple hundred books that weren't even shipped, just magically transported digitally. Buying music this way has been a fact of life for a decade. We're now starting to purchase movies and television digitally. Once upon a time all of these things were shipped and retailed and the shipping and retail was taxed.

3D printing takes this same idea to a whole new level. But instead of paying for a digital copy of the product, we will only pay for the raw materials.

At the risk of putting too fine of a point on it, let me put it another way: Remember the transporters on "Star Trek" or the machine Jeff Goldblum invented in "The Fly"? The 3D printer obviously cannot transport something somewhere else, but the concept is the same; you just need to buy raw materials.

Then, suddenly, all the costs associated with manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, retailing, and government regulation go poof.

Power to the People, baby.


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