The Luthier & The Village
The Middle-Class Revolution Will Save Our Economy and Our Democracy
The Vibrant Middle-Class Market
Imagine for a moment the archetypal scene of the Renaissance fair. Hear the music. Smell the bread and the spices in the air. Taste the beer brewed only streets away, and marvel at trinkets from afar. It is a bustling marketplace, a diverse and culturally-vibrant scene with people milling about and interacting – shoppers, buyers, sellers, entrepreneurs, and entertainers alike. It is a community of artisans and makers who serve the local people of their own community as well as people in far away places due to trade routes and travelers.
Imagine further that there, among this village-market hubbub, sits a patient luthier repairing a lute that she built some years back. She does this work as a service for one of her customers. She works in the open with her lutherie bench and tools set out for all to see. Around her, in her booth, are finely crafted instruments, a few hanging, a few resting on a stand. These impressive instruments are visual works of art that sound out beautifully when played. She is a craftsperson, and she is a business person. She is also a musician herself. She plays in a local troupe, and she teaches music to children in the square. Her lutes are found far and wide, as travelling traders are eager to have such a fine item.
This luthier, this artisan maker, is participating in both the cultural and the economic vibrancy of her own community. She provides a service, makes a product, and sells it locally. As a musician, she plays and buys instruments too, participating as a consumer in the local market of her own products.
Our local luthier also has connectivity to a global market to sell and trade her craft. As such, she brings outside money into the community and spends it locally. She’s an active part of the vibrancy of her own community. She is also considering hiring a helper soon, creating a job for someone passionate about instruments and the craft of instrument making, likely a musician as well.
This vibrant Florentine village is the symbol of the European Renaissance some 700 years ago. We picture the Renaissance as filled with arts and artisans and village market entertainment, but what we may not so easily recognize is that the Renaissance was an explosion of the middle-class. It was led by the artisan and banking professionals creating a complex economy along free-flowing trade routes. The middle-class introduced an open-source system, so to speak, to the people of Europe who had been mostly destitute or scraping by throughout the middle ages, just hangin’ out and getting the plague and stuff. (Sorry. Too soon?)
With the rise of the middle-class came the rapid decentralization of wealth and power in Europe. This opened the flood of innovation and activity, changing the nature of the economic and social systems of the whole continent.
This economic and social rise was spearheaded by the rise of the creative, artisan, and knowledge classes. Those who governed Florence knew this, and they poured their growing wealth into public infrastructure, public art, and space for artists, artisans, entertainers, and tradespeople to work and train. It was, in turn, the work of the artist class that led to the innovations in dye making and textile treatment – the very knowledge and skilled work that made Florence so wealthy in a global marketplace, the industry that brought in outside money and allowed the banking industry to exist and prosper in the first place.
Investing in the artists and engineers brought more artists and engineers (like actors moving to LA). And so is born the most vibrant village and symbol of the Renaissance.
Humanism and the Middle-Class
The bourgeoning middle-class markets in Europe fueled by widely distributed wealth and opportunity created a more comfortable population and along with it the ideas of humanism. These ideas of knowledge and science and human abilities led eventually to the debunking of long standing beliefs in power being ordained by God to the royal class to rule over all others.
Super-wealthy and powerful megalomaniacs have always evoked the religion of the masses to claim they were ordained by God, that they are the chosen one, so to speak. This is to inspire the support and obedience of the people.
Eventually, a growing common belief in humanism led us to adopt a new form of government – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This was the great middle-class experiment and achievement called The United States of America.
The US government was formed on the principals of the European Enlightenment: that no human has the right to rule another and that no religion is the basis for the rule of law, but instead that the government should be a well-designed process and a set of well-thought-through rules that can evolve over time, that the government is not a person or group of people, that the government is a framework, and that the government (as a framework) belongs to the people and is made up of the people.
The principles of government in the United States are noble achievements in human thought and ability to self-organize. Economically speaking, the rise of the United States was all about the global rise of the middle-class. The day of the ruling royal class had past, and the middle-class had finally taken control of their own destiny and were free to be as productive and prosperous as they could be.
This class, these Americans, enjoyed a marketplace that was more open to participation and afforded more widely distributed wealth and opportunity than ever before. The wide distribution of wealth and opportunity was the set stage for the creation of the US and the foundation of the American Dream: that if you were willing to work hard, then you could always make a living and move up (even if only slightly).
