Paris – Why has 92% of the world’s capital vanished since 2024? It was thirty years ago today that the economist Thomas Piketty released his classic book “Capital in the Twenty First Century”(1). Perhaps the central idea from the book was that historically the rate of return on capital is about three times larger than the growth rate of the world economy. Piketty demonstrated this relationship with meticulous historical data and believed that this issue would lead to growing inequality in the 21st century unless we “did something” to level the playing field.
Well, we did something. We invented atomically precise manufacturing (APM). Just ten months before Piketty’s book was released, Eric Drexler, one of the founding fathers of nanotechnology, published a book with the modest title, “Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization”(2). This it turns out was the real story of “capital in the 21st century.” Drexler described how APM would make it possible to produce virtually anything using earth abundant materials in a few seconds time. The first APM devices released in 2024 worked with feed stocks of dumb nano-scale building blocks. But it wasn’t long before these building blocks became intelligent. Each 600 nanometer feedstock building block today (one tenth the size of a red blood cell) has more computing power than was used by IBM’s Watson when it became the World’s Jeopardy! Champion in 2011.
So how did APM wipe out 92% of the world’s capital? Once we could produce anything that we wanted using earth abundant molecules – silver mines, oil refineries, manufacturing plants, and other centralized production assets quickly became worthless. The rapid unfolding of events around APM resulted in a series of disruptions in the late 2020’s that, as we all know, were very bad. We almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by not anticipating the huge disruptions caused by APM. But we made it. Today we are largely free of the need to worry about the cost of a quality standard of living. The annual cost is negligible. People can produce virtually anything that they want instantly. Capital as we knew it in the 20th century has become obsolete.
(1) Piketty, Thomas (2014-03-10). Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Harvard University Press
(2) Drexler, K. Eric (2013-05-07). Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, Public Affairs