Thursday, July 01, 2010

Consumer economy round two

A couple of nights ago, on MSNBC program Hard Ball, host, Chris Matthews described what some economist are calling the danger of the double-dip recession and noted that the US government had blown its borrowing power to bail out the banks, leaving little will and no financial reserves to bail out the American people.

He concluded that the only recourse may be for the American people to bail ourselves out with a dramatic rise in productivity like the one he said brought us out of the great depression.

Students of history have some small advantage in that we can observe cycles and either take comfort in the idea that what goes around often comes around again. In some cases, the knowledge of "goes around comes around" may leave us quaking in our boots. In this case, however, I am hoping to offer some assurance to leave us all in a better place.

Gustav Larsson was the Swede chosen by Otto Salomon and Boston philanthropist Pauline Agassiz Shaw to create the Sloyd Teacher Training School at North Bennet St. School in the 1880's. Larsson told about the effects of cheap manufactured goods on Swedish culture in the early 1800's. As cheap manufactured goods became available, flooding Swedish communities with stuff, Swedes lost their inclination to make things for themselves, lost their hands-on skills, and the satisfaction that arises with the expression of those skills. The result was that Swedes began making massive quantities of home made liquor, and began greater consumption of alcohol with widespread drunkenness and moral decline as the direct consequence. The Lutheran Church recognized the problem and began advocacy of a restoration of hand crafts as a means of restoring human dignity to the Swedish people.

You can observe same effect wherever cheap manufactured goods have encountered indigenous cultures. It happened with the American Indians when whites brought trade goods and alcohol. It continues to happen today when American tourists wander the globe spreading the glory of our manufactured electronic devices, and native crafts and the teaching relationship between parents and grandparents are pushed aside and abandoned.

I have a long day of class today and won't have time for a full discussion of the issues surrounding the restoration of a sense of the value of crafts and creativity in our personal lives. So if you want to learn more about this interesting cycle, come back and read later... or you can head to the wood shop, put your hands on real tools, grab a piece of wood and experience for yourself, the satisfaction that arises from making stuff.

Chris Matthew's comments were interesting in that he has noted what we all know to be true. We have become a culture dominated by mindless consumption rather than by production of useful beauty. There is something each of us can do about that.


  1. Anonymous5:50 PM

    Have fun teaching the class, knowing that you can make a difference.


  2. Anonymous11:16 AM

    The hardest thing for people to realize is that you can not sustain the unsustainable. Throw in most peoples general apathy towards the enviroment and peak oil and you end up with a recipe for disaster. If the majority of folks around the world woke up to what is being done to them and refused to cooperate any longer, the whole scheme would fall apart. This is simply not going to happen, and yet, it is what is needed to happen to reverse the direction we are going in as a society.

    Scrap Wood