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The slow work movement

by rdf Sun May 31st, 2009 at 06:35:23 PM EST

In an earlier article I argued for a lifestyle which is less based upon material possessions and more focused on getting joy out of life.

Too Many People, Too Little Work

Suggesting that people work less is fine, but people still need to do some work in order to live. The question is what sort?


Historical Work Patterns

Modern society has altered the traditional division of labor which consisted of a large peasant class, a very small landowning class, and a modest sized merchant class. As mechanization improved, the number needed for tilling the land decreased, while a new class of factory workers emerged which absorbed much of the displaced workforce. This was not a smooth transition, a lot of excess labor was forced to emigrate, especially from Europe to the New World and Australia. Now that these areas have filled up, displaced workers in other regions have been forced into more extreme situations. The biggest, ongoing, trend is from the countryside in Africa and Asia and into the cities. They don't find the factory or entrepreneurial jobs as rewarding as the earlier migrants did. Many end up in extreme poverty with minimal social services living in fringe shanty towns.

The advanced societies are now moving away from almost all agricultural (the US employs about 2% of the working population in this area), and the mass-production factory model, which was the backbone of the growth of the middle class during the 20th Century, is also going into decline. The boosters of the brighter tomorrow dream say that "service" jobs will replace the traditional employment opportunities. Service jobs, however, fall into two broad categories. I'll call them labor substitution and middlemen. A typical modern example of labor substitution:

A woman with children enters the labor force and then spends most of her salary paying another woman to take care of her kids. Or she works so late that she has to buy prepared foods on the way home to serve her family. The food preparer substituted for the traditional home role. I'm not saying that this a good or bad development, just that it has become increasingly common as the percentage of women in the workforce continues to rise. Many women resented being forced into a role of "housewife" when they had ambitions of their own. More options can only be a positive development. Other labor substitutions have grown without much notice, at one time only the barber and the bread baker were common labor substitution professions. The first because it needed a certain degree of skill and the second because many poor families didn't have ovens. Now we have people to do our shopping for us, wrap our packages, make us a cup of coffee and give us financial and "lifestyle" advice.

The other category of service job is the creation of layer upon layer of intermediaries. I don't need to enumerate them, but a typical firm will now have training, human resources,payroll, accounting, food service and cleaning all delegated to specialized firms. The argument is that a specialized firm can be more efficient than a company doing everything for its self. In limited cases this may be true, but the middlemen need to make a profit too and it is not clear that the service actually ends up cheaper as a result.

In an earlier age a banker's skill lay in being able to assess the risk of making a loan. Now bankers hire risk analysis firms, risk insurance firms, management firms, credit rating agencies, appraisers, etc. in an almost endless progression of new services. These new services don't add new value to the ultimate transaction. A loan gets made or it doesn't, but they do keep lots of people employed. I've maintained that this is an entirely proper social organization for a society to adopt, as long as what is being done is agreed to by the citizenry explicitly.

The legislators have no trouble making such an argument when it comes to military spending. They explicitly cite the number of jobs that will be created by making death machines. Right now, in the US, a similar argument is being made for keeping the huge middleman structure of the health services sector. There are about six million in the "Healthcare Practitioner and Technical Occupations" listing kept by the US Department of Labor, but the workforce in the overall field is about 16 million. In other words, about half of all jobs are middlemen. If a society wants to deliberately provide make-work jobs, then that's fine as long as everyone understands what is the goal. The Japanese provide support for small plot rice farmers by keeping imports at a disadvantage. Everyone pays a bit more, but these marginally economic farmers are kept on their land and employed. The expense is seen as being socially worthwhile.

To summarize: Agriculture and factory work are in decline, "service" industries are on the increase, but many of the new jobs are really make-work tasks or labor substitution. The push toward labor substitution is also a result of the way the GDP is calculated. Getting back to my working mother case, when she stays home, her work does not contribute to the GDP, but if she hires someone else to do the tasks, then both transactions are counted. This anomaly is used as a way to shape public policy, even if the planners may not realize it.

Slow Work

A few years ago a "slow food" movement started. People were supposed to cook for themselves and take time to enjoy the entire process of preparation and eating. In addition raising food locally or buying from small farmers rather than big industrialized operations was seen as a desirable end. By analogy I'm coining the term "slow work", which I'll define in a moment.

