“The Nature and Art of Workmanship”- Excerpt

In the excerpt we read from “The Nature and Art of Workmanship”, David Pye makes some really interesting comments about the economics of craft. He describes certain goods, certain “crafts”, that are still made through the workmanship of risk. However, he notes that many others are dying out because it is not economically feasible for them to keep up production when pitted against similar goods created through the workmanship of certainty.

He lists a few example items that still survive as “crafts”- “[h]aute couture… musical instruments, yachts, guns, jewelry, tailoring, and things made of silver”. And of course, I noticed that a common thread through all these items was that they’re all prohibitively expensive to anyone but the very, very wealthy (unsurprisingly, it was yachts that triggered my notice). To me, this sets up an intrinsic moral dilemma. On the one hand, I firmly believe that everyone should have relatively equal access to the same quality of things, which, of course, is what comes out of the workmanship of certainty. However, I also see, as Pye does as well, the incredible value of keeping the crafts alive, and that inherently means, in our current society and economy, that they have to be supported by the very wealthy. It’s all well and good to say, “Well, the solution is we need to change the distribution of wealth!”, but a) the fact of the matter is that’s going to take a long time, and if we simply say, “The wealthy shouldn’t be allowed to buy these nice things!” until the whole system is figured out, then the crafts will just die out completely, in addition to which b) it’s not entirely clear that if we redistributed wealth “properly” (whatever that means) that anyone would be able to afford the high price of these kinds of crafts.

I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s definitely a problem.


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