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A Battle the Government Cannot Win

I’ve noticed a trend with the writings of Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired magazine and the author of a new book on 3-D printing called Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

It goes like this. He comes out with a book, and the highbrow experts say it’s crazy, that this time he has gone too far. Two-three years later, the world has changed, and his predictions have come true. His critics don’t admit it. (Have you noticed that few people ever admit errors?)

By that time, he has a new book out, and the experts again say it’s crazy. And so on it goes. He is always one step ahead, like a prophet, but without the honour he deserves.

In his first major book, The Long Tail (2006), he said the common culture of enterprise would die, and this is great. Instead, in the future, consumer culture will be driven by the desire to curate micro-cultures for ourselves.

Technology has allowed markets to become super focused on a niche, rather than the broad swath of humanity. In fact, he said, there are more profits associated with niche-focused business than the hope of selling to every man or woman on the street.

At the time, this idea seemed crazy. The conventional wisdom of business has been that the bigger the market sector, the better. He was saying the opposite. Now we look around and see that nearly every market is a niche: No two consumers are alike.

Not only that, but the biggest and best companies today (Google, Amazon, the app economy) specialize in fanatical service toward millions of tiny niches, in every way that can express itself.

Then he came out with his book Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing (2010).

He said that the trend is taking all consumer products down to $0 for the basic service and making money on the add-ons. In fact, business in the future will be begging people to take stuff for free. His critics went nuts and said, ‘Oh, this is crazy stuff. Can’t happen’.

Today, if you want to denounce his thesis, you can do it in real-time video through Google+ Hangouts, Facebook video chat, Skype, Twitter, or uncountable numbers of free services that uncountable numbers of businesses are begging you to try. Contrary to every prediction, even Facebook is making money by giving away its main product for free.

Again, I’ve not seen his critics eat humble pie.

The purpose of Makers is to explain how manufacturing is traveling on the same trajectory as communication, publishing, and media. It will devolve from big institutions to small institutions, and finally to individuals.

The focus is, of course, 3-D printing. He forecasts a world without shipping, without controls, without the huge transactions costs of getting things. Instead, our shopping will consist of downloading models and printing what we need.

Crazy, right? Yes, just like his previous two books – which is to say not crazy at all.

Why has he been so consistently correct in his outlook for the market’s future? Because he is hooked into the community that is making it happen.

From his position as editor of Wired, he was constantly in contact with the edgiest and most entrepreneurial companies in the world, the people who are forging a new tomorrow. He observes a pattern, explains, and sees clearly that it will win the day because it works.

By the time the rest of the world catches up to see the point, he has moved on.

Well, this month was the month that the rest of the world saw the point, and it made the headlines in a huge way. Law student Cody Wilson of Defense Distributed printed out a workable handgun called ‘The Liberator’.

But with every great advance in history, there are those that resist it. The government, in this case, is the chief resistance force. Anticipating this, Cody complied with every regulation, every code, and every mandate. It took nine months to stabilize and perfect the models, but he finally did it.

He had a workable model for a gun that anyone on the planet could print out and use. He made one himself and released the files to the world without copyright.

The feds jumped into this scene with an order that made anyone with an ounce of technical sophistication laugh. They demanded that the files for the gun be taken down from his website. He complied.

But this accomplished nothing. Nothing on the internet goes away, especially not if the files were released to the world. The files for ‘The Liberator’ were quickly re-hosted at storage website Mega and many other places.

Once it became clear that the masters of the universe wanted these files down, people all over the world got into the act and began spreading them everywhere, and the downloads soared into the hundreds of thousands.

In a matter of days, people were already working to remix the files and customize them for different purposes and approaches. How is this possible? These files are not physical goods. They consist of information, and information has three features that government hates: It is malleable, reproducible, and – thanks to the internet – immortal.

In this way, as Anderson explains in his book, the world has changed dramatically in a digital age in which even physical goods take the form of information. And in the long run, there is nothing that those who purport to rule the world can do about it. They can silence one or two people, but that doesn’t cause the things they don’t like to go away.

This is also why it is pointless that the defcad.org’s signup sheet was removed by its domain host, LaunchRock. A further example is the video that announced the creation of files that produced an operational 3-D handgun went viral after it was posted.

