Steve Denning recently wrote a Forbes Article about Why Amazon can’t make a Kindle in the US, even if it wanted to.
He essentially wrote a general version of what I had perviously written about when I was lamenting howmass scale up of the RepRap project can only happen in China.
for the most part, Steve’s article is on target. But he’s missing the bigger picture. He thinks that the problem is a cultural one — the Culture of accountants, CEOs, Economists all following short-term interests. He doesn’t realize it’s not a cultural problem. I have training as an Economist. We Economists don’t believe in cultural reasons — we think that all people respond to immediate incentives. We believe that humans are naturally impatient, and naturally self-interested. We call this person Homo Economicus.
Homo Economicus is fully rational and self-interested. (S)he will always follow the immediate, self-gratifying response. And I see evidence this is correct — How many people do you know who, if they lived near a free wi-fi coffe shop, would drop their own broadband to abuse the coffee-shop under them? How many people pirate music, software, or movies online? If people can get something for free, they will do so — even defend it as just, even if it meant harming the artist. It doesn’t matter how much money you have — Thomas Edison was a pirate!
The problem Steve mentions is real. Already, in my RepRap, I’ve had to run into people who know where to order hard to find parts in China. Hard to find here in the US — but awash in China. Linear bearings, Shaft couplers. Hollow rods. Simple stuff. None of those are in hardware stores here, or can be ordered here. I have to Ebay those parts from China — no-one in the US can sell them to me. I use them in inventing things. My ability to invent is harmed in the US by lack of parts, due to outsourcing of all our manufacturing. It’s hurting innovation — far more than anything else ever will.
The answer is structural — we need new import duties, for a time. We likely need a cyclical duty cycle — sometimes having duties to encourage innovation, and sometimes removing them for the same reason. No import duties hurts innovation, as do import duties that never go away.