This is widely accessible social opportunity is often associated, in the US, with Capitalism. But in reality, the American Dream is a product of the wide distribution of wealth in America’s past that allowed Capitalism to be something of a playing field for the many, as opposed to a justification for the overwhelming wealth and power consolidation to the few.
Capitalism, without the emotional associations we are so used to here in the United States, is technically just an economic operating system. We associate it with freedom and other such fundamental human rights because it is a critical part of our cultural narrative to be capitalist. The United States, though, definitely is not a fully capitalist society. Just look at the size of the public school operation in this country. That’s more communism than capitalism. But at some point, we decided that we were going to educate every child and that the government was going to pay for it. That’s not capitalism. The positive outcome that we have received as a nation by implementing public education is astronomical and unmeasurable, and we did it in a socialist model.
The reality is that there is a spectrum that spans from capitalist at one end and communist at the other, and every government is somewhere in between. Thus, every government in this way is socialist. For example, the US is not fully capitalist, but we’re more capitalist than Europe.
Lessons from the Cold War
We have passionate recent histories around the ideas of capitalism and communism here in the United States. The baby boomers grew up during the Cold War where the fight for world power between the United States and the Soviet Union was fully couched in a war between Capitalism and Communism, which was then dressed as a war between good and evil.
Decades of this reality shaped our nation’s belief systems and very much muddied our emotions and our logic around specific language and trigger words having to do with Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. For example, I once heard a family member (baby boomer) answer a child’s question of what is communism with, “It’s people that don’t believe in God.” This is a mixed-up emotional answer that doesn’t at all explain what communism actually is in any practical or pragmatic sense. It just basically is a reason why this person thinks Communism is evil. Regardless of what you think of communisim, having no god is far from a working definition. It’s instead just a stern moral warning to steer clear.
Economically speaking, the United States won the Cold War because the wealth and opportunity were so widely distributed in the US that both productivity and consumerism were rampant. This drove not only the economy in the US but the marketplace of ideas, creativity, and innovation. The US had the world’s attention and imagination – the coolest country to ever exist. And it had the world’s business. The US was Florence of the Renaissance. People could go there and jump in and start achieving the American Dream – to stand on your own and have a good life.
The Soviet Union, on the other hand, consolidated all of its wealth to fewer and fewer people. The government, controlled by few, had almost all of it. That creates a super rich class of citizens who have most of the power in the country. Next, the powerful will support the rise of a dictator. It’s just what happens when all of the wealth consolidates, there is small group in control, then dictatorship. In the case of the Soviet Union, it was Stalin, but it is the same as when the oligarchs of Rome supported the rise of Caesar. The consolidation of wealth and power is what allowed for the Soviet Union to be the dictatorship it was, AND the top-heavy economy was what toppled the nation in the end.
Unfortunately, people don’t think about the simple economics of wealth and power consolidation versus wide wealth distribution. Instead, people are taught and encouraged to demonize words and ideas like capitalism, communism, or socialism. We share swampy and toxic definitions of these ideas, all mixed up with noise, emotions, and misinformation.
It’s almost as if choosing which of these three words is evil is what determines your tribe. Then you just kick and scream along with your new buddies regardless of the topic. None of these economic operating systems are inherently evil, they are just ways of operating, and they actually lie upon a spectrum with capitalism at one end, communism at the other, and socialism being everything in between.
When we don’t have power-driven agendas trying to create simple black-and-whites and one-dimensionalities for the public to embrace, we can think better about designing and improving our own economic operating systems today. For example, instead of choosing between capitalism and socialism, it’s more helpful to think about the ebb and flow of our system along the spectrum and when we are in balance and out of balance, and why, and to what outcome.
For example, the very capitalist nature of the US during the turn of the century and before the war is one of the key ingredients of what led to the nation’s rise – building industry and infrastructure. It’s also what led to rapid wealth consolidation that got so out of balance it led to a toppling of the economy with the Great Depression.
Then the pendulum swung, and the government introduced the WPA and the New Deal that brought us out of the depression and back to a better balance. The New Deal was one of the most communist initiatives we’ve ever done as a nation, second to our education system. The New Deal rebuilt the country’s economy while it continued to build the infrastructure that was one of the key ingredients to the nation’s coming explosion of success after the war.