Starting near the beginning of the 20th Century there was a revulsion to the increasingly dehumanized factory system and in both Britain and the US there arose movements dedicated to recreating the traditional hand crafts. Usually this is called the "Arts and Crafts" movement. Many of the creations of these small shops and skilled workman now command huge prices, but the movement was always aimed at the elite.

During the 1960's there was a second wave with many "hippies" moving to Vermont and other rural areas and setting up furniture, pottery and jewelry operations. Some even survive to this day. Even food preparation became part of the movement with bakers and other shops offering alternatives to mass-produced food.

My "slow food" movement is an attempt to extend this beyond the elite that have been its mainstay so far. The one thing that people can't really buy these days is individually made items. Almost everything we buy is mass-produced. Advertisers go to great lengths to make people identify with products and make them think that this defines their individuality, but in truth it is just the opposite. The "unique" sweater that you buy in a shop may only be carried in a dozen or so copies, but it is likely that it is in hundreds of other shops elsewhere. The "uniqueness" is an illusion.

My proposal is to shift away from mass production for much of what we buy. Certain items are now so complex or difficult to build that getting a hand-made one is impractical. How could a hand-made mobile phone even be created? On the other hand the Volvo model showed that autos could be made from start to finish by work teams rather than on an assembly line. With a bit of tweaking even such complex system as this could be individualized. The assembly team would do more that take predefined parts from the appropriate bins, but would have some say on what parts were incorporated, following a customer's desires. With modern computerized control systems, even one-off machined parts are feasible.

Other areas like clothing, furniture and home furnishings lend themselves to a non-factory model. What I'm suggesting is not the false "customization" provided by huge firms. For example Levy's Jeans offers custom fitted clothes, but all that changes is that the cutting machine is programmed with the customer's actual measurements. Everything else about the process is still the same. The objective is to get people out of the factories and into workshops where they are designers as well as builders. Of course, this will be less "efficient" than the one-size-fits-all mass production model. But the loss in efficiency is compensated by the increased need for employment. This is the social goal that I'm advocating. "Efficiency" fails to take in the total cost to a society of how things get done. Where is the cost of those not working factored in? Where is the loss of self worth from people on the fringes accounted? Just like the GDP distortion, failing to price life satisfaction skews priorities.

I've built a lot of the furniture in my home over the decades (including two harpsichords) and the feeling one gets from living with one's creations provides a lasting satisfaction that no mass produced item can match, regardless of how much we are told to the contrary. Living with items bought (or bartered) from people that you have met and discussed your needs with is also a source of pleasure. Not everything needs to be material output to fall into to my scheme. Farmer's markets show that people have the same feelings toward the breads, jellies and other items that are for sale. With a bit of thought this type of personalized labor can be extended to many other areas, including "services".

One pays more for the items one buys, but one gets more for the items that one sells. And if it takes months to make a harpsichord then someone trying to do this for a living will just make fewer and charge appropriately. The lessened income will reduce the mad rush toward excess materialism and the continual replacement of perfectly good items for newer ones in an attempt to make up for the lack of meaning in many people's lives.

That's my slow work movement. Enjoy the labor, see the results of your efforts and know that others appreciate getting things that aren't mass-produced and ill-suited to one's actual needs. Done right there will be enough honest work for all that need it.

Display:
Niche economics and micro trade, à la Alvin Toffler ?

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Sun May 31st, 2009 at 07:00:09 PM EST
Local Currencies Really Can Buy Happiness | CommonDreams.org

The products bought with local currency "link you to your neighbourhood, your place, the people of your place. They're not just stuff... they enrich your life the way that stuff would not. So you need less."

"One hand-knit wool sweater, coming from wool from sheep that graze on the hillside on the way to work, that satisfies you in a way four sweaters from unknown sources fails to do. You care for it in a different way," Witt said.

A third way in which community currency can lead to sustainable economy is communities can print the currency they need to issue interest-free, or non-profit loans. Allowing credit to be issued interest-free eliminates the need to service growing debts. High-interest debt owed by individuals, businesses, and governments to private banks is one of the main factors pushing economies to constantly grow at an exponential rate. As these entities struggle to service the interest on their debts with a total money supply that was mostly created through issuance of credit, more and more new debt must be created in order for the system to be stable.

