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Getting Greece and Iceland to be 99% self-sufficient by mass; international consortium

Paul D. Fernhout Dec 23, 2008 8:12 PM
Posted in group: Open Manufacturing
Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
 > The problem is, at some point, the current economic system can't work
 > without people to buy the output of automated factories.

Now, as I catch up on the news about the Greek riots, this is a very surreal
title to a news article:
"Greece 'runs out of tear gas' during violent protests "
"Greece has issued an international appeal for more tear gas after supplies
ran low because police fired so much of it during a week of violent protests
across the country."

"Greek riots: Why violence and revolt have rocked the cradle of democracy"
The teenager's death was the catalyst, not the cause, of the protests which
have shaken Greece to its very core. It tapped into deep-rooted anger over
decades of police brutality and government corruption as well as fears for
Greece's economic future.

"The whole country is going through a nervous breakdown," said Alexis
Papachelas, editor-in-chief of the conservative Kathimerini newspaper.

"Greece is in self-destruct mode. A whole range of problems have accumulated
over the years and have now reached a critical point."


Greeks are being squeezed by high unemployment, low wages, the rising cost
of living and public debt which is almost equal to the country's national
output, in part a legacy of the 2004 Athens Olympics.


"In Greece we talk about the 700-euro-a-month generation – they're very well
educated, they have university degrees, and yet they have huge problems
finding jobs. When they do they're paid 700 euros a month or less. Many
people are forced to work two or three jobs."


The depth of disillusionment goes way beyond party politics. Greeks are as
fed up with the opposition Socialists as they are with the government.

"We've realised lately that the two main political parties can't deliver,"
said Mr Papachelas.

"The political class in Greece is bankrupt, they can't manage the state. We
need a new political generation, we need technocrats."

But as the global recession bites deeper, there are fears that things will
only get worse – and not only for Greece.

There have already been sympathy protests in cities across Europe, from
Madrid to Moscow, Barcelona to Bordeaux.

Greece may now be the sick man of Europe, but the anti-government protests
crippling the country could be contagious.

Now, does this make any sense if you understand the possibilities of open
manufacturing or an open society? In Greece you have a warm climate, access
to oceans, lots of sun and wind, an educated populace with a 2000+ year
history of democracy (on and off :-), no obvious external enemies declaring
war, and so on. And they are so worried about their future ability to make
and use things (which is how I translate "fears for Greece's economic
future") that they are running out of tear gas? This all makes no *physical*
sense. The place should be a paradise. Instead it is in "self-destruct mode"
according to one editor. It must be *ideology*. Or, more correctly, ideology
*embodied* in a certain type of productive infrastructure.

Part of the problem:
"I’ll bring this down to earth. Try to see that an intricately subordinated
industrial/commercial system has only limited use for hundreds of millions
of self-reliant, resourceful readers and critical thinkers. In an
egalitarian, entrepreneurially based economy of confederated families like
the one the Amish have or the Mondragon folk in the Basque region of Spain,
any number of self-reliant people can be accommodated usefully, but not in a
concentrated command-type economy like our own. Where on earth would they
fit? In a great fanfare of moral fervor some years back, the Ford Motor
Company opened the world’s most productive auto engine plant in Chihuahua,
Mexico. It insisted on hiring employees with 50 percent more school training
than the Mexican norm of six years, but as time passed Ford removed its
requirements and began to hire school dropouts, training them quite well in
four to twelve weeks. The hype that education is essential to robot-like
work was quietly abandoned. Our economy has no adequate outlet of expression
for its artists, dancers, poets, painters, farmers, filmmakers, wildcat
business people, handcraft workers, whiskey makers, intellectuals, or a
thousand other useful human enterprises—no outlet except corporate work or
fringe slots on the periphery of things. Unless you do "creative" work the
company way, you run afoul of a host of laws and regulations put on the
books to control the dangerous products of imagination which can never be
safely tolerated by a centralized command system."

