My mission was to make life easier for new moms when I opened in 1996. Now this neighborhood is filthy with baby haircutting/toy shops, clubs, babyccino cafes, baby DJ lessons, $600 baby proofing companies and cooking lessons for nannies -- and I no longer feel comfortable here as I struggle to pay my bills. It's become a neighborhood of excess and ease while I have sunk into poverty. Here I am, the owner of a shop in the epi-center of the [upscale] baby universe, and I can't make my rent.The owner is quitting business. She speculates that a new owner might be able to make the business successful by putting some money into it (and raising prices?) There, though, is where the economics comes in.
I just want people to know how some of us are hiding in plain sight, serving you with a smile while our gut lurches with hunger and anxiety. I am putting Boing Boing up for sale, and the next person will use social media and about $30,000 to turn my well-loved shop into a great, successful highly profitable business. That person just isn't me.Or the well-to-do might find themselves in the position of the well-to-do in the transition from the Gilded Age to the era of Fordist manufacturing. The butlers and footmen found more gainful employment elsewhere. What intrigues, though, is that many people viewed the avarice of the industrialists of the Gilded Age as impolite or un-American. Railroaded author Richard White recently made a presentation at Northern Illinois based on work he is doing for the Gilded Age portion of The Oxford History of the United States. (I own several already and plan to add Professor White's to the library.) Note the conclusion of Michael Kazin's New York Times review of Railroaded.
The railroad barons wielded more power than other businessmen in the Gilded Age. But their behavior revealed a trait they shared with many of their fellow citizens: too much was never enough.That sentiment is compatible with today's mind-set: whether you call it keeping up with the Joneses, or engaging in positional arms races, or being a dutiful citizen staving off recession the way Franklin D. or Maynard Keynes or Dwight Eisenhower or George W. Bush or Lee Iacocca would have it, it seems as settled a norm as white spats and Arrow collars. Professor White's analysis of the Gilded Age is going to come as a surprise to many. The aspirations of the yeoman farmers, mechanics, and merchants were to achieve a level of comfort, not necessarily to die with the most toys. I have to rethink an old post in light of that analysis.
Get enough people in responsible positions [questioning work for its own sake] and the 24/7 treadmill begins to crumble. And perhaps it won't take 135 years. Why 135 years? Consider this picture. We are looking at my second great-grandparents and their children. This picture dates to the early 1870s.The Francis Hopkins family certainly might think of a world in which people complain about sixty hours as the nearest thing on Earth to Heaven. Their aspirations, however, might have been to no more than ownership of 160 acres free and clear, with a frame house and a windmill pump replacing a log cabin and a windlass well. What intrigues, though, is that the popular term for that aspiration was "competence", which connoted "sustainable."
Enter the environmentalists, stage left.
While neoclassical economists pose the consumption-leisure tradeoff as a choice made by individuals, whether or not people work in the first place is clearly determined by decisions made at a society-wide level.The farmers and mechanics and merchants of the early Gilded Age would understand. For the social scientist, however, it means one more place to look for early evidence of an emergent phenomenon.
It’s beginning to look like we should have taken the other New Deal. We need to explicitly shift toward working less — to reorient the consumption-leisure tradeoff towards the latter on a social level — and share the work that remains more evenly. The sociologist Juliet Schor says we could work four-hour days without any decline in the standard of living; similarly, the New Economics Foundation proposes we could get by on a twenty-one-hour workweek. Meanwhile, David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot suggest that the US could cut energy consumption by 20 percent by shifting to a schedule more like Western Europe’s, with thirty-five hour workweeks and six weeks of vacation — certainly not a panacea, but hardly impoverishing for a start. In a study of industrialized nations over the past fifty years, Schor, Kyle Knight, and Gene Rosa find that shorter working hours are correlated with smaller ecological footprints.
While making people work shitty jobs to “earn” a living has always been spiteful, it’s now starting to seem suicidal. So perhaps it’s time to reclaim job-killing environmentalism, this time not as a project that demonizes workers, or even work — but rather, as one that rejects work done for its own sake. Instead of stigmatizing, criminalizing, and imprisoning the unemployed and “non-industrious poor,” perhaps we should see them, as David Graeber suggests, as the “pioneers of a new economic order” — one where we all work and consume less, and have more time for other pursuits.