Special thanks and appreciation to Isaac Hoppe for writing this. On point food for thought.
People, collectively, are not freer to pursue creative tasks nor less dependent on skills of self-reliance because of the Industrial Revolution. People are still trying to depend on those tasks to supplement their income or provide all of it, just like people have always done. Communication technology has had a much bigger impact on self-reliance and creative work than the Industrial Revolution had. Communication allowed people to access the new products and culture. The Arts & Crafts movement of the early 20th century demonstrated this, as art and pop culture at once suddenly became far more self-referential and sought to refresh skills that were being replaced by machines.
There is a conflict between automation and skills that continues to inform our culture. Automation cast as the answer to all our problems, a savior come to free us from drudgery, while skills such as knitting and even cooking are treated as kitschy, bourgeois hobbies rather than meaningful and practical tools for survival.
And modern life is suffering from that idea. We not only don’t regularly educate children in those skills anymore, we put their practice out of the reach of the poor simply as a consequence of supply and demand. The materials for creative work have gotten expensive because the burden is now almost entirely on an individual. The sharing economy hasn’t quite gotten to the idea of sharing, say, a loom or a kitchen, when it used to be quite common.
Once you’ve made something, though, then you have to navigate the marketplaces for creative works, places that are notoriously nightmarish for a seller and flooded with “creative works” that are impractical or only meant to be luxuries. Meaning, the buying side of the market in marketplaces such as Etsy, Fiverr, or Freelancer is extremely limited, not nearly enough demand to absorb the supply.
And the worst part? The worse the economy gets, the more people try to make ends meet with “creative tasks” but only know how to use their skills like a hobby, not a problem-solving tool.
To underline the problem with that, it’s worth citing a line from an image macro that is popular among my circle: “the backlash against minimum wage increases is really just capitalism admitting it can’t provide for its workers’; basic needs”. I’d level that finger against industrialism (not the same as just technology in general), instead, but the relevant point here is that our needs are not actually being met by the prevailing systems.
There is a happy little report by the UN stating that world poverty is at its lowest point ever, that fewer people are impoverished now than at any time since the UN was founded. Problem: the only metric they measured poverty by was income, regardless of how it affected ability to meet basic needs of nutrition, water and shelter.
Example: people in urban food deserts get a large portion of their diet from bodegas, where there is little or no fresh food available. Even if someone managed to game the system to receive a wealth of food stamps, what food is available to them is fundamentally detrimental to their health so having more to eat still wouldn’t meet their actual nutritional needs.
Industrialism is not going to address this kind of problem. We need to reclaim historic skills like gardening, canning, and sharing. And we need to look at those skills with a better lens, applying them to solve practical problems rather than generating more superfluous luxuries.