"We should be making more things" Guardian article

Discuss new ways of doing things, old ways adapted to new contexts.

Moderators: jrccaim, Bob_Fleet, gavin, Robin Fawcett, HughSpencer

"We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby steve tomlin » Sat Dec 31, 2011 2:42 pm

I've put this in 'Experiments and ideas' because the board description says "Discuss new ways of doing things, old ways adapted to new contexts." and that seems to fit this articlefrom yesterdays Guardian:

Why Britain should think about doing things the German way
The British economy is built on flimsy and unreliable foundations. We should be making more things

More significantly, the numbers employed in manufacturing [in Britain] have fallen considerably in recent years. In 1994, 4.7 million of us were employed in making things; the latest figure, for 2009, is 2.6 million.

At its best, the making of things is an all-absorbing activity. It seems odd to have so many people in Britain making things purely as a hobby, when we might be earning our living making high-quality modern products every bit as desirable in their own way as bright new BMWs.

I'm not saying I agree with everything he says or that I think it's so easy to set up a manufacturing economy but it's possibly a new way of doing things.340 comments on the page seem to suggest it's worth discussing.
User avatar
steve tomlin
Posts: 255
Joined: Mon Jun 23, 2008 5:06 pm
Location: Cumbria

Re: "We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby ToneWood » Fri Mar 30, 2012 10:43 pm

The Americans make things too and those I met were often pretty handy at DIY, in addition to their regular jobs and interests. Often learnt from their fathers/brothers or while working when students, or simply because they have the attitude "how hard can it be?". Part of that self reliant frontier spirit perhaps? Also good tools and hardware supplies are often readily available and very affordable, which encourages you to give it a try.

That said, I know Brits who are very handy too, although here it is often seems more like a matter of necessity :(. I know one or two who make things or repair/refurbish things for pleasure though. Britain used to invent and manufacture for the rest of the world. The empire and industrial revolution have long gone but I think we probably do need to get back to doing more of that kind of thing - by loosing skills and the ability/facilities to make things, we've started to loose the underpinnings of our society.
Posts: 1846
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:21 pm

Re: "We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby Bulworthy Project » Sat Mar 31, 2012 10:00 am

I certainly think that we need to stop relying on everything being made cheeply on the other side of the world. Transport costs are only going up and the economic logic of cheeply made good has to give way to the sustainability argument for well made goods at some point.
Bulworthy Project is an experiment in low-impact living and working
User avatar
Bulworthy Project
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Mar 20, 2012 5:43 pm
Location: Rackenford, Devon

Fix v. new / USA wooden wheel barrow

Postby ToneWood » Sat Mar 31, 2012 3:12 pm

Apparently China is already looking into finding shorter routes via the arctic circle, when/if it melts enough to open up new sea routes.
Problem is, although fixing things seems like it should be cheaper than buying new, often it isn't these days.

Today's Wheelbarrow Repair
Case in point, last night the wooden handle broke on my old American-made wheelbarrow. Growing up in the UK, I had misgivings about wood in general
- it gets wet, goes moldy/fungal, rots and breaks - but there were no all-metal barrows available when I bought it (in the US).
So I got this big metal barrow with wooden handles. However, the barrow has given me, gosh can it really be 20 years of use?! American goods
are usually pretty robust/tough in my experience. It was stored in a shed or garage for most of that but has sat outside in the British rain for
several years now (not ideal but access to my long, thin British shed is blocked by a rather hefty US mower :D).

Bodged Barrow
I'd previously replaced a rotten cross-bar. But that's the beauty of wood (as I discovered when, with some trepidation,
I bought a cedar-sided home), although it needs more maintenance than alternatives, it is usually cheap & easy
to repair. Early this morning, I picked up a small framing stud at the local coal yard - a little wider than the original but otherwise
similar. By 9.30am I had bought it, cut it, shaped the handle with my 2nd finest (Lidl's :D) carving axe and drilled the holes. But it was another
1.5 hours before it was all reassembled, greased, oiled, tyre inflated and back in its place. The wood had to be reduced in 3 places for the old bolts to fit
- I used my now wonderful little Lidl's axe to plane it down :) and I needed to align the wheel in order to drill the final 2 holes.

Repaired Wheelbarrow.jpg
Have barrow, will travel :)
Repaired Wheelbarrow.jpg (146.07 KiB) Viewed 5301 times

The wood probably cost about £3.50 + about 2-2.5 hours of my time - so not too much money but quite a lot of time
(the barrow cost ~$35/£22 new but in the UK would probably cost more like £32-£70 now :( ) However,
I absolutely loved fixing it - a real practical use for my new tools & skills - and, while at the coal yard, I picked up
timber for other projects.