Thus, because high-interest debt pushes the economy to constantly grow, it also pushes industrialisation into new markets, new products, and new technologies, which often lead to deforestation, air pollution, and the like.

By communities printing and issuing their own currency, in part through productive non-profit loans, the economy can function without the constant growth that is imperiling the environment.

isn't this pure Schumacher?

shoe-maker?

great diary. you make harpsichords? massive respect.

that tech is so amazing, imo, the invention of the grand piano is up there with the great pyramid and the moon landing, in terms of human achievement.

right now it looks like a possible return to the 15th century (orlov scenario) for a while, the a slow climb back to the 18th, but force majeure sustainable.

the human way of learning, keep doing it wrong till you finally do it right.

digital contadino


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 07:09:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... a recent "Utopia/Dystopia" diary.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 01:28:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... niche economics and post-print newspaper reporting would be an alternate title to my diary.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 05:53:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and slow money, too?

interesting note on local (usury-free) currencies...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 02:32:04 AM EST
Also referenced yesterday in the Salon.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 02:47:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oops, i meant to reply to De, sowwy

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 07:11:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
how about a slow life movement?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 08:48:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How is this different than 'art'?
by acf on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 10:03:35 AM EST
Interesting question. Obviously the Arts and Crafts movement ducked it.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 10:58:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The times I've had the "Art versus Arts and Crafts" discussion it's always come down to Art is ultimately based on esthestics while Arts & Crafts - ultimately - has to have some practical application.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 01:57:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
good, good, now how do you draw the line between life and art?

as in the art of living well?

the neapolitans have a saying, 'imparare l'arte, e mettila da parte.' meaning 'learn an art, then put it aside', which i've always taken to mean: learn to see life as an artist then it will stay with you for ever, even if you don't actually paint or act or whatever.

the subjectification of perception, i guess you could call it. some people 'get it' naturally.

a wryer english version goes: ' a gentleman knows how to play the accordion, and doesn't!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 08:58:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not advocating an expansion of the existing limited "crafts" movement. Much of this is based upon selling handmade items of marginal utility. There is a need for fine workmanship and art, but it's still "stuff".

I suggesting that much more of the routine things that we use can come from small operations that are attuned to their customers. When you look around at what you use on a daily basis how much of it really needs to be mass-produced in a huge factory?

We accept the idea that certain things are mass produced and that only the marginal items are handmade. But what is so special about shampoo or soap or even what you read daily that it has to be nationally homogenized?

I'm also not implying that these items need to be obtained locally or sold only locally. Plenty of small shop, specialty makers carry on worldwide trade. I'm sure you can cite your own examples, but fishing flies, Peruvian sweaters and even Norwegian smoked salmon fit my definition.

It's a matter of intent. Big firms can produce more than is needed, so their emphasis is on creating demand, cutting costs and maximizing profit. Small enterprises can focus on quality, customization and responding to demand, not creating it artificially.
 

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 01:35:30 PM EST
The core tension here is the Instinct of Workmanship versus the Promotion of Pecuniary Gain ... something which also comes into play in the diary I wrote about the outer envelope of the business of newspaper reporting once the newspapers have gone out of business.

"Slow work" seems to me to be far more critically about Craftmanship than about Crafts. But the the association of the term with the Arts and Crafts movement is too limiting ...

... then Workmanship would also do.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 01:59:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Something I've thought about a lot over the years.

The major consumer goods manufacturing operations purchase sub-assemblies from specialist operations and bolt it together.  Doesn't matter if the final bolt-it-together happens in a "a plant" or in someone's shop: result is the same; the cost differential (input) would increase due to the smaller number of sub-assemblies sent/recieved per unit sold -- but then you'd have to substract the decreased cost of 'plant' fixed and operating expenses in the one-off operation.  I'll be the smaller, local, operation would end-up being more cost effective.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 02:23:49 PM EST
Actually, thinking about the move to "finish building it at home" furniture ... it seems like it might be similar from the perspective of the manufacturer if the kit was something that required something more specialized, like a proper workshop.

