Monday, November 24, 2003

Give a Man a Chance

In Small is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered E. F. Schumacher extended the saying

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

His version was

Give a man fishing tackle, and you feed him until it breaks.
Teach a man to make fishing tackle, and you feed him for a lifetime.

If the fisherman is not part of a larger economy, this is the right plan. But if the fisherman can sell some of the fish and buy new tackle, he doesn't have to know how to make it all himself.

It is not possible to build billion dollar semiconductor fabs in the villages, so villagers will not be able to make Simputers from scratch. However, they will be able to do the hardware and software design, the assembly, the programming, the system administration, and the Web design and marketing, all of which will pay for the semiconductors, displays, boards, connectors, and cases. Villages cannot be totally self-sufficient in ICT hardware, but they can make a place for themselves in an integrated economy that brings them all the hardware they need to maintain and extend that place.

For villagers to take on the assembly work assumes a suitable level of education, suitable infrastructure such as roads, and suitable laws on commerce in general and import/export in particular, all of which is doable. At some point, villagers will be able to design their own chips and hire a fab to make them. Presumably it won't be people who grew up and got their education in the villages who do that first, but rather some design engineers who are tired of Silicon Valley or some other high-pressure high-tech center, who decide to move to the villages for quality of life. Then thay can train up new village engineers in a distributed village education system.

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