What would be the economic effects of a replicator like device?

If the Star Trek replicator or something like this molecular fabricator were to become a reality, what would be the economic effects? Assuming these devices would be able to duplicate themselves, they would spread like wildfire and everyone would soon have one.

My first thought would be that everyone would stop working since the device would give you everything you want or need. This would cause the country to go bankrupt since there would be no revenue coming in.

But people would have to have some money coming in to pay property taxes, medical bills, insurance, internet, phone, etc. So, I would assume most people would simply be fabricating $20 bills by the bucket full. This would quickly cause the dollar to become worthless and would cause economic collapse.

So basically my question is, what what kind of sustainable economic system would we live under if these devices were real?

your’re still gonna need :

  1. a house to live in.
    result : lots of jobs for construction workers, bulldozer operators, interior designers, real estate agents, land surveyors, real-estate investors

  2. Electricity to run the nano-replicator machine. And , believe it or not, electricity ain’t gonna come from wind farms.
    Result:lots of jobs for coal miners or oil-field workers. ('Cause even in a nanotech future, Americans are still gonna be opposed to nuclear generators. The rest of the world will have nuke plants, so that leaves plenty of jobs for Americans on the oil platforms. Which will still be leaking. So that creates even more jobs for oil-leak cleanup people.

  3. And a huge supply of pure,raw carbon, hydrogen and silicon to feed into the machine. So you need a delivery service. Result: jobs for truck drivers, jobs for flat-tire fixers, jobs for GPS programmers.
    physical money may disappear because the nano-machines can counterfeit it. So you’ll pay for everything with a credit card that is hooked up to the giant, Big-Brother data base which keeps track of how many hours you worked, and charges you x minutes of work for each item you buy.

Um, if such a device existed, there would be no need for money, or any kind of economic activity. Though I suppose the effects on society would be drastic. In many ways, a utopia would be achieved.

There are devices called fablabs that were invented at MIT which are trying to do this. They take a handful of manufacturing tools and try to utilize them so they can manufacture nearly anything, including electronics. The goal of the inventor of the concept is to build a fablab that can build equipment to build another fablab.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_lab
Not quite a molecular replicator, but a step towards it.

What would be the economic impact? Service sector jobs would still exist, even if manufacturing fell apart. And that is all this device would do is undercut manufacturing. It wouldn’t affect R&D, health care, service, etc. So it’d be like the industrial revolution. It would displace tons of workers, but eventually they’d find new jobs while the standard of living went up.

However combine a replicator with bipedal robots and AI, then the economy falls apart because most jobs can be done cheap.

Economics is based on scarcity. What would still be scarce in such a world? Energy, entertainment, and sex? Time, I suppose. Anyway, whatever is scarce is what the economy would be about.

Precisely. There’s still scarcity.

A fabricating machine can turn matter into other kinds of matter, let’s assume. But you still need energy, you still need information, and you still need entertainment. You also still have a limited amount of time. So people will pay for those things.

It will end up like music right now. Manufacturers will own the “blueprint” to their devices and you will pay a fee to use it in your replicator.

More generally, all physical property (in the sense of items, not real estate) would become intellectual property instead. Rather a cool though experiment.

I would imagine there would be some cool freeware items though. You could buy the Tyson egg license, but there would probably some pretty cool freeware eggs too. And I would imagine piracy would run rampant.

I’d think that at least at first, there might be some physical constraints for developing products used in the replicator- physical size and shape at the very least, or possibly detail constraints; I seem to remember an issue in Star Trek where the replicator was very accurate, but not so accurate that it could replicate living things without little errors.

We’d also have to deal with the amount of energy it takes to replicate something; in Star Trek, they’re using matter/antimatter conversion for energy, so it doesn’t matter- it’s worth the energy to replicate food.

For 21st century people, it might be a very different matter. It might be worth it to replicate a very intricate and hard to duplicate part for a piece of machinery, but a toilet may well be cheaper to just make the old-fashioned way. Same goes for food- replicating a loaf of bread could well be more expensive than just growing the wheat, milling the flour and baking the bread.

I think that if those sorts of constraints existed, there would be a specialized branch of engineering that would develop to best design and engineer replicated parts into normally built products.

This isn’t economic exactly, but one big advantage (and potential pitfall) of replicated technological parts would be that they’d all be identical- they’d all fail in the same manner, etc… so a design or manufacturing flaw on the template would be there in all subsequent replications. The flip side is that a good, well-tested template would allow for much better reliability than normally manufactured ones.