The Swinging Pendulum of Wealth
Starting in the 1950s, the United States had widely distributed wealth, and it could again apply the forces of capitalism through a free market (freer than most by far) to create a production and consumption marketplace like the world has never seen.
Economically speaking, the boom after the war was a resurgence of the middle-class. And as always throughout history, an explosion of productivity and innovation of the middle-class happens as the wealth and opportunity are the most widely distributed.
During those post war years (1950-1980), the wealth in the United States was at its most distributed across the population as it has ever been. During that time, many people were able to live the American Dream. If you work hard, you will earn a living and you will get more wealthy over time, not less.
This wealth distribution took a sharp turn starting in the 1980s, and all the wealth in the US has been rapidly consolidating ever since. You can see in the graph above that the top .1% of families now has more wealth than the bottom 90% of families. This happened in the early 1920s and led to the Great Depression. This happened again in 2010 just after the recession, and it has skyrocketed ever since. The top made significant gains coming out of the recession, while the middle and the bottom have never recovered. Plus, the speed of the wealth consolidation is increasing over time. This rapid consolidation will lead to some kind of pressure release.
The reason the system can’t take this pressure is because wealth consolidation (today as in the 1920s) means that fewer people have access to wealth and opportunity. Such a lack of access to wealth and opportunity is the opposite of a robust middle-class. It’s the opposite of the economic circumstances that the United States was founded upon. It’s the opposite of the reality that supports the American Dream – that hard work will bring anyone success. And it’s the opposite set of economic circumstances that we had during the baby boomer’s formative decades of great wealth distribution and widely accessible upward opportunity.
Today, we see radically centralized wealth on sharp upward curves towards even more rapid consolidation. In other words, it’s happening exponentially at this point. Not only are the principles of compound interest and appreciation at play, but also the country itself is and has been getting richer and richer every year. GDP dropped briefly in the recession, but has been soaring ever since.
So what does that mean for a country to get richer when fewer people are included in what you mean by “the country” in that sense?
One thing it means is that the GDP does not measure a healthy increase in wealth for the country. It only shows revenue coming in through the door. In fact, GDP actually detached from Median Family Income in the 70s. The GDP has continued to soar while Median Family Income has become flat.
What this says is that all the gains in the “great economy” are just going to a small amount of people who increasingly own the means of production, increasingly own the property and resources, and increasingly control the financial systems. The truth is that most people are treading water or sinking financially, while a small population are living on self-perpetuating, growing piles of wealth – regardless of the contribution they are as individuals providing to society.
Every small-town and rural-county economic development person I speak to says the same thing about their current economy. Unemployment is down below 5%, yet the poverty rate is 25% or more. What’s the good of having “everyone employed” if they’re living in poverty?
Also, the unemployment rate doesn’t tell you that much on a macro scale really. It always goes up and down in humps on a line graph. That’s just the nature of a breathing system, the rising and falling of the tide. See the unemployment rates dating back before 1950 in this graph below. It goes up. It goes down. That’s what it does.
So, while unemployment is important to watch and try to mitigate, it’s not the true speaker of whether or not our economy is healthy, nor is GDP. If we want to really measure the health of our economy, first we must define healthy. And if that definition is that we want the most people to be the best off as possible, then the important stats to watch are Median Family Income and Median Net Worth. When you look at those data sets, you see that everybody, middle-class and below, is sliding, and the upper-class is freakin’ ton’ing it.
Really take a minute and think about it in a non-political way. Just consider the fact that most people will be worse off economically in the future than better off, and it speaks of a broken system.
To some extent wealth consolidation is a natural phenomenon of any currency-based, interest-bearing, appreciation-based economic system. In such a system, wealth has gravity. All of it will end up in the same place over time. But we also have the phenomenon of the consolidation of the means of production. This is not an accusation of a conspiracy of the wealthy, but instead just a natural result of wealth consolidation.
You can see in this graph the increasing output from American manufacturing coinciding with the radical drop in the number of people employed in manufacturing. Making way more money with fewer and fewer people involved.
