THE DWINDLING MIDDLE CLASS AND THE FUTURE OF FINE FURNITURE MAKERS
This is a blog about woodworking, not about politics. It’s a blog about woodworking, not about economics. But if you’re going to practice any form of woodworking for gain, you have to be aware of the economic climate. So just this once, I want to talk, very briefly, about economics.
I know a lot of people who are involved in various aspects of the woodworking trade. I have to say that it’s rare when any of them come up to me and say something like “Wow, business is really good!”. More often than not, I hear statements like “I’ve been at this for thirty years and I’ve never seen it this bad for so long”, or “I’m not making any money, I’m just taking work to keep my crew together”. Friends of mine who are in the fine furniture trade comment that this part of the country (Great Lakes) has no history of supporting fine furniture builders. Then I’m reminded of any number of “known” craftsman who are having trouble pursuing their chosen trade in all parts of the country. Think of the people that you might know who have given up their dreams just to put bread on the table.
Recently I read an article by Francis Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs magazine about the Future of History. But one thing really jumped off the pages of that article. It was a simple, short statistic. “In 1974, the top one percent of families took home nine percent of GDP; by 2007, that share had increased to 23.5 percent.”
So what does that mean to us, the woodworking community? Well here it is in a nutshell. One guy who makes $100,000 a year will buy one TV. Ten guys who make $10,000 a year will buy 10 TV’s. So as the middle class shrinks, through unemployment, underemployment or the increased accumulation of wealth at the very top of the “food chain”, there are fewer dollars to be spent on things like fine furniture (or even the 3′ Shaker Pegboards).
Woodworkers are an ornery, individualistic, highly ideological group. And, I’m continually amazed how often they will act against their own best interest, when they support policies that add to the diminishment of the middle class. If there is to be a continued market for what we are all interested in providing, we need to do everything in our power to insure that the middle class expands thrives and has adequate disposable income to compensate us for our efforts. It simply won’t come from anyplace else.
I’m suggesting that we all put ideology aside and think about and act in our own best economic interest. Unless you’re part of that “one percent”, economic considerations are probably what should drive your politics.
Okay, next post is back to woodworking.