Alternative Economics

Part One: Paradigm Shifts & Open Source Hardware

By Tony Cartalucci


By now, many people are acutely aware of the term "alternative media;" its triumphs, its short comings, and the profound effect it is having as it erodes the corporate establishment. The agenda has been set for generations by the moneyed elite who held the uncontested capital and the physical means to mass produce propaganda and disseminate it amongst the population. The only way to have countered this propaganda was public speaking, mailing lists, fliers, posters, etc., all at the immense cost of the publisher. The forming of organizations to help cover these costs and produce media presented a target for the establishment to infiltrate and ultimately co-opt.

While guerrilla marketing techniques coupled with old fashioned local activism still certainly have their merits, it was the ability for a single individual to start a blog, a website, or a YouTube channel and speak to an audience of millions for little or no cost at all that has finally breached the walls of this long standing monopoly. This was made possible via information technology (IT), and the exploitation of this technology to produce alternative media is still reverberating with far reaching implications.

Obsolescence Via IT

Peer to peer file sharing (P2P) has made media distribution free and has become the bane of media monopolies. P2P file sharing means digital files can be copied and distributed at no cost. CD's, DVD's, and other older forms of holding media are no longer necessary, nor is the cost involved in making them or distributing them along a traditional logistical supply chain. Disc burners, however, allow users the ability to create their own physical copies at a fraction of the cost of buying the media from the stores. Supply and demand is turned on its head as the more popular a certain file becomes via demand, the more of it that is available for sharing, and the easier it is to obtain. Supply and demand increase in tandem towards a lower "price" of obtaining the said file.

Consumers demand more as price decreases. Producers
naturally want to produce more of something as price
. Somewhere in between consumers and
producers meet at the market price or "market


P2P technology eliminates material scarcity, thus the more a
file is in demand,
the more people end up downloading it, and
the easier it is for others to find it and
download it. Consider
the implications this would have if technology made physical
as easy to "share" as information is now.

Media moguls are now faced with a choice; innovate or try in vain through litigation to maintain their obsolete business model. They have chosen the latter, and to no one's surprise, they are losing billions in sales per year. Their strategy is to control the actual media itself as "intellectual property" and to chase down unauthorized users of their "property" literally to the ends of the earth. In the process they have alienated themselves from their own consumer base and spurred people, tired of big corporations, to delve into the world of alternative music, film, and media.

The price of clinging to an antiquated business model is: 8.3 billion USD.

New alternative media supported by advertisements, live performances, and other innovative means have weathered this disruptive technology, and in many cases, benefited from the larger audience it gives them access to. In many ways, the big media corporations are feeding the alternative movement, by chasing people who have tasted free media, away from Hollywood and the big recording labels and into the hands of people gladly offering free entertainment.

Blogging, online videos, podcasts, and cheap domain hosting have allowed a myriad of alternative news outlets to flourish. Reputation, accuracy, honesty, and research have become the determining factors of success and reach, not funding. Funding had once been the determining factor of who set the public agenda. It now plays a diminishing role as alternative news, fixated on truth and accuracy collectively catches up to established news agencies.

With the obstacle of funding out of the way and the establishment's monopoly over information broken, people are rediscovering the value of accurate information. As with any commodity when a monopoly is broken, price and quality dictate demand. Accurate information allows people to make sound decisions regarding all aspects of their lives, from finance to travel, from medical issues to educational choices. Those outlets that repeatedly provide accurate information will procure the largest audience/demand. Those that fail, lose their audience.

In the end, it is not government regulations, legal contrivances, or licenses that govern information, but rather the free market mechanism commonly referred to as Adam Smith's self regulating "Invisible Hand of the Market." In other words, people selfishly seeking accurate information for their own benefit encourage producers to provide the best possible information to meet their demand. While this is not possible in a monopoly, particularly the corporate media monopoly of the "left/right paradigm" of false choice, it is inevitable in the field of real competition that now exists online due to information technology.

Obsolescence Via Hardware

Compounding the establishment's troubles are cheaper cameras and cheaper, more capable software for 3D graphics, editing, mixing, and other post production tasks, allowing for the creation of an alternative publishing, audio and video industry. "Underground" counter-corporate music and film has been around for a long time but through the combination of technology and the zealous corporate lawyers disenfranchising a whole new generation that now seeks an alternative, it is truly coming of age.

It is now possible for someone to go an entire day watching open-source, alternative media as entertainment, news, and education without so much as flipping on the TV, putting in a Hollywood DVD, a record company's CD or opening an establishment magazine. What's more is that someone can now spend their free-time producing media rather than consuming it.

