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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More on Desktop Manufacturing

In my treatment of decentralized production technology, I've occasionally touched on the issue of "desktop manufacturing." That's actually a catchall term for two different major phenomena, with the emphasis probably on the latter: small-scale manufacturing using multiple-purpose machinery, and what's variously called "layered manufacturing" or "3-D printing."

My own emphasis has been primarily on multiple-purpose machinery, especially on its use in factory production as described by Murray Bookchin and Kirkpatrick Sale. But it's also scalable to desktop or household production (there's an entire yahoogroup organized around the multimachine, for instance).

As to the second category, there are some links on 3-D printing in my "desktop manufacturing" blog post linked above. In addition, Michel Bauwens sent me a link to an article on the subject by Lawrence J. Rhoades of Ex One Corporation.

Here, also, is a link to Bauwens' latest interview with James Burke of iCommons.

So I'm not saying technology's the cause of it, but technology's certainly an enabling factor and its probably, you know, society, a hierarchy, kind of, what it says is that the whole should not be more complex than the one person deciding at the top.
Now, that's breaking down everywhere. the complexity of technology, of society, is such that you can't do that anymore.

So we looked for and invented technology which allows us to go beyond hierarchy. and so peer to peer is different in a sense that today it's technology dependent. You look at Wikipedia and Linux, okay yes, hundreds of thousands of people are working on it, but if you then look at how they're working on it, well it's basically small teams.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have a post-anarchistic that's influenced by post-anarchistic philosophy, and I've put a link to you in my favourites there. I was hoping you might reciprocate. I'm at www.loveandterrorism.blogspot.com


May 23, 2007 4:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry that should be 'I have a blog that's influenced by....'

May 23, 2007 4:04 AM  
Blogger Mookie said...


I have been lurking for several weeks now, having found this site after a nice thought experiment:

Supposing the free market were desirable and attainable, what preconditions would be required to create and maintain it?

And that's the name of your blog.

On this topic, I did a business plan for a small business class that you might want to read. It is by no means "legit", but meshes somewhat with your ideas.


May 25, 2007 8:51 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks, love and terrorism. I've added a link of my own.


That's an amazing business plan. What business school are you in, and did it blow their minds? A few tens of thousands of other business plans like that, and you could create another Emilia-Romagna.

May 25, 2007 11:03 PM  
Blogger Mookie said...

Thanks. I'm a math major. I just took the class to try to understand businesses, especially small ones, because I think they work better than large ones.

The business plan was my best attempt to solve multiple problems at once: energy costs, pollution, worker satisfaction, satisfying customers, etc. Quite a juggling act.

I really like your site and your ideas. Your studies of real life examples are very compelling.

May 25, 2007 11:30 PM  
Blogger Eric H said...

I've been kinda interested in this for a while. I went to school with one of the founders of quickparts, a rapid prototyping company. My wife, who has been interested in this kind of thing (small manufacturing) for a very long time, just sent
this article in CNN to me today. It's about the resurgence of manufacturing in North America. They point out that when the customer wants fast, good, and precise, cheap imports just won't do. One of them goes on to talk about how 3D printing, as you call it, gives him a rapid prototyping capability that was formerly only available to the big guy in years past. Between that and CAD/CAM, I think that the computer is potentially more disruptive than anyone ever anticipated, and is one reason why I think Kirkpatrick Sale ought to reconsider his opposition to it.

My wife and I recently witnessed a demonstration of a machine that potentially puts a single person in charge of a full leather manufacturing operation. It could be that because of some of these advances, we have witnessed the zenith of mass production and the nadir of artisanship in our lifetime.

May 26, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger Harlequin said...

There's a team at the University of Bath which is doing a lovely instantiation of this concept, called the RepRap Project. Their idea is to make a rapid prototyper as a set of freely-available instructions, using as many parts as possible (>90%) which it can make itself, and the other portion easily made by a skilled hobbyist.

The philosophical aesthetic they've set out to achieve is definitely part of the appeal. Once you succeed at building a RepRap of your own, print the parts for two more - and give them away.

They're making substantial progress day-by-day right now, toward finalizing their 1.0 model "Darwin" plans, and have opened a webstore to facilitate access to the few trickiest bits to obtain or make (such as PCBs).

Definitely an endeavour worth keeping an eye on...

May 28, 2007 2:03 PM  
Blogger Joshua Holmes said...

This looks like the bleeding edge of the eventual nanotech revolution. Eventually, nanotech will be able to take much of anything and reassemble it to your desire. Ultimate customization will be the norm, and everyone will be able to tweak designs as they see fit.

In such an age, style will count much more than productive capacity, since everyone will be productive. Virginia Postrel somewhat predicts this in her book The Substance of Style. More generally, sci-fi authors have long talked about the age of ultimate customization and nanotech. It will be an age of art. Desktop manufacturing is just the beginning.

May 29, 2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Harlequin said...

While arguably true, most folks don't have any idea how enormous the gap between nanotech and macrotech still is.