It had tens of thousands of views, maybe many more. It was a video that ran only a few minutes. Now when you go to the video, a message appears that says it has been removed from YouTube.

Apparently, the video infringed on the copyright of Warner/Chappell. What’s that? That’s a music distributor. So the wrath supposedly had nothing to do with the gun or the subject. It was removed because the background music was alleged to be under copyright.

But wait just one moment. There are dozens of different YouTube videos that use that song. It’s also used in the movie Tree of Life. If it’s copyright protected, isn’t it just a bit strange that Warner happened to pick Cody’s video to order a takedown?

Cody, a law student, was scrupulous in complying with the law. But just as they got Al Capone on tax evasion charges, not bootlegging, Cody Wilson’s dramatic and historic video has been removed on copyright grounds!

Never mind that most of his other videos could be removed on the same grounds, and so could perhaps a million other videos that use music from YouTube. This one video was singled out for a reason.

Meanwhile, of course, the video still survives in myriad forms. It’s just the canonical version that has been taken down. This is a symbol of the new reality that government has not yet processed.

The internet is different from the physical world. It is not only bigger; it lasts forever, no matter what the regulators do. They can drive things underground, but cannot finally stop the progress.

There is a pattern here. The government hates progress. It prefers a world fixed and immobile, so it can regulate and tax it, bully enterprise, and deny consumers. But entrepreneurs don’t like straitjackets. They keep coming up with new ideas and throwing them out there – at great personal risk to themselves.

Chris Anderson’s world will come true. In time. Every intervention that tries to stop it is at best a vast waste.

Regards,

Jeffrey Tucker
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Join The Daily Reckoning on Google+

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4 Comments

  1. Ross says:

    Atlanta’s March air freight no better on international (Atlanta is among the top tier of US international gateway hubs for freight). Seems all those being delinquent on their student loans nearby aren’t buying many of the latest and greatest gadgets either.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-17/atlanta-international-airport-march-cargo-volumes-table-.html?cmpid=yhoo

  2. deToke deVille says:

    Mr. Tucker should have his phone booth picture when he comes up here?

    http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=10228
    [Psychosocial Course Aims at Healing Scars Caused by Libyan Conflict
    18/05/2013 12:57:00]

    Once again, the same fascists who broke it, will not step in with their now world-famous “fix everything” anti self-government dumbing down. Still, even with clowns like these “fixing” what is left of the childrens’ heads, there will be a few good apples in with the latent torturers and highly developed passive-aggressive sadists.

    Many of the higher mammals have distinct difference between the two biological, Universe-provided, ready-made sexes.

    SEXES? DIFFERENT?

    For example: once, a tenant of a property Slewie was managing for some EXTREMELY wealthy clients in an EXTREMELY up-scale wine-country city, called him with an “emergency” because a female possum was under her porch, with her babies, and was clearly gonna kill anybody that didn’t like her under HER porch.

    It was 8 A.M., and, fortunately, Slewie had just got home.

    So, off he goes! His tenant says, “Look, Slewie! Just like you always say: the female is much more aggressive.”

    “no shit, BiCh!”

    Slewie told her to get a couple of the neighbor kids to see this, too, while he got ready to replace the lattice panel the rat-tailed condo-seeker has left “ajar” at closing escrow.

    “…so, that’s that, you little morons. try to remember to use the back door, especially if you are bare-foot. just leave her alone, and she will vacate when she is done, here. leave her alone MEANS leave her alone, ok? you might see her at night, though, if you watch from a distance. let me know if you see her out, ok?”

    “Sure!”

    “why did the chicken cross the road?”

    “Why?”

    “…to show the possum it COULD be done!”

  3. Jason says:

    3D printing is not some magical device like the replicator on the TV show Star Trek. It is limited in what components it can make due to the limitations of the feed stock. It will have an impact on manufacturing and retails and the general economy in the future but so too will nanotechnology, robotics, Peak Oil, Demographic Winter and commercially viable fusion reactors.

  4. shortchanged says:

    “…to show the possum it COULD be done!”

    Classic slewie, classic. Any more?

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