The ‘Artisan’ Economy

Posted in Made in China, Stumble and Fail at 1:02 pm by George Smith

Whether it’s writing the next Harmonica-like app or making the $180 blues harp, one of the dogwhistles heard regularly is how every US worker will have be ‘value-added’ and very special to earn a living in the future.

It’s another way of saying that everyone unemployed now needs jettisoning. Forget about ’em. We need to get away from the slug dead weight.

For the plutonomy to succeed one has to focus on making stuff for the haves.

Here’s an example of the industry model, again on Harrison Harmonicas in Rockfield, Illinois.

From a September press release:

Harrison Harmonicas is hiring two to three entry level workers to help construct its B-Radical Harmonica featuring replaceable reeds.

The premium harmonica is the only harmonica made in the United States. They sell for $180 each.

Harrison Harmonica is accepting applications in person from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday at the EIGERlab, 605 Fulton Ave. during an on-site application process.

For more information and to download an application, log on to the Harrison Harmonica website at harrisonharmonicas.com/careers.

It is the second day of the on-site application process for the company.

EIGERlab Director Dan Cataldi estimated there were 60 applicants for the jobs on Monday morning.

“Located in Rockford, Illinois, Harrison Harmonicas is the United States’ only harmonica manufacturer and was named by Businessweek magazine as one of America’s Most Promising Startups,” reads yet another press release.

The perfect model of the ‘artisan’ economy, one in which you make goods for the superwealthy is Elon Musk’s Tesla.

It also helps, if like Musk, you can get the US government to prop you up.

Another California ‘artisan’, of sorts, is Solazyme, the company that makes ‘biofuel’ from algae.

Here’s a laugher story on Solazyme’s big client, the US military, a couple sentences picked to tell readers all they need to know.

The shining future now:

The [Navy’s experimental boat that runs on a 50-50 mix of algae-derived ‘biofuel’ and regular gas] is designed to be deployed in rivers and marshes and will eventually be used to guard oil installations in the Middle East, The Guardian reported. It’s part of the Navy’s first green strike force, a group of about 10 ships, submarines and planes that run on a mix of biofuels and nuclear power. They’re expected to be developed by 2012 and deployed to the field by 2016.

Last month, the U.S. Navy ordered more than 150,000 gallons of ship and jet fuel from Solazyme, a California company that produces biofuels from algae.

‘[Be] used to guard oil installations in the Middle East,” is all you need to read. Does … not … compute, Will Robinson.

Solazyme’s ‘biofuel’ costs the Navy $424 a gallon. Which makes it, by definition, anti-green in terms of energy and carbon footprint needed to get it to the Navy. Despite the Navy’s insistence that it is committed to fielding a ‘green strike force,’ whatever that may be.

The ‘artisan’ economy is warmed-over hash. It has been written of many times.

It goes like this: Creative and innovative Americans need only start their own businesses, come up with great ideas for stuff, and have it made overseas, like in China or India.

The most popular example being Tom Friedman famously airing the claim, in 2004, of an alleged American who had lost his job to outsourcing and recovered by selling a T-shirt on it.

This was subsequently exposed as a joke on the Register, where it was discovered by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow who called the columnist over it.

A Times ombudsman insisted it was coincidence. So Tomorrow went further, finding an American who had devised a similar ‘artisan’ shirt as a joke. That man had made $10 in profit.

Still another way of looking at it: The ‘artisan’ economy is a modern variation on the Pet Rock concept of business.

If you can come up with something like the old Pet Rock — or some similar gimmick like they used to sell in the old black-light junk gift shop stores in shopping malls, then that’s the ticket.

For those who can’t make something that cheap, through manufacturing in China, there’s stuff like Harrison Harmonica’s $180 blues harp.

Fender Musical Instruments is another example of ‘artisan’ business.

The book on its musical amplifiers entitled The Soul of Tone is an unintentional profile of a company that went from being a middle class employer in California, one making things for the middle class, to a company that sent all its manufacturing overseas, reserving its domestic manufacturing — greatly decreased — to stars and big deal corporate lawyers.

In the context of the book, it’s written of as straightforward smart business. When it was published, three years ago, it seemed that way.

Now it reads poorly. The first part of the book is filled with great amplifiers made in America by guys and gals in Hawaiian shirts.

The end of the book is quite different. It’s filled with oral history from its current designer/artisans explaining how they ship their everyman stuff manufacturing to whatever overseas place is the cheapest.

Coincidentally, all the guys pictured in the front of the book are dead.

This transformation is encapsulated in a quote about one premium domestically made guitar amplifier, the Vibro-King, a $2500 item used by Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend.

“If you’re a rock star or a lawyer who wants a Vibro-King, you’re gonna get one, but the Cyber-Champ (a low end Chinese-made Fender-branded amp) is an example of the relentless march to Asia for manufacturing,” states Shane Nicholas of Fender.

Coincidentally, all economic reports indicate that class hit hardest by the Great Recession has been the low wage earners, those customers targeted by Fender’s cheap goods made in China.

The other option is to get your ‘artisan’ business, like Tesla or Solazyme, gifted partially or entirely by the US government.

However, as a model for the future of employment in a country as big as the United States, the ‘artisan’ idea is utterly ludicrous.

1 Comment

  1. Dick Destiny » Paul endorses the ‘artisan’ economy said,

    November 3, 2010 at 9:55 am

    […] Earlier – on the ‘artisan’ economy, or the plutonomy. […]