The Economist examines the artisan

There’s an interesting essay in The Economist 1843 (February – March 2018) that looks at  white-collar workers as artisanal producers. (Thank you, Drew Smith, our man in Australia, for the head’s up.)

In a piece called, Crafting a Life, Ryan Avent makes a larger observation:

Thinkers and policymakers struggle with the question of what happens to the human race when work as we currently conceive of it withers away and society has to organize itself around something other than an eight-hour day in the office or the factory.

He proposes an answer, following his observation of

clever, prosperous people creating firms that look more like workshops from the pre-industrial world than modern companies. From the local sourcing of materials, to the espousal of community, to the strong relationships with suppliers and customers, to the appearance of their products, [these enterprises] hark back to a time before the Industrial Revolution transformed society. Their emergence has much to say about our needs and wants, and may hold clues to how we can better satisfy them in the future.

This artisanal labor may be a necessary substitute, Avent says, for the jobs that are being lost to our new machine age. But it has satisfactions so intense, these jobs are perhaps to be preferred in any case.

Craft is, in general, far less well-paid than professional work. Yet the benefits it offers – the satisfaction of controlling one’s own destiny, acquiring a range of skills, creating beautiful and delicious things, forming friendships with suppliers and customers – make up for the reduced incomes and ensure that there is a small, steady migration of professionals into the craft economy.

Avent offers lots of scintillating details about the artisanal economy in and around Washington, D.C. and closes by returning to his larger theme.

[Is] the rise of the artisanal economy … a sign of a large-scale, long-term change in the world of work[?] Behind that big question lie the still bigger issues with which thinkers and policymakers concerned about the consequences of automation are wrestling: how, if machines take over the economy, and earnings and capital are therefore increasingly concentrated in a few hands, should resources be distributed? And what, if machines are doing the work, does everybody do with their time?

Grant McCracken

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