April 03, 2010

Tinker Toys

So, ever since the auto bailout last year, I've been thinking a lot about how to reinvent domestic car manufacturing into something much more efficient & successful.  Which is why this article from the UK version of WIRED really grabbed my eye.  Because apparently the emergence of the web, open source development methodologies, crowd sourcing, innovative 3-D modeling & technologies, and easy access to cheap overseas manufacturing hubs are allowing for the complete reimagining of the manufacturing base.  Today, instead of needing millions of dollars to start a new business based around a mechanical product (i.e. a new car, a new vacuum cleaner, a new kind of cell phone, even a new kind of Lego weapon (I kid you not), you only need the ingenuity, creativity, and the cash to build a prototype to get started.

Of course, it raises other issues, though, right?  Because now we're essentially saying that China is the world's manufacturer.  Which means all of those manufacturing and manual labor jobs in the factories that fled the United States over the last three decades stay gone.  Now, for the educated, engineering class like me, we just see lots of opportunity.  But for all of those people who either made their living or intended to do so through UAW memberships and working in the local industrial plant, this is a very dangerous and scary new world. 

As Chris Matthews once pointed out on Hardball, it's all well and good to tell everybody that they need to go get educated to compete in the 21st century economy, but not everybody is going to get an electrical engineering degree so they can start their own xPhone business. Some people just want a steady paycheck with a reliable company.  Are we really saying that, in the new world economy, America is a country for entrepreneurs and inventors only, and that our working class is just a relic of a by gone error?

Given the new technological landscape, someone needs to devote some very serious thought to what can be done with all of the skilled trade workers out there who are just looking for an opportunity to contribute to someone's business.  Isn't there a way to make a profitable domestic American version of the Alibaba network in Japan?  Isn't there a business model that allows us to actually still make things in the USA?