This data debunks a great misunderstanding we seem to have in America about manufacturing. The story line is that manufacturing is down. But that’s not true at all. On the contrary, we output more as a nation than we ever have. And we make more profit doing it than we ever have. Our manufacturing is stronger and richer than it has ever been, and aside from an adjustment in the recession, it has continued to soar making the nation very rich.
What is down in manufacturing is not productivity, but employment. This means that fewer and fewer people are controlling greater and greater amounts of the increasing wealth coming in from manufacturing.
Much of this change is due to automation. Fewer humans are needed in the process of production at all. What happens when labor is not a needed ingredient in manufacturing? There are already manufacturing plants producing cars with only a handful of humans involved in the process. It’s very conceivable that we could have a humanless environment building cars soon, and even have machines building and servicing the machines that build the cars. What would that mean for our economic system?
The American Dream is based on the idea that if you are willing to work hard, then you will succeed to whatever level your own capacity will allow. But if the willingness to do labor is no longer a needed currency, then what does that person do with his time to thus feed and shelter himself?
Let’s pretend for a moment that we, as humans, discover a way to produce enough food for the planet with zero human labor – an automated smart mechanical method of sustainable agriculture that can produce enough food for everyone in the world without using human labor. It can manage itself, power itself, repair itself, and deliver food wherever it is asked to.
This could either be a huge win for us as a species, as it would eliminate the need to work for food, allowing a platform of wealth and security for the whole planet, allowing each of us to work on other endeavor, to be innovative and productive in other ways. Or it could be our undoing.
If we were in our current system when this technological advancement happened, then a very small group of people would own the food making operation and thus control the food. Those people would become the wealthiest people the world has known, and the rest of the world’s population would be as poor as is converse to the wealth of those few – as they would control the production and distribution of food. This would be a royal class unmatched by even the Czars, Pharaohs, and Caesers of our past. It would be a truly dystopian future.
In our imaginary example, the only way to stop all of the power and the wealth of the planet going to these few people and thus destituting the rest of the population, would be to inject some intentional governing principles into the system (like regulations) and/or by capping wealth consolidation and ownership consolidation and/or forcing redistribution in some way. But who can force such wealth management actions among the population once those few have become so rich and powerful to be a ruling class. This would be first an oligarchy, which would eventually become an authoritarian government. This is what happened when Rome became an empire. The oligarchy will support the rise of the dictator because it protects them from the interests of the many.
Therefore, in this example, the solution to the ultimate demise of democratic society is to have widely distributed wealth and opportunity among the whole population. We already do this with taxes and monopoly laws and such. But we have poor ideas and arguments around this notion. It’s not a good solution or way of thinking to “take money from the rich” when they get it. A better model is to have a system where everybody participates in the wealth economy and you don’t have such radical distances in wealth gaps to begin with. In a better system, we would all grow wealthier over time from the return on assets (either personal or public or some combination thereof), yet we would each still have opportunity for economic and social mobility based on the fruits of our contributions.
Simply put, if everyone owned a piece of the market and everyone owned their home, then everyone would get wealthier over time and not poorer over time, while still allowing for different levels of wealth to be achieved in society in order to provide needed capitalist incentive to an open market. (See an article I wrote on the Wealth Economy here.)
The increasing wealth consolidation in the US will continue (and continue to speed up) until there is pressure released. Either there will be more and more small rule changes and concessions made by the wealthy ruling class in the United States that will keep people just on this side of poverty, or there will be some kind of revolution.
I personally hope for a peaceful market-based revolution. I hope for the resurgence of the middle-class akin to the Renaissance 700 years ago, akin to America in the 1950s and 1960s. You don’t have the roller-coaster to astronomical wealth of the 1980s and 1920s America, instead you have many more people working for modest wealth and continued economic growth that creates stability and the wide-spread application of the American Dream.
Our Florentine luthier lived that dream. She made a living doing what she loved. She was not a wealthy person. She lived a humble life. But it was a secure, productive, and happy life. And she could always work more and make more money if she chose to. She was connected to a vibrant local economy, and she was connected like never before to a vibrant global economy of traders.
Such access to wealth was spread across much of the population during the Renaissance and during America’s post-war boom. A wide distribution of wealth is always the macroeconomic picture you will see with a thriving working- and middle-class. Broader access to wealth and opportunity breeds innovation, growth, and success for the many.
