Ramble of the Day: 3D Manufacturing could destroy Africa’s chances for Industrialization and Development

In general, I buy the traditional school of thought that there are three stages of development to transition from an agrarian economy to a fully developed service economy, via a stage as an industrial, manufacturing economy.

The Western world has completed this transition over the past 200 years, and in the past 50 years we have seen the same developments in the Asian Tigers. Today, “Made in China” is no longer restricted to toys and textiles, and China’s growth is being led in its high-tech and finance industries. Increased standards of living are making traditional intensive labor facilities unsustainable, and as China transitions from an industrial economy to a service, consumer-demand driven economy, one would expect that low cost manufacturing to move elsewhere around the world, bringing vast amounts of jobs to any nation with the political stability to house a Nike or H&M. Many African countries are well-positioned to take advantage of China’s transition away from manufacturing, including Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ethiopia to name but a few.

The rise of automated manufacturing, and particularly the advent of economically viable 3D printing, threaten to disrupt the traditional outsourced manufacturing model, removing “wages” from the equation and allowing firms to manufacture products close to their ultimate point of sale. While this increased efficiency is fantastic for the consumer, it threatens to upend the traditional model for economic development in under-developed countries.

How do we envision developing nations if there is no industrialization bridge for them to cross? Can free, online education raise a generation of young, educated people who do not need the menial, labor-intensive jobs that have fueled development elsewhere?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Ross Garlick


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