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Stephan Schmitt-Degenhardt

This site shall provide space for  critical and for constructive thoughts about economic development with a focus on developing and emerging economies.  
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Site launched: 20.01.2014 Last update: 09.04.2015
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There is a profound change in the air: the rate of job changes in a lifetime is ever increasing. The average American holds nowadays about 11 jobs in a lifetime, the equivalent of one job-change every 4 years. For Canadians, the rate increased by about 20% within a ten-year period. There are few differences by educational attainment, gender and ethnicity. Some tax systems (e.g. Ukraine) encourage "holding companies" that coordinate an army of freelance laborers: “have desk and laptop (or tools) - can work.” The on-demand economy decentralizes labor supply - worldwide. When I once posted a work on freelance.com it took the first respondent 4 minutes to reply: he was in Pakistan where it was 3 a.m.! Similar services pop up everywhere and offer labor supply and labor demand an unbureaucratic, fast way of getting together. I do not doubt that in the not too distant future freelancing is more like the norm. What does this mean for our labor systems and tax systems, for society? How will "decent work" be possible? From which base do governments generate their revenues? What impact will that have on our social construct? There are no answers as yet, not even tendencies. I can just imagine that in such decentralized labor markets, regulations will be ever more difficult to impose and control, and must therefore focus on the bare essentials and be supported by strong incentive oriented systems. And the social media and constant interactions of today are certainly a good preparation for society. Based on Piketty we speak of a New Gilded Age in terms of inequality (but sadly not in terms of economic growth). Potentially, in terms of labor markets, we have to reach out before that time and even before the industrial revolution to encounter a period that might have some similarity to the decentralized markets that look certain to come. Most development projects are intended as "pilots" to be subsequently taken over, scaled and continued by governments, markets or other actors. An uncountable number of these never achieve this goal: the other actor's systems do not absorb them sustainably. One very obvious, but often overlooked way to improve this shortcoming is to adjust the project's complexity to the absorption capacity of the intended actors. In short: focus and simplification. Why is it often so difficult for projects to scale their ambitions to the recipient's capacities? Behavioral economics provides ample proofs for many judgment biases that play an important role. When we, as project managers or donors, invested so much effort, time and money in a project, we tend to believe that every activity we did is essential and important for the system's survival. We suffer from confirmation bias and fundamental attribution errors, and throw good money after bad. I would like to borrow an idea from marketing: the Minimum Marketable Product (MMP). This contains the smallest set of functionality which ensures not only value for the client, but also the willingness of the client to invest in or pay for it. It is the precondition for transfer and scaling of a project. It is surely hard to identify this MMP, and to let go of all the "decorations". A slightly adjusted method borrowed from M4P provides an approach to this: divide your project into activities/functions or blocks of activities/functions. Then analyze which of these is a must (essential), should (you must do it if you can do it), and a can. Focus on the "must" and identify who shall take each one over and who pays, why they would do so, and if they have the capacities and credibility to do so. If it turns out that one of the must activities/functions appears to be on shaky grounds go back to the "drawing board" as the product might not be marketable. A lot. The printer will revolutionize society and the way we are living. I will write about that in another blog and now start with another thought: all development points to it that we will be able, in the not too distant future, to print out our own electronic components (a revolutionary way to print out electronic chips has just been successfully tested) and much else (e.g., clothes, already done and marketed now). So when we need, say, a new MP3- Player (or whatever will then be leading the technology), we just download the plan from the internet and print it out. But there is a catch: 3D printing gets much more complex and costly with every material added. So there will be a strong incentive to reduce this complexity by reducing the number of materials used, until many objects can be produced with just one or two materials. This in turn will facilitate ... recycling. Currently, the recycling of many electronic components is very costly because of which most have to be treated as special solid waste. But being produced from one material only will make recycling a breeze. And the ideas generated and designs developed for the 3D printer will have knock-on effects on the design of non-printed products. A big step towards a full cradle to cradle product management. Almost logically, after 3D printing comes 4D printing, or self- assembly, wherein materials are programmed to assemble themselves with the input of some random energy (for example shaking). It exists. And it could someday be a very useful addition to the 3D printing.
Simplicity for sustainability What the 3D printer will do for the environment - a quick thought