In the 1980s, we introduced many complexities into our financial system to escalate wealth creation. The result was rapid wealth consolidation. Then, the recession was going to bring it down and redistribute the wealth to release the pressure in the system, but the government protected the wealthy and owners of production from harm from the recession. This dumped the burden and loss onto the middle-class. The government did this out of a real fear that our whole economic system could topple over. The result though was a protection of that heavy top (that consolidated wealth), and then a continuing (and even speeding) of the consolidation making the economy even more top-heavy and heading to an even greater fall.
The best outcome would be a peaceful resurgence of the middle-class. I’m hopeful to see the rebirth of the village economy already blossoming in the US. We see burgeoning downtowns everywhere, but we are currently lacking the wealth distribution nation-wide to support robust growth in localized economies. Downtowns are being revitalized, and the creative, artisan, and knowledge classes are being recruited by towns across the nation. But it hasn’t broken into growth just yet. And it will not until the rapid consolidation of wealth is turned and distributed back out among the population in one way or another.
Lessons from the Industrial Revolution
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people worked on land on which they lived, and they traded in their own communities and with the people alongside whom they worshipped and socialized. They knew where their food came from, and it came from their neighbor. Such living has a profound impact on how humans behave. The Industrial Revolution consolidated the production of food into the control of fewer people and used technology to drive down the need for humans in the process.
The sheer power of the Industrial Revolution led to a consolidation of power so great that the Nation States of the Western World inevitably went to war. The megalomania and power of erratic leaders like Hitler and others led to two world wars with many millions dead across the globe, having died by the tens of millions in ground warfare in Europe, or by the millions in industrialized human exterminations in Nazi Germany, or by the hundreds of thousands in the unleashing the world’s most powerful weapon to destroy two whole civilian populations in Japan.
Ultimately, the Allies stopped the advance of Hitler and won the war. This left Europe destroyed (after two world wars), and the US mostly unharmed, except for the loss of many of its brave young men and women from war.
Back home, the US had been diligently building robust infrastructure for industrial production and retail consumption – first the factory infrastructure built through the thriving capitalism in the early part of the century, and then the public infrastructure built through FDR’s public initiative to put people back to work after the depression. The latter allowed for a redistribution of wealth and opportunity across the country (which always creates an explosion of wealth creation from the middle-class). So, when the soldiers came home, it was time to jump into the American Dream that they’d been fighting to preserve. Fortunately, the wealth of the nation was very widely distributed at that time, and they could get right to work to become wealthier, knowing their children will be even wealthier with even more opportunity.
With newly demonstrated might and robust infrastructure, the US was poised to lead the world. And lead we did. We eagerly continued our scientific exploration, applying those principles and processes to understanding and designing business and production and global logistics.
Roads and rail and ships and the processes and systems that tie all of these together, these were the skeletal and nervous systems of the Industrial Revolution. The reason you can build a million of one tiny thing in one town and a million of another tiny thing in another town, is because of your ability to move those pieces around the nation and the world.
As a result of industrial advancement, the different processes of production were compartmentalized and often far removed physically and intellectually. This changed the way people work and live. It removes the maker (now the manufacturer) from the fabric of the local culture and community. Either a manufacturer took over a community (like the mill towns) and made it reliant and ultimately depressed. Or it located on the outskirts for property tax incentives and would leave when it was economically advantageous to do so.
The mass-scale compartmentalization of labor had a transformative effect on the US not only economically but culturally. We separated people by race and class, and we built our cities not on Rock n Roll (as some would have you believe) but to accommodate the automobile. Markets were moved from Main Street to malls and big box stores where we buy goods manufactured in processes that span the globe and are part of no community.
When you remove the work from the community, you start to see a dissipating of wealth and opportunity for the many and the consolidation of wealth and opportunity for the few. You also see an erosion of ethics because when you are part of no community, you take on a “whatever is best for me” kind of attitude and perspective. These are the corporations of contemporary history.
I believe our economic revolution in America lies the resurgence of the middle-class through the rebirth of the village economy – a new village that is more advanced in its global trade routes, more integrated with its local communities, and more inclusive in its application.
Artisan Manufacturing as Economic Development
I personally know, like our lute maker from 700 years ago, a modern day luthier making high-end acoustic guitars in Santa Cruz, California. His name is Richard Hoover, and I was fortunate enough to spend two days with him and his employees just recently on a RevenFlo Project.
