Sunday, May 03, 2015

Newsflash: buying handmade won't change the economy nor save the world

Sometimes, I worry that maybe the right-wing nutcases (no, not me!) have a point that the education system brainwashes kids in the k-12 system into "one" way of thinking and that this continues in the colleges and universities too.

Today's exhibit: the "feel good" approaches to making the world a better place.  The touchy-feely ways that students (and most faculty, it seems) believe will transform the world into rainbows, unicorns, and pots of gold.

Those are also the issues addressed in this piece on why "that handmade scarf won't save the world."
While buying homemade gifts is a lovely thing to do, thinking of it as a social good is problematic. Like locavorism and “eco consumerism,” it’s part of a troubling trend for neoliberal “all change begins with your personal choices” ideology. This ideology is attractive: Buy something nice, do something good. But it doesn’t work, at least not very well.
Ah, yes.  I have been fighting for a long time the locavorism as the way to the garden of Eden.  While students might not be familiar with the word "locavore" because it is a rather new addition to the dictionary, they are all too familiar with that awfully constructed slogan "buy local,"  I first clarify to them that it is a huge grammar mistake, and that it has to be "buy locally." ;)

So, back to that essay.  The author is like me--ticked off at the misguided approaches to fix the world.  And, on top of that, the uppity-nose looking down on us who think otherwise!  It is not that the author or I want to make the world a worse place; it is just that we want to rationally, critically, think through the touchy-feely approaches.  I want to make sure we don't become "green phonies."

Further, the author points out something that I have argued for long, which the touchy-feely approaches tend to overlook by oversimplifying:
When “buy handmade” is couched as a solution to exploitative labor conditions, it’s easy to forget structural change-making.
It ticks us even more when corporations find a way to make money out of those very touchy-feely things, even more annoying when people fall for those!
Once a mark of poverty, handmade is hot these days. Nothing seems to shout “upper-middle-class values” like hand-carved wooden children’s toys, handmade lavender soap from the farmers’ market, artisan country bread and chunky hand-knit scarves. Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods, brought this homespun mania to national attention last month when it went public with a bang, ending its first day of trading at $30, up 87 percent from its I.P.O. of $16. It’s now joined by dozens of other handmade-goods sites, and hundreds of artisan markets across America.
Yep, Etsy is yet another variation of the old PT Barnum quote that there is a sucker born every minute ;)

If only it were simply about the "handmade" nonsense.  Nope, there is more:
“Buying handmade (especially really locally) can greatly reduce your carbon footprint on the world,” reads a post on the popular website Handmadeology.
I had no idea that there is website called Handmadeology.  The internet certainly democratizes idiocy!
There are plenty of good reasons to buy handmade. You’re probably not going to find a squid-shaped dining chair or a crocheted sloth at a big box store, for one. It’s important to support artisans who retain knowledge of traditional art forms. Many handmade items are also higher quality than their mass-produced counterparts. But will buying handmade change the economy or save the world? Not likely.
Exactly.  This is no different from the bottom-line I give students: as consumers, we certainly have the freedom to express our preferences and pay for those options.  But, if we want to make the world a better place via our wallet, then we have a go well beyond a gut-instinct.  It requires a lot of critical thinking to get to the pots of gold.

Plenty of rainbows here in Oregon.
Am continuing to search for the pots of gold, and the unicorn too ;)

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Lots of reasons to disagree vehemently with that article in the NYT. If I was doing my usual one post of yours per day, I would have penned a long rebuttal. But since I am catching up, I'll pass on this and only say what an awful world "locavore" is.

Sriram Khé said...

What a pathetic excuse from a retired guy who is making a huge dent on his easychair!!! ;)

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