[FoRK] The World Is Not Flat

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Tue Jan 19 17:53:06 PST 2010


Again, too many excellent comments to respond to individually.

I should clarify one thing, though;  I think I undermined clarity in  
one of the problems I'm attempting to sketch out by mentioning actual  
geographic distances in supply chains.  It's not actually the physical  
distance that's a problem per se, nor is the transport between hops a  
value-subtracting proposition necessarily.  The problem I have is when  
the "finish" process (from raw material to consumer good) is  
artificially factored into a larger-than-necessary number of hops in  
order to optimize costs in an artificially-distorted landscape.  This  
should be intuitive to a lot of folks:  your shoes get "assembled" in  
China because, basically, labor is essentially free there.  This  
underwrites and justifies the logistical costs involved, but it's not  
necessarily any kind of desirable optimum;  there's actually value  
being "stolen" along the way from the laborers involved.

Really, it's not the miles, it's the hop count metric that matters,  
and whether that hop count makes sense, and the "distance" (in cost)  
between them.  The network self-organizes in a distorted space not to  
optimize for minimum cost-add between the inputs and outputs, but  
rather for exploitation of local characteristics for maximum value  
extraction at each hop.

One quick response to Dave, who asks what kinds of things might  
technologically "flatten" this sort of network out further, as e.g.  
packet-switched networks did for information.  Two possible suggestions:

Robust, general purpose, and local fabrication facilities --- think  
RepRap 10.0, on steroids --- and a thriving market for useful design  
templates for same, including open source templates.  You don't need  
nano-assemblers to get some of the benefits of local assembly,  
necessarily.


jb



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