Richard started as a luthier of violins and then moved to making guitars. His company, Santa Cruz Guitar Company, is one of the most respected boutique acoustic guitar making companies in the world. They have 13 employees, and most of them are musicians who play in the local music scene in Santa Cruz. They love Santa Cruz for its vibrant cultural energy that they help create. And they choose to stay in that place because of that cultural vibrancy and because of the wonderful job of making finely crafted instruments.
Meet Richard in this video from LR Baggs:
Richard explained to me that every piece of wood has a natural sound, a tone when you tap it with your knuckle. Therefore two pieces of wood will either be competing in frequency or harmonious. If a whole guitar is to be harmonious, then the guitar must be listened to throughout the entire building process. Every aspect of the guitar alters its sound and can deaden the sound or change it in some other way.
The luthiers at Santa Cruz are making each guitar to be a unique instrument with beautiful sounds from the top to bottom. And they are participating in their local economy and cultural vibrancy. They are artisan makers and good for the village.
Here in the Carolinas, up in Hillsborough, is a wonderful guitar making company called Pre-War Guitars. These guys make guitars in the ways guitars were made by Martin prior to World War II. Why? Because after the war, the US moved from a nation of makers to a nation of manufacturers, and guitar making was not immune. This meant the move away from lutherie in its true sense, and into the manufacturing of instruments.
To harken back to the artisan trade of making guitars by hand is to reboot the artisan builder in our economy and in our villages. I would also take a guess that the guys at Pre-War are musicians and play in bands. Just like our lute maker did, revelling in friendship, community, and craftsmanship.
We’ve worked with a list of guitar making companies, each comprised of musicians who are active parts of the cultural vibrancy of their own towns and cities. Novo Guitars from Nashville, TN makes electric guitars, and founder Dennis Fano works on each of the guitars they put out. They have a small group of employees, surely musicians each and all.
We worked also with Eastwood Guitars who are headquartered out of Canada where they design guitars. Then they have them made in Korea. Then they market and sell them out of their show rooms in Chicago, Nashville, and Liverpool. We shot this episode in the Nashville showroom with a guy who lived in Chicago and worked from that show room as well. Demonstrating that while the localization of the village economy is a key factor, so is the connectivity of the villages from one to another – digital connectivity and physical connectivity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every town needs to invest in musical instrument making. I’m instead saying that every town needs to invest in the artisan manufacturer who is functioning as part of the fabric of the vibrancy of your community. This could be a yacht builder or a whiskey maker or a local farmer or even a high-tech engine component producer if they come to the village and participate.
Such artisan makers are all over the place. We recently did a podcast with Leake Furniture Makers in York County, SC (a third generation furniture maker). They build one piece of furniture for one person at a time. They not only build pieces for people in the region, but for people all over the country. As of recently, they also are making small wooden pieces that are being given by the White House to dignitaries from all over the world.
Artisanship and Manufacturing are not the same thing, but they are not exactly different things either. Manufacturing is about controlling factors to create predictability and replicability. On the other end of the spectrum, Art is about creating a thing in the way that is true to that thing (regardless of other factors). Artisanship lies in the middle. The artisan creates a work of art, but does it in a way that is designed upfront to be profitable (factoring in resources, time, process, etc.).
Santa Cruz Guitar Company can build you a beautiful guitar that is unique to its own wood and beautifully harmonious across its own self, but they have to charge you enough money to profit in the end from having done it. It’s how they make a living. Thus, if a buyer needs to know the cost upfront, which the vast majority of them would, then Santa Cruz has to be experienced and efficient in scoping and pricing and then managing the project in a way to meet some kind of predictable outcome in terms of costs. These are the principles of manufacturing. And they are being applied in a positive manner in a healthy environment of local good people who are passionate about their work and in more direct control of the means of production and the deployment into the marketplace. This is the artisan maker who symbolizes a healthy, democratic, and new economy.
If small cities and rural communities want to be successful in the new economy, then they will invest in the Artisan Maker and Small Manufacturer. The key attractor for these individuals is the vibrant village – music, art, entertainment, food, drink, and artisan makers. The vibrancy brings the people, and people bring the economy. Who knows, the CEO of one of the high-tech employers from the business park outside of town may just play in a band with a guy you know.
