Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The fabrication divide and rogue economists

This post will take a long time for you to read. About 40 minutes in fact. Why? Because I want you to take the first 18 minutes and watch a presentation from Bjorn Lomborg. He is commonly known in the media as the "Skeptical Environmentalist". His talk at TED, in 2005 introduced his ideas about how money could best be spent if our goal was to do the most good. So, sit back and watch Bjorn's presentation first.

OK, now that you're thinking about ways that financial aid might best be spent to help the world, you should watch a presentation from Neil Gershenfeld from MIT. He speaks about the world of micro-fabrication, and how the stages beyond "going digital" will involve the ability for people to manufacture their own goods. This concept is truly mind-expanding. Please take another 18 minutes to watch Neil's presentation - I promise it will be worth it.

All done? Great.

Now imagine...what if the economists Bjorn got together had known about the kind of bottom-up manufacturing and problem solving that Neil's "Fab Labs" are creating? What if instead of investing money providing $100 laptops to third-world children, we invested money in giving them access to Fab Labs, micro-investment banking, and training in basic business operations? Remember, Bjorn's analysis listed Free-Trade as one of the most valuable ways of spending aid money. Imagine what might have been concluded if Bjorn's group knew about the grass roots success of micro-manufacturing?

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