As I read through this post after writing it, I realize it is ever so slightly political in nature. I’m not a political person (I hate politics) and really intended to focus mostly on the woodworking aspect of my thought, but I let my mind ramble on a bit. So the woodworking is in here, but there’s a lot more than just woodworking going on. So if you came here for woodworking and woodworking only, you can stop reading now. Otherwise, for a bunch of random drivel that has spilled out of my head, read on.
I’m not a politician or an economist, nor do I ever desire to become one. However, it doesn’t take a degree in political science or economics to know that the American economy is in crisis. In all honesty, I don’t think that the politicians are the real source of the problem though. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t believe that they’re interested in helping anyone but themselves. But, I also don’t think it’s really their fault that we’re in the economic position that we are. Most were elected or appointed into an office already overflowing with problems they didn’t create.
In my day job, like many of you I’m sure, much of what I do is fight the daily fires that inevitably arise on an hourly basis. When we do get to spend some time working on bigger issues, the ultimate goal is not to put in a quick Bandaid fix, but instead to get to the true root cause of the problem, and implement a long term, permanent solution. In my opinion, that’s what is missing from most of the solutions being proposed by the politicians. The parties blame each others’ laws and bills, while we blame the politicians, the bankers, and the large greedy corporations sending their jobs overseas.
The truth of the matter is that these people really aren’t the ones who created our problems. We are. We did it to ourselves. Like it or not, it was our own greedy, irresponsible, consumeristic ways that got us into this economic mess. As consumers, we have continued to demand low price over quality domestic production. And let’s face it folks, money talks. How we spend our money is the most important factor in determining how the big corporations are going to invest their capital. If we demand low price, they’re going to do whatever is necssary to lower operating costs in order to increase profits and deliver on customer demand. This includes higher output, lower quality and offshore production. They’re just giving us what we asked for.
As Americans, we consume everything. Electronics, clothing, fossil fuels, processed foods, and yes, furniture. We simply use things up and throw them out. We don’t repair things anymore, because our demands and spending habits have driven the prices on goods so low that it costs less to just buy a new widget than it does to repair the old one. We have become a disposable society, demanding disposable goods, at disposable prices.
The truth is often times painful, but really, the only true solution to our problems is to take a good look at our own habits. If we want things to change, we have to start with ourselves. If we want quality, we have to demand quality, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. If we want domestically produced goods, we have to demand domestically produced goods, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. It is up to us to tell producers of goods what is important to us, not with our mouths, but with our wallets. As I said before, money talks. This doesn’t mean spending more of our money, it just means spending our money more wisely.
What’s this got to do with woodworking? I’m getting to the point. Really. Just bear with me a little longer.
We just finished the holiday season. I don’t care how much you spent, or didn’t spend. The dollar value is unimportant. Instead, I’d like you to take a look at the gifts you gave and received. Where are they made? How well made are they? Did you focus your shopping more on quality, or quantity. Is anyone guilty of buying low cost, low quality items made in offshore countries so they could put more stuff under the tree instead of fewer, higher quality, domestically made alternatives?
Believe me, I’m not judging. I do it too. I’m part of the problem. I need to be part of the solution.
The sad part is that while I am a woodworker, not one of the gifts I gave came out of my shop. Looking back on this fact, I’m somewhat ashamed of myself. Such a simple solution to the holiday frenzy, yet so many of us will still fight the crowds at the mall to spend our hard earned American money on overpriced imported crap that will be broken, worn out or out dated in six months.
As woodworkers, we can play a big role in changing things though. Our creations make great gifts that will last for generations. Plus, most people are much more appreciative and will cherish an item much more and for much longer when they know the care and thought that went into making it special just for them. There are lot’s of things that can be made from wood. It just takes a little imagination.
As individual craftsmen, it’s also our responsibility to promote quality, local goods and services, not just by our own work, but by our own spending habits as well. When shopping for clothes, it just takes a look at the label before shelling out that $50 for a pair of jeans. The local mall may not have US made jeans, but they are out there, and they aren’t really any more expensive than the imported stuff.
Our food choices are similar. Sure, the supermarket has apples imported from Chile for $0.99 per pound. But think about the satisfaction of supporting the local orchard or farmer by paying the extra $0.50 per pound for local produce, and knowing where it came from. A trip to the local farmer’s market is all it takes. At a minimum, only buy the stuff from the big grocer that is from a US grower. Heck, start a garden right in the backyard. Grow what is needed and preserve the extra instead of buying the commercial jars full of chemical preservatives and imported from all over the globe. Gardening is a natural extension of craft. It’s another way we can “make stuff” for ourselves, and others, and promote quality, local products.
We can’t change things alone just through the items we make, but the movement has to start somewhere. We can simplify our lives and demand quality in everything we buy. We can develop relationships with local farmers and other local caftsmen. We can trade services with them. We can buy from them. We can sell to them. We can learn how to make and do as much as we can for ourselves. If we can’t find a local, or at least a domestically produced alternative to what it is we are looking to purchase, we need to ask ourselves if we really need that item. If we absolutely have to buy imported, we should make sure it’s a quality item and not a piece of junk made overseas just to cut costs and undercut a similar, quality, domestically made item.
Most of all, we need to pass it on. Woodworking is far too often a solitary hobby. Keeping what we know to ourselves doesn’t help anyone. We should be teaching these skills to our kids, our grandkids, the neighborhood kids, and anyone else who will listen. We need to instill the value of home grown quality into those around us. Grow a garden (something my family is getting back to this year after a two year hiatus). Support the local Mom & Pop shops (if there are any left) instead of the big box importers. Promote quality, local products, not just to benefit our craft and our own agenda as woodworkers, but for the sake of craftsmanship as a whole.
At one time, communities knew each other by face and name. By striving to once again build those relationships, and support our local communities not just with our words, but with our dollars, we can begin to make a change.