While cheaper consumer hardware such as cameras and computers coupled with open-source software are the primary factors driving the alternative media now, another factor to consider is open-source hardware. And while the focus has been on media, it will now shift over to the physical world of production.

Open-Source Hardware

Like information, production has been long dominated by the moneyed elite who have had the capital and infrastructure necessary to carry it out. Factories, forges, mines, and the manpower to operate them requires vast fortunes. And like information, technology is eliminating these barriers and bringing the means of production literally into the hands of the people, not through Marxist policy, but through innovation and free market mechanics.

Computer numeric controlled machining, or CNC machining, allows a user to cut any material to shape using an automated machine. Once given a 3D design, a computer translates it into a code that directs motors and a cutting tool to cut it out of a piece of metal, wood, plastic, etc. Some CNC machines add material rather than cut it away, thus making it a 3D printer.

CNC has been around for a long time, and like computers, they started their life as incredibly expensive machines that only large corporations could afford to run. As technology has progressed, they have become smaller and more affordable. They can now be found in use by small businesses around the world, from sign and photo shops using computer controlled laser cutters to sewing shops using computer controlled embossing machines.

Already custom bike and car shops are using CNC machining, laser cutters and waterjet cutting to create custom wheels, cut out sheet metal designs for fabrication, and create custom or replacement engine parts - all operations that once required orders to be made out to a large-scale factory. Advanced fabrication techniques have given rise to companies like Local Motors, the embodiment of open-sourced localized industry where cars are literally on the menu.

Entire businesses have sprung up to supply smaller scale machines for hobbyist and small business users, including "ShopBots" and the 3D printing "MakerBot." Unlike the propitiatory machines populating modern large-scale production lines, these smaller scale machines are considered "open-source hardware." Open-source hardware entails all the blueprints, component lists, instructions for assembly, and usually a community built around it for collaborative development. While purchasing the physical hardware is still up to the user, the methods of constructing it are free to use for all.

Open-source 3D printer RepRap, Mendel

The 3D printer MakerBot and its open source sibling Reprap are both based on computer controller platforms called Arduino, yet another example of open-source hardware going mainstream and opening up the door to a historical industrial paradigm shift. Arduino appears as a small circuit board with a USB connector. It allows users with little or no electronic expertise to bridge the gap between their computer and the physical world. Arduino controllers allow one to create everything from robots, to remote controlled webcams, interactive clothing, automated home appliances, physical devices that hook up to web applications and just about all the technological gadgets one currently depends on China Inc. for.

The Arduino open-sourced prototyping platform allows ordinary people, students, and entrepreneurs to develop their own technology. No multi-million dollar R&D lab required.

The best part about the Arduino controller is that not only is it open-sourced, and has a community of users built up around it and its improvement, but many of the projects based on the controller are open-sourced as well. As a beginner hobbyist or an intrepid entrepreneur ventures into the realm of technological invention, they do so with information and resources to prevent them from having to 'reinvent the wheel' and move on specifically towards their goal.

Small scale automated manufacturing like the MakerBot and RepRap have already been made possible with this open prototyping platform, and larger scale projects are beginning to take shape including this table sized laser-cutter. "Personal manufacturing" is what this revolution is being coined, and is explained in lengthy detail here, by Dominic Muren.

A thirty minute documentary covering the development of Arduino
open-source hardware development.

With a growing community of people determined to become collaborative producers rather than fit into the producer/consumer paradigm, and 3D files for physical objects already being shared like movies and music, the implications are profound. Products, and the manufacturing technology used to make them will continue to drop in price, become easier to make for individuals rather than large corporations, just as media is now shifting into the hands of the common people. And like the shift of information, industry will move from the elite and their agenda of preserving their power, to the end of empowering the people.

In a future alternative economy where everyone is a collaborative designer, producer, and manufacturer instead of passive consumers and when problems like "global climate change," "overpopulation," and "fuel crises" cross our path, we will counter them with technical solutions, not political indulgences like carbon taxes, and not draconian decrees like "one-child policies."

We will become the literal architects of our own future in this "personal manufacturing" revolution. While these technologies may still appear primitive, or somewhat "useless" or "impractical" we must remember where our personal computers stood on the eve of the dawning of the information age and how quickly they changed our lives. And while many of us may be unaware of this unfolding revolution, you can bet the globalists, power brokers, and all those that stand to lose from it not only see it but are already actively fighting against it.

Understandably it takes some technical know-how to jump into the personal manufacturing revolution. In part 2 of "Alternative Economics" we will explore real world "low-tech" solutions to becoming self-sufficient, local, and rediscover the empowerment granted by doing so.