I wonder whether that workshop might be able to offer more variety than a big box store, without requiring such a large catchment ... that is, whether its something that might be done in a small town or suburban village.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 05:00:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Near where my son lives in the Boston area there is woodworking facility that is open to the community. I think you take take a course or just pay to use the equipment.

One of the wasteful things about modern life is how lack of community feeling makes the sharing of resources unpopular. Why should everyone on a block need a lawn mower or leaf blower or snow blower? They don't all have to use them at same moment.

I could see several sharing mechanisms. A communal storage facility with everyone chipping in for the cost or each person being responsible for a given item, sort of tool barter.

Communities used to have common ovens and wells, there is nothing new with the concept.


Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 05:22:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, it would make a lot of sense to have a community toolshed at the community garden, since there is quite a range of specialized gardening tools that make gardening more productive but which can easily be shared among a number of backyard Liberty gardens as well as used in the Community garden.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 05:47:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
i've always marvelled at the waste involved there too, suburbs lined with streets and dwellings, all with roughly the same tools in their garages, lying idle most of the time... surreal.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 08:51:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup.

Ten families with ten laundry facilities (washer/dryer) is going to cost about $8,000.  For $2,000 they could purchase commercial equipment for a shared facility.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 10:39:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But they'd also need a building, a rota and a maintenance contract.

Laundry is one thing that I think works best privately. It can be heavy, time consuming, and inconvenient, and sometimes after spills and accidents you want to be able to do it during antisocial hours.

Most UK towns have public launderettes, but they're a bit grim, and expensive too.

If you had a 24 hour community centre with tool loans and other essential facilities, you could probably persuade someone to do laundry and ironing for cash, creating at least a couple of local jobs.

But it wouldn't be cheaper. £10/wk would be minimum, and over a year that's already more than the cost of a half-decent domestic machine. Plus maintenace and repair - it would soon add up.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 10:49:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What does running a domestic washing machine cost?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 10:50:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm. Logic failure - you'd have similar, or at least comparable, basic consumable costs either way. Consumables might be cheaper in bulk, but maintenance and repair would be higher.

The £10/wk would be an extra social overhead for paying someone.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 10:59:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would you? Are commercial machines more or less energy efficient? Soap efficient? Why would maintenance and repair be higher for a small number of big machines than for tens or hundreds of domestic machines?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:04:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're really trying to suggest that a small number of industrial machines run all day every day won't need to be much tougher than a larger number of domestic units run for a few hours a week?

Seriously?

I'd suggest a data gathering field trip to your local corner launderette. Let us know how many of the machines are actually working when you get there, and the median up time.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:36:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whoops, sorry for raising questions. I forgot that wasn't allowed.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:39:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Never mind. :)
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 12:35:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't the key metric the cost per hour of operation? Surely it is cheaper to have a single domestic washing machine running all the time until it breaks and then replace it than it is to have a dozen machines running for a couple of hours a day.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:41:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Technically it would be cost per hour of operation per median loading, for those times when the machines aren't full. Quality of wash would be a factor too.

Also, you don't want machines to break regularly because it's inconvenient, and makes it impossible to do laundry for a while - which is a usually considered a bad thing.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 12:02:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
Also, you don't want machines to break regularly because it's inconvenient, and makes it impossible to do laundry for a while - which is a usually considered a bad thing.
But 12 private machines are not better than two communal machines in that respect. The fact that the probability that all 12 are out at a given time is of no consolation to the owner of the broken machine, since it is not done to go ask your neighbour to let you do your laundry in their machine.

When I lived in California, apartment complexes had communal laundry rooms. I have also encountered communal laundry rooms in Denmark.

Not in Spain or the UK, though.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 04:58:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:
The fact that the probability that all 12 are out at a given time is smaller


The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 05:07:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If a private machine is out of action one family is inconvenienced. They can:

  1. Ask their neighbours or friends
  2. Use a pay launderette

Option 1 happens more than you might think.

If a communal machine breaks down, more than one family is inconvenienced. They either won't be able to do laundry (without a trip to a pay launderette) or they'll have to wait for a free slot at some indefinite time.