So, ironically, we have the worst of both systems. We could have a really
centralized system run efficiently with a tiny fraction of the workforce
now, with a lot less variety perhaps (that is, all the old Soviet Central
Planning stuff would work now that we have the internet and great software
and great designs and great computers if we accept some voluntary
simplicity), but with everything very cheap (essentially, just given away)
and 99% of the population doing whatever they wanted with their time. Or, we
could have a freewheeling diverse gift economy of local open manufacturing
where people just make whatever they want in an open way, with all sorts of
useful and useless items. (Aspects of the two extremes may even converge,
since what are the 99% of people going to do with the generic stuff but
customize it? :-) Instead, we have a system in the middle that produces some
variety at a huge expense of human effort taken away from family and civic
duties, and it is a system now with so many questions about its uncertain
future (including that anyone who is young will have a dignified place in
the economic scheme of things) that an entire country has just run out of
tear gas. This makes no sense (except of course, that some people do benefit
from this, like tear gas manufacturers, school teachers who get paid to keep
kids off the streets preparing them for non-existent jobs, people who are
near the top of the economic hierarchy already and feel secure, etc.).

And dare I add it, we should worry for our Icelandic list members too:
   "Iceland ‘Like Chernobyl’ as Meltdown Shows Anger Can Boil Over "

Again though, a reasonable physical climate given ocean currents, plenty of
geothermal power, endless ocean water and basalt to make stuff out of, a
highly educated populace with a good sense of cultural cohesion, and the
place *should* be a paradise. Instead, from the article:
"“Now you have protesters kicking down doors at police stations, and
respectable elderly people saying ‘Well, they’re young and full of
enthusiasm, and anyway, they’re right!’” he said."

Here is the good news about Iceland from the article: "The answer may be
2011, according to the IMF, which projects two years of economic contraction
first. That may take Iceland back to the income levels of five or 10 years
ago, “and we weren’t badly off then,” said Hannes Holmstein Gissurarson,
professor of politics at the University of Iceland and a central bank
supervisory board member. "

I can hope that's all it is. Iceland's issues are different than Greece's in
specifics (Icelandic banks leveraged themselves in debts denominated in
foreign currencies and got hit by international currency swings among other
things; Greece has longstanding issues about social equity), but they are
both cases where people are upset and distraught over ideology and imaginary
numbers where *nothing* is physically wrong, except perhaps that the people
are depending on a global physical infrastructure they don't control instead
of being able to make everything they need locally. I'm not saying either
country *should* make everything important locally, just that if they
*could* then there might not be as much emotion to riot over an uncertain

So, that's another reason to develop open manufacturing as a backup plan for
tough times. Still, we may be talking integrating various manufacturing
ideas in new ways to make such small countries be able to support a high
tech economy locally. But, needs have certain time constants (water is
needed everyday, a new car maybe once a decade), so an approach that makes
them mostly self-sufficient in low-tech goods and food might reduce most of
their problems, leaving them only dependent on a few high tech imports like
microprocessors. This is similar to designing a self-replicating space
habitat that would only need to import a very small percent of their mass as
"vitamins" but could make most of the rest of its needs locally.
   "AASM: 5.3.6 Closure in Self-Replicating Systems"

Another related idea is Jane Jacobs' notion of in "import replacing" city:
"Jacobs' main argument [is The Economy of Cities] is that all economic
growth derives from urban import replacement. Import replacement is when a
city starts producing locally goods that it formerly imported, e.g., Tokyo
bicycle factories replacing Tokyo bicycle importers in the 1800s. Jacobs
claims that import replacement builds up local infrastructure, skills, and
production. Jacobs also claims that the increased produce is exported to
other cities, giving those other cities a new opportunity to engage in
import replacement, thus producing a positive cycle of growth."

