Robert Bradbury writes, quoting Technotranscendence:
> > And nanotech, itself, will not abolish scarcity.
> To assert this you have to qualify it.
> Nantechnology as currently envisioned *will* ABOLISH scarcity
> related to the *survival* of all exiting individuals on the
> planet (and most likely all future existing individuals).
> Only if the individuals get sucked into believing that
> they should "control everything" (or mostly everything)
> will they be in a condition of scarcity. The will not
> be in scarcity with regard to their survival, they will
> be in scarcity with regard to the fantasies their imagination
> has created for them.
But just yesterday Robert suggested that it would take five years to build a mansion using nanotech. That makes mansions sound pretty scarce to me. I don't need to "control everything" to want my house built faster than that! Bill Gates didn't have to wait five years to get his house built today (once construction started), and he didn't even have nanotech.
Eugene pointed out that Robert's figures were worst-case, assuming that the mansion was built out of solid sapphire, perhaps an unnecessarily elegant building material. He suggested that using more conventional materials (plastics? with similar qualities to wood, etc.) would be perfectly adequate for a beautiful home every bit as nice as Gates'.
BTW, if you are wondering why Robert picked sapphire rather than diamond, look at http://www.webelements.com/webelements/properties/text/image-intensity/abund-crust-at.html, which shows that the most numerous elements in the crust are oxygen (over half the atoms are oxygen), silicon, aluminum, magnesium, sodium, hydrogen, calcium, and iron. Sapphire is made of aluminum plus oxygen so it should use easy-to-find atoms.
I agree with Eugene that I don't need to make my house out of a single crystal of sapphire; but what I do want is to make it out of machinery. I want the walls to be filled with little clockwork mechanisms, conduits, motors, sensors, and other active nanotech devices. I want to be able to unlock my doorway and slide it to another spot. I want to pull a new wall down from the ceiling and move another wall a few feet farther in. I want to attach a sink and faucet to the wall and have the pipes automatically connect. I want every surface on the house to be a mediatron, able to change colors at command or turn any piece of wall into a TV screen or videophone.
All this means that we are back to Robert's construction method, full nanotech for every piece of the house. Throwing a few polymers together isn't going to cut it. This means we are only able to construct 10 kg per hour and it might take years to get our house built.
That sounds like a recipe for scarcity to me. If I can buy additional resources, whether carbon atoms, or solar electricity, or energetic chemical feedstocks, or even heat-pollution rights (if that becomes an issue), then I can build my house faster. Some people are more patient than others, willing to lend while others want to borrow. Some people will be better situated than others, with more sunlight or access to seawater or perhaps they are sitting on a coal mine full of easily-tapped carbon. There will be differences, too, in where people want to live. Many people will prefer the breathtaking vistas of the mountains or the seaside cliffs rather than the drab Kansas prairie.
It is mistaken to suppose that just because nanotech can easily provide the basics for moderate material riches by today's standards, there would be no more scarcity and no more reason for trade. Most people will simply raise their standards. It is human nature; we judge ourselves not so much by our absolute level of success, but by our relative success compared to our neighbors. This is arguably a useful heuristic; it automatically calibrates for the inherent difficulties of survival in the local situation. If I am not doing as well as my neighbors, I can probably improve my situation by trying something different, no matter how well or poorly we are all doing.
It may even be possible to have a market in nanotech designs, *not* open source, but custom designs by talented designers who have chosen to sell their ideas rather than give them away. There has been a lot of debate over whether this will be technically feasible, and I don't know for sure how it will turn out, but I suspect that there will be ways to achieve it. We've all seen what a great artist can do compared to a mediocre one, and I could easily imagine that people would be willing to pay to get access to designs by the top names in the world.
A post-nanotech, pre-singularity world, while providing great material comforts, will not extinguish all the differences among people which motivate them to engage in trade.