Now, I personally have never been in a launderette which didn't have at least one broken machine in it. So from experience the likelihood of inconvenience seems rather higher.

Maybe they have magic indestructible machines in the US and Denmark. I wouldn't know about that.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 05:35:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, but a communal laundry room never has just one or two machines.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 05:36:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe not. But once you start getting into larger numbers you have the cost issue of balancing a smaller number of industrial machines against a larger number of private machines for occasional use.

You could probably analyse use patterns and calculate an optimal number for an assumed level of inconvenience, plus one for luck, assuming you know what the population is. (And remember we're not necessarily talking about apartments here.)

I'm not sure how many communities would do that.

But the point remains that some communal facilities are more conveniently and possibly cheaply centralised than others.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 05:47:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
But the point remains that some communal facilities are more conveniently and possibly cheaply centralised than others.
Without question - it's not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Or rather, if you wanted it to fit all you would have to design housing developments around the idea of communal facilities.

Just like suburbia is designed around car use.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jun 5th, 2009 at 06:10:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't know about British public launderettes.  By your account they are similar to the ones found in the US.

Let me throw something at you ...

Doing laundry is a sporadic activity allowing stretches of time for doing other things.  So why not use that time to do something else?  So, say, along with the laundry facility do day care, baking, or ... ?

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:15:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think people mostly do this already - when they can.

It half works as an idea. The problem with centralising laundry when people don't already live in a single shared location is that you have to add transport time to your laundry run. Even just trundling a few loads to the end of the road and back can take an hour or so, and because you're not at home or work your productive opportunities are limited while you're there.

Yes, you could have a domestic explosion and do baking, etc. But getting something like this organised without loss - e.g. when people can't do laundry/backing/some other job for some reason - starts to look like an interesting challenge.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:54:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It won't work in sprawl. Pretty much only works in apartment complexes and communities specifically designed around a communal service centre.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:44:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Once again, this illustrates my theory that urban living is more sustainable than suburban.  We have people to do laundry and ironing for cash.  They are dry cleaners or laundrettes.  And the sketchy laundrette thing is a bit of a myth, I think.  I remember when our home washer and dryer died when I was a kid.  It was a week before the new ones were delivered, installed and up & running.  In the interim, we had to use the laundrette, and it was this scary, humiliating experience to us.  But in the city, it's very common to use them, and they all have drop-off services.  Some laundrettes also have bars or coffee shops, even bowling alleys.  Also, most apartment buildings have laundry rooms, where countless people share a set of washers and dryers. Even people who have in-unit machines have small ones when compared to the average suburban home.  And to my delight, the European-style units which are small, can fit in the kitchen, and wash and dry in the same machine, are beginning to catch on around here.  

Cities also have community gardens.

And this winter my boyfriend and a few of his friends went in together on a snow-blower.  They were excited about their new toy, but sensible enough to know that there was no way they could justify buying one for their own personal use.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:37:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Laundry is one thing that I think works best privately.

Communal laundry rooms work perfectly well for Copenhagen apartment blocks. What's irritating is public laundromats, because they A) have opening hours, B) are Really Friggin' Expensive and C) you have to stick around to make sure nobody absconds with your stuff. All three issues are avoided in apartment block laundry rooms, except possibly C) (and that only if you're living in a block with little or no neighbour community).

I haven't done the math on whether it would be cheaper (in monetary, workload or resource terms), though.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:32:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember an apartment building in Munich that managed to restore A)...
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:38:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Same in Switzerland - every appartement I lived in had a community laundry room and it always worked fine. If a machine broke the houseguardian organized the repair, which is usually done pretty fast.