Just Think About Beer
In 1976, there were only a couple dozen beer makers in the United States. They were mostly the large manufacturers and giant corporate brands. Today there are over 7,000 beer makers in the US (not counting the home brewers, who are a pretty productive crowd).
The difference between Anheuser-Busch and your local brew pub is pretty significant. The local pub is, from stem to stern, made up of people who participate in the cultural vibrancy of the community. The business may be doing manufacturing, distribution, wholesale, retail, and running a restaurant all at the same time.
Plus, these brewers aren’t resigned to small business and local business. There are “local” breweries nowadays that are producing some serious quantities of beer. And with the connectivity between the villages remaining quite efficient (with an explosion of communications connectivity due to the internet and still good roads for distribution and such), brewers can go pretty big with their operations and yet still function like a local brew business.
These are very healthy businesses for a community. Small towns should invest in such businesses, in their artisan makers – beer, crafts, music, knowledge work and tech that produces local jobs of flatter organizations. These businesses are connected to the arts scene and connected to the village. They will create the village culture that draws people and economy, and they will be the talent who build the innovative businesses of our future. A new renaissance in a new world.
The Rebirth of the American Dream
700 years since the explosion of the middle-class in the West, and we are due another revolution. The working-class and middle-class need to rise like they did in the 1950s America – with widely distributed wealth and opportunity, creating a rebirth of the American Dream. Come to America and find opportunity to contribute and benefit from it.
A sad cultural phenomenon currently in the US is that the very working-class ethic that was exactly the driver of huge success in our country’s past when the wealth was distributed so widely for the baby boomers is the exact ethic that has been hijacked to somehow protect the wealth consolidation for the very few – disallowing that same American Dream to today’s working-class populations.
People use their nostalgia of the 1950s and 60s of a better America to somehow demonize any talk of wealth distribution, yet those times were the most widely wealth-distributed times of our nation.
The Renaissance luthier, the turn of the century liveryman, the post war dry-cleaner business, and now the local artisan of crafted things – these are the symbols of wide-spread prosperity. They are the heroes of the times of widely distributed wealth in our nation. They are also the symbols of good people, good neighbors, and a healthy community.
The compartmentalization driven by the Industrial Revolution has led to bad things, alongside a lot of good. What’s bad is our separation and isolation from each other, which creates echo chambers and tribal qualities. These are easy for the powerful to manipulate (as we saw happen in our own elections). And these are the conditions that allow the ultimate consolidation of power.
As communities, we need to re-integrate in our vibrant village markets. We need to invest in three things: our local artisans, our local villages, and local/global connectivity infrastructure.
Individuals Need to Wake Up
As individuals, we need to recognize that wealth consolidation is a natural part of our economy and part of an ebb and flow. We must recognize that we are at a dangerously high point in history with wealth consolidation, and that something will change soon. We must be intentional now about what we want to happen. With current inertia, the system will either topple over or fall to dictatorship. These are the inevitable options of all of the wealth and power consolidating to the very top.
We still have power to change this path peacefully. It won’t be long from now though that we, as a nation, will be presented the idea by the increasingly powerful that we must give them more power or we face ruin – that maybe we should give them ultimate power. In the United States this looks like talking about extended term limits and fabricating national emergencies from what are more like national concerns and issues that can be programmatically addressed. To fan the flames of chaos the with accusations and fear-mongering is to create, for some, the perceived need for strong centralized authoritarian government. The tendency at that point is to continue to hand power to the few and believe they will save us somehow. They, in turn, come to rule us.
We need to act and figure out a way to spread the wealth of the country as widely across the middle and working classes as possible, thus creating a boom of economy from those folks and de-consolidating wealth and power from those who seek to control it all. Yet, angrily attacking “the rich” and taking from one group to give to another is never a good solution. We can do better than that.
The first step is to understand, without emotion or politics, that it is the wide distribution of wealth and power that gave the baby boomers their field of dreams and that created the Renaissance in Western Europe. Such economic conditions always lead to positive growth. Just coming to common ground on that very demonstrable fact would be a powerful start.
Maybe we should all meet downtown, have a locally brewed beer, listen to some live music, and talk about this.