Saturday, September 10, 2011

no prosperity in sight?

A wide range of observers have noted that the possibility of a return of American prosperity hinges on manufacturing. This article, We Won’t See Mass Prosperity Until We Rebuild Manufacturing provides links to a variety of editorials and articles in such places as the New York Times and Harvard Business Review. In the New York Times, Susan Hockstein, President of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology suggests “our economy will thrive only when we make what we invent.” She challenges the idea that the United States can be a world-class source of innovation without actually producing the new products. As she points out, in the past, “with design and fabrication side by side, insights from the factory floor flowed back to the drawing board.”

There are other additional, non-economic problems that result from our being a non-manufacturing nation. There are feelings that arise in the process of making things, or through physical exertion toward a common purpose even in the worst of circumstances. Feelings of power, competence, and control arise in the individual and in the culture as we accomplish real things. There is a distinct connection between economic depression and emotional depression and you will have noticed that the stock market rises and falls on consumer and investor confidence.

The following is from Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist's Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain's Healing Power
"For a brain that evolved to move the body around in complex ways to interact with the world around us, our increasingly effortless lifestyles result in an unengaged brain that receives few reminders that we have meaningful control over our environments. Our brains' interpretation of a lack of control in our increasingly chaotic lives leads to greater stress and anxiety that often culminates in the symptoms of depression. Incorporating physical activity that leads to tangible meaningful rewards in our lives, something I call effort-driven rewards, can act as a form of a mental vitamin that builds emotional resiliency. Even better, tasks that utilize our hands are especially effective considering that a large proportion of our brains' "real estate" is directed toward their movement. Thus, the "chores" that were a necessary component of our grandparent's lives likely lifted their emotions in powerful ways."
What Dr. Lambert describes can be observed in your own life. Woodworkers have called their time in the wood shop "sawdust therapy". All those who have had the opportunity to engage in tangible creative work shared with others, know the feelings of emotional vibrancy that emerge and sustain every aspect of self, including the brain power that enables clear thinking and problem solving. So the question becomes, "Is this something of value to pass on to our children?" So far, not so good. We are making the wrong choices by providing our children entertaining distractions from real life. Now who wants real life when we can live in perfect fantasy and delusion?

There is a simple solution for all that ails us: To make lastingly beautiful, creative and useful things can lift the economy, and lift the spirit. From the article referenced above:
"Now, after decades of closing down factories, throwing engineers and skilled production workers out of work, re-orienting those professions to military work and much of the educated class to finance, the U.S. is in the position of a developing country. We must try to catch up to Europe and Asia in any way that we can."
Re-orienting much of our educated class to finance as we did didn't do much for us, did it? If you are not sure what to make, or how to get started, Fine Woodworking is doing a campaign on their website using my videos on box making to promote membership. You can download a sample for free or become a member and get lots more video content over the next few months. Box making is a good way to develop skills in woodworking and more.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Thanks for the book title. I ordered a copy from my library.


  2. I see a great deal of irony in your final paragraph. Hope you can see it too.

  3. Wyman, I would like to think that readers would take advantage of the offer to learn how to do some woodworking. Though I suppose many will just be entertained. Or maybe I'm missing something...

  4. I have been reading your blog for a month or so and really love this post. I love to cook and want to learn to decorate and build too. The feeling I get when cooking is just like you say, a satisfaction of knowing I have some control over how something evolves and then exists.

    I do have a question though, is the site you recommend have suitable projects for young children, about 10-6 years old with an inexperienced mama? My father works with wood as did my grandfather but we do not live close and I would like my boys to have hand skills.

    Thank you,
    Jen in Oz

  5. Jen, I have some porjects for kids on the FineWoodworking website, along with some information on how to do woodworking safely with kids. One the site, search for "woodworking with kids". I need to write something up for the blog about it. We do new projects at Clear Spring School each week, and you can get a feel for what we do by reading the blog during the school year.