Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bigger Isn't Automatically Better

Richard Fernandez - aka Wretchard - writes about the relative strengths of China and the US at his new Pajamas Media Belmont Club blog page.

Which raises the interesting question, is one week old still equal to "new" in internet years?

Pending resolution of that minor distraction, I have to question Mr. Fernandez's referents used to frame his proposition. While it seems self evident that China is steadily building up it's capacity to pre-WW II levels of US industrial capacity in both shipbuilding and aviation construction, I have to wonder how closely this correlates to the experience of the famed buggy whip industry in US history?

While US construction of still useful but arguably outdated technology also seems to be in actual as well as relative decline, I believe that this apparent loss of capability seems of heightened importance because it's replacement technologies are only just beginning to take hold.

As the ability to manufacture/assemble complex items becomes more widespread, the need to ship such things from a central point will be more swiftly replaced then most observers seem currently willing to acknowledge. People will quite rapidly adjust to using a relatively insubstantial item for a limited time and then recycling its components for their own re-use as needed rather than buy a "quality tool" with the intent of owning it, and toting it around with them, for a lifetime, I believe. "Plastic" will become a value-positive term again much sooner than most seem to realise.

Likewise, the ability to quickly deliver items in an aircraft intended to be scavenged upon arrival (one possibility I have seen raised for logistics delivery drones) will radically alter aviation, as will the implementation of airframe construction materials that many people don't seem to have recognised or accounted for in their aeronautical projections.

I will admit that, should China choose to launch an emergency crash construction program (at horrendous expense and a total loss of secrecy), they could overhaul the equivalent US construction capacity. For a little while. Within a very few years though (I suspect closer to 3 then 5) China's impressive construction efforts will be in outmoded technology and will all have to be very expensively replaced if that - or any other - country wishes to remain relevant as 21ist century technology continues to mature.

So, I have to ask; should we rebuild our antiquated construction facilities to reclaim our dominance in outdated technology, or should we forgo our pursuit of that claim in furtherance of a newer one?

No comments: