OSE Proposal Economic Base

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We are interested in returning to basics as a means to creating advanced civilization. The economy that we propose is one where local provision of needs is a foundation for a prosperous economy. Such an economy is marked by self-determination.

One key to such an economy is flexible specialization[1] and digital fabrication.[2] Such flexible fabrication techniques enable the provision of basic and advanced technology needs for living from the resource base of a localized community. This is called localization, and is the opposite of global supply chain mass production. From the Second Industrial Divide, we read:

Our claim is that the present deterioration in economic performance results from the limits of the model of industrial development that is founded on mass production: the use of special-purpose (product-specific) machines and of semiskilled workers to produce standardized goods.

The alternative approach, according to the same book, is flexible specialization, where "skilled workers used sophisticated general-purpose machinery to turn out a wide and constantly changing assortment of goods for large but constantly shifting markets." It leads to civilization where people gain the capacity to meet their needs without invoking the compromises of mass production.[3] Localization reduces the need for relying on uncontrollable external forces for 100% of one's needs. This system reliance is destructive if it involves the compromise of giving up one's true desires, powers, and freedoms.

Neosubsistence[4] is the term we apply to a lifestyle where people produce tangible (physical) wealth, as opposed to dealing with information in the information economy. We are talking about basics: even though we live in the information economy, we cannot deny the reality that human prosperity is founded on the provision of physical needs upon which the meeting of all higher needs is predicated. Neosubsistence is related to the information economy in that the information economy is a foundation for neosubsistence, in that is provides the enabling knowledge for production processes. Neosubsistence is a fancy word for modern-day self-sufficiency, marked by possibilities such as personal fabrication[5], reduction of the costs of living by high-tech self-providing,[6] or economic self-sufficiency via digital fabrication for outside markets. Neosubsistence does not stop at self-sufficiency production, but continues to the possibility of trade with the outside world.

The unique contribution of the information age arises in the proposition that data at one point in space allows for fabrication at another, using computer numerical control (CNC) of fabrication. This sounds like an expensive proposition, but that is not so if open source fabrication equipment is made available. With low cost equipment and software, one is able to produce or acquire such equipment at approximately $5k for a fully-equipped lab with metal working, cutting, casting, and electronics fabrication, assisted by open source CNC. It is precisely this ~$5k Open Source Fab Lab[7] equipment package that we are developing as part of this proposal. We are not talking only of the product of small crafty objects or electronics, but of the type of heavy machining required to fabricate heavy equipment.

All kinds of products may be fabricated, and one may claim that one can produce just about anything. A repository of design drawings is the only requirement, if one has access to the OS Fab Lab.

This proposal is an explicit program for deploying the Fab Lab as a foundation, and for deploying a key set of 16 products as a natural byproduct. These technologies serve as the essential infrastructure requirement for building communities by producing food, energy, fuel, materials, housing, transportation choices, electronics, and other devices. The scope of the products includes essentially everything that is required to create as self-sufficient economy focusing primarily on local use of resources. This is our proposition for addressing many structural, pressing world ills.


  1. Second Industrial Divide: Possibilities for Prosperity, by Michael J. Piore et al., http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0465075614/ref=sib_dp_pt/103-3574943-7841431#reader-link
  2. Digital fabrication: http://ng.cba.mit.edu/dist/PV.mp4
  3. For an informative and entertaining video on the externalities of the mass production-consumption cycle, we recommend http://www.storyofstuff.com/ highly.
  4. http://www.p2pfoundation.net/Neosubsistence
  5. http://www.bittorrent.com/users/tedtalks/torrents/TEDTalks%3A_Neil_Gershenfeld_%282006%29/c5993d59-0ecc-11dc-8dee-00e081411f3f
  6. http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC37/Bergmann.htm
  7. We are building a less capital-intensive, more heavy duty version of the Fab Lab cncept developed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT, by addressing the capitalization barriers.