The Second Industrial Divide and the Third Industrial Revolution
According to Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired, in his recent book Makers: “the word desktop is being added to industrial machinery, with equally mind-blowing effect. Desktop 3-D printing. Desktop computer-controlled routing, milling, and machining. Desktop laser cutting. Desktop computer-controlled embroidering, weaving, and quilting. Even desktop 3-D scanning, or 'reality capture,' digitizing the physical world. Desktop fabrication is leading to full-on desktop manufacturing.” The idea is a bit like the old (relatively speaking) book by Michael Piore and Charles Sabel on The Second Industrial Divide, which suggested that flexible specialization was making mass production obsolete.
The idea is that desktop manufacturing is creating the conditions for mass market for niche products, as he says, bringing down the barriers to entry in many sectors. There is a bit of wishful thinking in the book (not done yet, but will report back at the end), but one should note that the author nails the importance of manufacturing for development. In his words: “any country, if it wants to stay strong, must have a manufacturing base. Even today, about a quarter of the U.S. economy consists of the manufacturing of physical goods. When you include their distribution and sale in retail outlets, you’re talking about closer to three-quarters of the economy. A service economy is all well and good, but eliminate manufacturing and you’re a nation of bankers, burger flippers, and tour guides. Software and information industries get all the press, but they employ just a small percentage of the population.”
Note that this suggests that the U.S. economy, which is ahead in the desktop manufacturing technology (e.g. 3-D printers, used recently to create ... yes, a gun!; 3-D scanners, laser cutters, computer numerical control routers, etc.) is actually still at the forefront of the industrial revolution, in spite of the talk about deindustrialization.