Re: the economics of transition to nanotech

From: Robin Hanson (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 11:14:17 MST

[I've been away this weekend at an econ conference. RH]

On 1/7/2000 Damien Broderick wrote:
>... I'm try to address some of the critical objections to v. 1.0,
>especially certain complaints that the economics (implicit and explicit)
>were handwaving and/or naive. I'm happy to stick by some of what I wrote
>(eg, that we might end up with a gift economy if assemblers prove cheap and
>tractable), but the vexing issue is the realistic pathway there.

The stability and plausibility of a nano-gift economy seems to me to be
much more questionable. *If* such an economy made sense, I don't find
it hard to imagine industry developing the technologies that make it possible.

>We need to pause here and take a breath. Who is supposed to be funding this
>leap into future technology, especially when its end result is a new kind
>of productivity that bites the hand that feeds it? ...
>To put the matter crudely: putting your nest egg into nanotechnology, it
>might be said, would be like investing in a machine that could counterfeit
>money, or turn lead into gold.

Would industry develop a technology that cheaply turned lead into gold?
You betcha! Now you might have a closer case regarding a technology that
cheaply turned oil into diamonds; DeBeer so dominates that industry, they
might have a fighting chance of suppressing such a thing, buy say buying
up related patents. But when you're thinking of developing a box to
replace most manufacturing, industry is so far from being dominated by a
single power on that scale that it's no contest. It would take at least
as much state coordination as what the nuclear powers have used so far to
discourage nuclear proliferation.

>Barry Jones ... notes: permits an exponential rise in output together
>with an exponential fall in total inputs--energy, labor, capital, space
>and time. In economic history there is no remote equivalent to this...

That is just completely wrong. Standard economic growth *is* exactly
such an exponential rise and fall.

Robin Hanson
Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University
MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323

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