Put it this way - in terms of the functionality and versatility and portability of the machines it can make (on their own scale), and the infrastructure of constructing them, nanotech is sitting somewhere in the 1800s, at best - maybe earlier. I work in nanotech. It's as though we'd figured out how to build a colonial-era manual water pump - but, so far, only by machining it in situ on top of your home well. Only because its characteristics are altered from those of a macroscale waterpump by quantum mechanics is this even an interesting object; useful it is not (yet).

This desktop manufacturing trend is the bleeding edge of something much more approachable; nanotech is qualitatively different in both its implementation and types of impact. It's good to be optimistic and forward-looking, but it's also better not to conflate the two.

May 30, 2007 11:13 AM  
Blogger Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Quick comment:

Old friend of Mutualist Blog, I've posted a little piece regarding a tragedy for a piece of left-intellectual history, over at my blog.

Trying to make a Meme out of it- the issue deserves publicity, so excuse me for spamming on your site.

June 09, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

The spam is more than justified, Edwin. The issue does indeed deserve publicitiy. Good luck.

June 09, 2007 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure whether I support Corporate Limited Liability ("CLL") myself. But one thing that I find interesting in this topic is that the "intellectual distance" between the position of anti-CLL libertarians and the "distributists" is not that great.

So maybe Belloc's "The Servile State" can be added to the favourite reading list of anti-CLL libertarians along with Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom".

Another interesting angle is that just as anti-CLL libertarians closed the distance between themselves and the distributists, so has E F Schumacher of "Small is Beautiful" and 'appropriate technology' fame. He has shed whatever state socialist baggage he may have had and is now both in spirit and policy a "fellow traveller" of the distributists. At least he is if we can believe this recent article.

If I could be allowed just two more leaps. First consider the position of the original free marketeers. Adam Smith and the physiocrats. Were they not at core "agrarians" and critics of the big city based mercantilist state? This PDF file (see here) attempts to return Adam Smith to his agrarian roots. Now the intellectual distance between "the agrarian" Adam Smith, E F Schumacher, the distributists and anti-CLL libertarians is virtually non-existent.

Second, dig into the work of 'conservative' sociologist Robert Nisbet. He considered the growth of the state problem No.1 and dismissed nieve "atomistic" individualism as helping pave the way for statism. It was in the network of intermediary institutions and associations that he saw the best roadblock against statist domination.

Although he avoided the 'classical liberal' or libertarian label, Robert Nisbet could fairly be considered the doyen of conservative sociology. His definition of conservatism, definitely Burkean, was decidedly hostile to militarism and the emerging neocon and Christian Right agendas. So Nisbetian conservatism is not much like GOP conservatism.

Nisbet's sociology was definitely anti-statist but not quite anarchist. He sought a new community based on "a new laissez faire", one that would revive a network of intermediate institutions and communities between the individual and the central state, the only recipe he believed that worked against centraism. His new laissez faire was not a reversion to 19th century style laisser faire.

With these qualifications in mind, I still think both mainstream "classical liberals", and even more so, mutualists, are right to think of him as "one of their own."

Anyhow in his book "The Social Philosophers" (1974), a survey of historically influential social thinkers, he defined six broad classes of community, and grouped the various social thinkers into this scheme. The half dozen types were the military community , the political community, the religious community, the revolutionary community, the plural community and the ecological community.

The last he defined as "the close, cohesive interdependences symbolised by the small household economy, the interdependences among organisms and between organisms and the environment which are natural, in contrast to those which are contrived or artificial; and the profound sense of a web of life existing between man and the rest of nature that man endangers only at his own peril."

Into this class of thinkers Nisbet placed Saint Benedict of Nursia, Sir Thomas ("utopia") Moore, Proudhon, Kropotkin, the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith.

We need to think of anti-CLL libertarianism, the distributists, E F Schumacher, Kropotkin, Robert Nisbet and Adam Smith as essentially playing for the same team.

Or have I made a few leaps too many?

June 14, 2007 9:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Sorry for ignoring so many of the later comments. I neglect these threads shamefully, and lose track of which ones I've acknowledged.

Eric H.,

Thanks for the heartening bit of info. I hope your interpretation of its significance is borne out. I hope to deal more with "pull" and "long tail" concepts more in the chapter on distribution on Pt. 4.

And thanks also to Harlequin for the info on the RepRap project.

Josh and Harlequin,

I agree both that there are important differences between desktop manufacturing and nanotech, and that nanotech is potentially revolutionary beyond our wildest dreams. Unfortunately, I'm about as unqualified as you can get to comment on the latter. Both those who claim it will result in infinite abundance and the "Singularity," and those who fear the "grey goo" will devastate the biosphere, sound somewhat plausible to me.

earth that was,

Oddly enough, the first edition of Servile State I ever saw was a reprint by a libertarian publishing house, with an introduction tying Belloc's analysis to libertarian treatments of the corporate state. Also coincidentally, I recently saw a book in a used bookstore on Adam Smith as a physiocrat. As for Nisbet, I read him years ago and was really impressed by his view of intermediate institutions. I read him via Russell Kirk, who I was really into at the time, but should read him again in light of my development since then.

August 02, 2007 11:31 PM  

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