It is rather the exception to own a privat laundry machine.

by Fran (fran at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:45:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I lived in a 1956 housing complex in Tapiola, near Helsinki for a couple of years that had both shared laundry rooms and saunas. The saunas needed to be booked and most families had regular weekly times. The laundry included several industrial washers and driers, a hang-up drying room, ironing boards and irons, and an amazing 2 metre long wooden mangle that did a fine job on sheets. Use of the laundry was free.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:58:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
Most UK towns have public launderettes, but they're a bit grim, and expensive too.

we used to do all our laundry for 3 kids too, at a cheapish laundromat in hawaii.

it was quite a social event, especially for the kids, and the mexican restaurant did great trade next door.

i could envisage a fun place to do laundry, good music, snacks, a few hammocks, pv panels and solar water heating on the roof!

 look at the third world, a lot of social gathering takes place washing clothes down in the river, beating the saris against the rocks.

you can buy eco detergent in bulk, and save money/energy that way.

still gotta drive there, though, or hump your dirty and clean laundry on foot, (or a supermarket trolley, lol)

in hawaii it worked because it was part of a mall, so folks could go to the supermarket or hardware store, buy a paper etc while their stuff was rollin' and tumblin'.

it was a bit spartan, shall we say, prole interface experience, as, natch, the middle class had their own washer/dryers.

it was a major celebration when we finally got ours.

 

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jun 10th, 2009 at 03:41:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Spent a lot of time in Home Depot lately ;-) and it's interesting how one functional item (thinking of stoves) can appear in different disguises from different manufacturers which are all the same, essentially.  The differences come from the price range; there is the ~$350 range where you get the basic 30" stove with an oven and four burners with either a pilot light or electric ignition.  Then jump to the $550-$600 pricing where they add those computer controls -- that hardly anybody uses.  Next is the ~$1,200 price where the product is built out of more substantial materials with a grill or 5th burner.  In total there are 3 different stoves numbering around 12 on the showroom floor.

What the customer sees is twelve, giving the impression or illusion there is a wider choice.  

Not seen is actual variety as they don't carry the American Standard product, built like a tank, guaranteed for life, costing $2,500; various French bread making stoves at $4,000 to $6,000; Agfa wood burning stoves coming in at $6,000 to $7,500.  Each of these are Special Order only direct from the manufacturer (American Standard) or from specialty importers.  And there's the DIY kits for the truly dedicated in a truly diverse price range and offerings, e.g., high temperature (up to 900 degrees F) wood/gas stone or masonry ovens.

In theory a local workshop/purveyor could offer all of these based on Knowledge and Information 'owned' by the purveyor as to the full scope of available products and where to get it.  Not to mention 'One Offs' made to a customer's specification.

Looking at the last, a key problem with mass production is the resulting One Size Fits Nobody product lines.  It is very hard to find a product fulfilling all one's wants but very easy to find something that almost 'fits.'  A local purveyor could offer customers exactly what they want/need.  The problem here is three-fold:

  1.  The box stores skim the customers who purchase based primarily on pricing

  2.  A local store, by definition, deals locally, cannot volume purchase, thus works on smaller margins than a box-chain

  3.  Consumer durables are a long term purchase with limited repeat business, to the same customer at least

This intimates, to me, a "local" store/workshop actually needs a wider catchment area than box store chains ... oddly enough.

At least under current business conditions.

But I submit the advantages of a local shop, knowing and having available all of the products available, still could 'make it' even in consumer durables in part because of the one-time nature of the sale.  If a person is going to be 'stuck' with something for a while there's an impetus to get a product matching one's wants/needs.  


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 10:33:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, having a local store means that when something breaks, you can go down to said local store and get it fixed (possibly on the guarantee, or at least presumably at a discount compared to buying new). Having to deal with mail-order companies half a continent away, who deal in cheap crap that got dropped off the last container ship can be an exhausting experience.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jun 6th, 2009 at 06:42:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great post AT.

interesting about the wider catchment, it makes sense.

the bigbox stores are subsidised by tax breaks to attract them to new neighbourhoods, a hidden cost.

all this will make sense again once the era of cheap, happy motoring is firmly behind us, another 10-20 years max, i reckon.

(unless we transfer all our transport needs over to solar/battery, which from what i think i've learned here is unrealistic.

so if powerdown is inevitable, at some petrol price point trucking so much crap around will not be realistic cost-wise, and the value will reshift away from cheap'n'cheerful nasty back to things that last as the trek to the market will become a rarer event, to say the least.

then mastery of something more relevant than directing people to the cash desk or serving them burgers will become relevant, possibly de rigeur...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Jun 10th, 2009 at 03:52:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great sig, AT!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 08:49:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BBC NEWS | Business | Dorset bakery flourishes in hard times

Sitting underneath a pink umbrella in the Honeybuns Bee Shack café, cake in one hand, tea in the other, you would find it hard to believe that the sugary eco-treats produced here find their way to high-speed trains, corporate canteens and supermarket shelves.