Anyway, this suggests one target of open manufacturing could be a community
of size ranging from Iceland (about 300,000 people) to Greece (about
11,000,000 people). That's certainly an interesting size range. I would
think 99% closure of those economies by mass should be easily doable.
Computer chips, some medicines, and maybe some other specialized components
might be the major imports after the system was set up. Note that while one
may not expect Greece or Iceland to "self-replicate" any time soon, the
ability do do so ensures it can be self-preparing.

Anyway, it kind of comes down to how much economic security is worth to a
country compared to minimum effort. Given the massive youth unemployment in
Greece, and the economic fears of depending on a global economy, it would
seem like maximizing productive efficiency through participating in global
production would not be at the top of their priority list now that they are
out of tear gas. Unfortunately, they did not invest in this research ten
years ago. So, this is only theoretical at this point. It might take a very
expensive crash program to bring together thousands of researchers for a
year to make headway in any time that might make a difference. Still,
politically, that is an out for Greece. We could all move there, recruit all
the educated youths off the streets, and spend a year figuring out how to
make Greece work for everybody and be 99% self-sufficient by mass. :-) But,
no need to move with the internet really. Maybe somebody on the list could
coordinate moving the rioters off the streets and into internet cafes and
start them programming and tagging designs with metadata? Anyway, with the
right kind of enthusiasm, I bet someone who was in Greece could turn this
whole thing around, recasting the Greek rioters as the potential people who
would save the planet by implementing open manufacturing and
cradle-to-cradle design.

It might make this all a lot easier if Greece repudiated the Berne
convention on copyrights and stopped honoring international patents too.
That might be a good reason to move there for someone who was an information
pack rat. :-) But, I don't think that is strictly necessary. Those things
can be worked around, and, as indicated by the current shortage of tear gas,
Greece has lots of unemployed educated youth to do stuff like that. Some of
that is "make work", but of a reasonable kind. :-) And, once Greece develops
this system in an open way, shared internationally, Iceland can refine it,
and then maybe Singapore, and before you know it, all the small countries in
the world would be in charge of most of their destinies again. True, they'd
still *need* to import some stuff, but not much. In practice, they might all
still want to trade a lot with various culturally significant exports (wine,
cheese, etc.). But there is a big difference IMHO in trading because you
*want* to and trading because you *have* to.

And of course, sadly, while Greece is putting together a "28 billion euro
bank support plan, aimed at ensuring the flow of credit to the economy,"
do we really think they would do something sensible like ask all the young
people to solve the problem of open manufacturing for the world for a
fraction of that? Need I ask. :-(

Also, now that there is so much rioting, maybe it is too late for Greece?
But certainly there are other countries, like, say France (population about
65 million) that might act pre-emptively to get millions of their youth
involved in solving the open manufacturing problem to ensure economic
security in the worst case? With that population, there must be hundreds of
thousands of young recent graduates of French schools who could help, and
who are already getting state support for lack of jobs. From an 2006 article:
"Five years after finishing their studies, more than a fifth of French
twentysomethings still do not have a job."

And then there is the Netherlands. And lots of other countries. A lot of
these smaller countries might even form a consortium to work together on
this -- an international effort where they all shared rethinking their
physical economies towards more self-reliance, all sharing the results with
the world under free and open source licenses, keeping their millions of
twenty-somethings off the streets while building the technological
underpinnings of the 21st century both on Earth and then in space, to
transform the global economy through sustainable cradle-to-cradle
manufacturing techniques and usher in a new era of prosperity for the
entirety of humanity and the biosphere... And beyond...
(I can hear the music swelling, so I'd better stop. :-)
   "Imagine - John Lennon"

Anyway, obviously the tear gas manufacturers would oppose all this. Maybe we
could buy them off somehow? :-)

So, now that we've solved Greece's riots (in theory), as well as the youth
unrest situation of most other smaller countries (again, in theory), back to
coding. :-)

And I should not say it is just in theory. I'm sure any rioters in Greece or
elsewhere could just stop rioting, join this list, and start coding. So, we
have a complete participatory solution in a sense. :-)

--Paul Fernhout