Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Artisans and Industrial Capitalism

Here is Antigua, you can go down to the market, or to one of the local shops and purchase a high quality, handmade item, perhaps even directly from the maker.  Clothes, nice fabric, sculptures, carvings, really amazing furniture, handmade shoes, food, pots, etc.  At the market, there are rows and rows of vendors like this.  In the rest of the town, almost all of the shops are individually or family owed.  You don't see big chain stores here.  You do see lots of little hole-in-the-wall groceries, book and paper stores, cafés, travel agencies, restaurants, pharmacies, dance academies, and art shops.  Or, as an example of the non-corporate nature of business here, right now I'm sitting in an internet café that's basically two guys and 5 computers in the front room of someone's house.

Now there are some signs of industrial capitalism here.  McDonald's and Burger King are here.  Many of the stores sell prepackaged snack foods or industrially made clothes and shoes.

But I have definitely noticed that they have things here you can't get in the US.  In the states, you can't just go down to the market and buy a hand-woven tablecloth directly from the weaver.  You can't buy fruit from the grower.  You can't choose from four different independent bookstores in the same block.  In the US, you almost have to go to some huge chain store in order to buy some brand-name, mass produced item.  It is almost impossible to buy directly from an artisan.

I guess my point is that even though the "Capitalist" system is supposedly all about the free market, there is actually a more solvent, thriving free market right here in the 3rd world.  As corporations work harder and harder to alienate individual workers from the means of independent production, we end up with more and more Walmarty, cheap crap.  We end with more people doing more menial work for less money so that a few owners (and stockholders -- let's not forget our culpability) can be more wealthy.  And we lose our artisans.  We lose people who can make beautiful things because they're going to make them by hand anyway, so they might as well make them gorgeous.  It's a shame that we don't learn.  It's a shame that if the capitalists have their way, all of this -- the shops, the artisans, the quality, the beauty, the private ownership -- will be gone and replaced by factories and big-box stores.


Blogger Brian said...

I meant to post this a while ago, but things kept getting in the way. I think you're right. I think our problem is that some communities in the US are successfully repelling walmart (as an example) and protecting capitalism. But that keeps people from seeing the big picture. Eventually walmart will win and we'll all be screwed. I say if we're going to be capitalists, let's let walmart take over the whole freaking world. Then we'll see what life is like. Or let's do what we should do, and destroy walmart.

Oops - that's probably a little too militant and I'll end up on some FBI watchlist and one day as I'm walking to the MAX a bunch of black Suburbans will pull up and take me away and you'll never hear from me again... Ahh, liberty. Thanks GWB!

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