I’m in the middle of reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford, about the lost art of making and fixing things for a living.
In one of my previous posts I wrote about having trouble finding American-made lumber and the hardware I need to build my own wood products.
After some lengthy discussions with friends and a followup post by Rich Mintz I’ve been left wondering if it’s still feasible to manufacture or “make things” on a smaller, local scale and still be able to compete?
In the past couple of weeks I’ve looked at some beautiful, high-quality furniture, hand-crafted right here in my neck of the woods…and what I hear from the craftsmen is “no money in it” or “people would rather buy the junk from (enter name of big box store).”
In fact, the way most products are built — and the way we’re now programmed to buy them — is with an acceptance of “planned obsolescence.” This is nothing new, but more common today because products are not created to last.
They’re created to be useful and replaced.
Think about it. If you can buy a piece of furniture for $200 every 3-4 years and have the latest “style” in your home…then is that better than buying a solid, well-made piece for $2000 that, from the outside, looks nearly identical?
So I have to ask, is “making things” no longer feasible?
The author of Shop Class as Soulcraft believes it is. But only when what needs to be produced or created in the US could not possibly be built overseas. There are skills we have here that could not — and never will be — outsourced.
You might think it’s the white collar world that’s not replaceable. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Crawford mentions a long list of career paths that, in a short period of time from now, will no longer be necessary in the US. More tasks than you might care to imagine can be quickly and easily shipped off and never again brought back.
And I’m not just talking about manufacturing either.
We’ve seen this happen with call centers. The ship has already left the port for jobs including computer programmers, web and graphic designers, commercial printers, accountants, financial managers, X ray technicians…
As more skilled work is sent overseas and outsourced to smart, English-speaking overseas workers for pennies on the dollar…does it provide any greater of a wake-up call to do something to preserve more than just the “blue collar” jobs?
So…is anybody safe?
Although it’s not going to be a surprise to see a steady flow of modular homes being shipped in from China, most of the common trades can never be sent away. You’ll never ship a toilet out for repairs. Decks can’t be delivered by UPS.
But, I still can’t figure out why there’s little respect for the blue collar trades?