The home of Honeybuns baked goods is other-worldly.

A converted farm near Holwell in Dorset, their bakery used to be a milking shed, their visitors' café a chicken hut, and their office a former pigsty.

Surrounded by green fields, birdsong and donkeys, Honeybuns' HQ is like something out of a children's story book.

But even more extraordinary is that while many big businesses are suffering the effects of the recession, this ethical food producer is thriving.

It's worth reading the rest.

I'm a little suspicious because these kinds of ideas imply - to me - a certain kind of middle-classness. They're about the expression of choice and incremental but not apocalyptic lifestyle enhancements.

Forced expense in consumer spending is a related issue - poorer people don't get the choice to save money on durable items, because the initial cost of saving money is too high for them.

So it's a fine ideal, and could work to a certain extent. But it assumes that the productivity needed to produce food and other essentials could be dispersed among local microbusinesses.

In the case of food, some items need national storage and distribution - which means that 'small' would end up being relative. And national suppliers and manufacturers will always have wider access to markets than local businesses, so a driver of systemic inequality would remain.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 09:34:01 PM EST
Until about 30 years ago factory farming and huge feedlots didn't exist in the US. Although the population has increased since then, the country didn't starve under the old system and could have expanded as needed.

In fact the amount of land devoted to agriculture has shrunk during the period. What we have now is a system of huge midwest farms mainly raising corn and soya for use in animal feed which is then fed to animals in feedlots instead of allowing them to be dispersed.

Cows, especially cannot digest corn and this leads to various workarounds including killing them before they die. Then there is the waste problem. When farms were smaller traditional way of dealing with manure were sufficient, now it is a major and nearly insoluble problem. Of course there was the consolidation of the meat packing industry before the factory farming era, but I still remember sides of beef being delivered to butcher shops and supermarkets.

Even meat cutting used to be a artisanal trade if done right.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Mon Jun 1st, 2009 at 10:02:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The US population has almost doubled in the last half century.

I don't know if de-industrialisation of food production is possible now. You'd have to de-collectivise the farms and split them up into small businesses again.

This sounds like a good thing in theory, but when there's drought or extreme weather - not to mention isotherms which are creeping northwards because of global warming - it might not be a total success in practice.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jun 2nd, 2009 at 06:30:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand, neither is it perfectly clear that monoculture factory farming will be a total success in the face of those challenges...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jun 2nd, 2009 at 05:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's true. But the small farmer model was killed by the dust bowl famine, together with some of the small farmers, and that's partly why corporate monoculture took over.

As always, the answer would be more government, better government, smarter government and higher taxes to create a national farming strategy which would have more chance of being drought resilient, hedged by a national or international investment and insurance fund.

But the US right believes that planning for the future is an insult to their ability to act like self-destructive sovereign wankers, so it's not looking likely.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jun 3rd, 2009 at 03:58:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But the small farmer model was killed by the dust bowl famine, together with some of the small farmers, and that's partly why corporate monoculture took over.

Partially but there were other factors which, in total, combined to result in corporate monoculture.

One of them was the building of the California Central Water Project.  The CWP was built from a political alliance between real estate developers in Los Angeles and agricultural interest in the Central Valley.  One spin-off was the destruction of market-gardening in the Mid West - Iowa and Illinois in particular - from the ability of the Central Valley farms to produce three crops per year of fruits and vegetables versus one crop per year in the Mid West.  

Another factor was the deliberate Federal government's policy of eliminating the small farm in favor of the large, corporate farm.  

Another was the development of CAFO meat production allied with the consolidation of grocery stores.

Another was the post-WW 2 land use patterns, particularly the building of suburban residential housing and the requirement of the acquisition and deployment of large amounts of capital to build, supply, & etc the grocery stores in those areas.

I don't know if anyone actually grasps the entire scope of the rise of monoculture.  I certainly don't.  Tho' I do know it is more complicated than most people -- even ag people -- are wont to think.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Jun 4th, 2009 at 11:03:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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