Bicycle Repairman!
Clearly inspired by Britain's favourite super hero, Bicycle Repairman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eCdIe0wdvU
This is neat: http://www.bikerumor.com/2010/03/26/bik ... repairman/
Last edited by ToneWood on Fri May 04, 2012 9:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
Posts: 1846
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:21 pm

Re: "We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby Mark Allery » Sun Apr 01, 2012 1:08 pm

Oh dear I can sense plenty of wheelbarrow photos coming on! And a song 'I had a wheelbarrow, the front wheel went round...........' You might just have inspired me to finish my own project - its the other half of yours, in that I have an old builders barrow where the undercarriage is ok but the barrow bit has collapsed and I plan a wooden version.

But the topic of making more things is a subject close to my heart and thanks for posting the Guardian article Steve, just a shame that it wasn't longer. Though on second thoughts and sensing the length this post may run to perhaps shorter is better! Unfortunately there is a great pit of disconnected thoughts on this subject whirling around my brain and it seems that I'm going to inflict some of them on you on this chilly spring morning down here in the sunny Western Weald of Sussex.

I really do hesitate to embark upon this, I'd stop reading now if I was you, but here goes.......

The UK is the 8th largest manufacturer (I guess that's measured by money as usual) in the world, but it seems that our own view of making things in the UK is not in step - our body image as a society if you like? - with what we actually do. I am fascinated by the issues around making things, or perhaps not making things, in our society today.

Somehow it seems that we (as a society) view making things differently from Germany for example. I don't think that there is one single reason or solution and perhaps there are not very many who think it matters that much. After all thanks to productivity rising so few people now work in 'industry' that you are much less likely to know someone who makes things than you used so as a society our views will differ. More Robots than people in some industries I'm sure and that alone must raise some interesting philosophical questions on the subject of Utopia or perhaps Dystopia for the future if we persist in following this route?

I've been to Southern Germany quite a lot in the last few years as we have family out there and it fascinates me how differently things are viewed. The DIY sheds have mountains of tools, a huge amount more variety than over here. There is always a small family owned firm around the corner that makes or does what you want and it's automatically assumed that you will be using them. Buying German doesn't seem to be mentioned much (unlike in France) but then there is not a lot of need as the culture seems to be automatically biased towards German products. It's not extreme, but then it doesn't really need to be as long as there is an inbuilt bias which ensures that the firms stay in business so that the virtuous circle can continue. Maybe its changing? I don't know, but if it is the pace of change is certainly slower and perhaps most of all the education system which in its Teutonic way seems to reinforce the need to make things and the pride in making them.

My parents were teachers, both of them. I'm not sure that they really understood 'industry' though my father was alway said to be 'good with his hands' and as a teacher that always seemed to be something of a backhanded compliment. I didn't understand any of this when I grew up. I listened to what the teachers said at school - after all that's what you are supposed to do. None of them, not one had any industrial experience. There was an unconcious bias against making things and in favour of academic merit. Built into the system so its not surprising really, we (society) measure in terms of number and grade of qualifications, the school/university you went to and the salary you can earn in your chosen profession. You don't think so? Try looking at the government, the leaders of the armed forces, the 'Professions' & various charities and of course the 'Captains of Industry' themselves. Bit of a mystery how I ended up making things really, perhaps I should have been an accountant? Anyway as usual I either wasn't listening or ignored the teachers at school. The careers advice was an absolute joke (way back when) and when I said I want to be an engineer they appeared to be nonplussed and only really capable of explaining which university to go to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant or similarly approved 'profession'. All very worthy, but intriguingly none of these 'professions' actually make anything and neither I guess do career advisors.

Perhaps the starkest view I can see is to compare the popularity of 'The Apprentice' with the fate of 'Mastercrafts'. I think of it as the consequence of the bias in our society against making things and towards the need for social status and recognition. Now doubt magnified by our media frenxy it's no longer enough to keep up with the Jones' - now you have beat them to death and do it NOW. The perception of being able to yell 'YOU'RE FIRED' versus Monty Don gently encouraging somebody to keep on trying to master a deceptively simple skill. The irony of it all is that (I have to admit I've not watched the programme) I can't think of anything that's much less like the training an apprentice should receive.

Of course I blame the Industrial revolution. I mean who doesn't. Though actually I don't really subscribe to the idea of an industrial revolution (Francis Pryor's recent book 'The making of the British Landscape' is a thoroughly good read on this topic ) but the century from 1770 to 1870 did encompass a lot of social changes throughout the British society.

It's even more understandable to blame Adam Smith, who in his book 'The Wealth of Nations' introduced the concepts of 'Division of Labour' and 'Economies of Scale'. Ideas, or even perhaps Ideology, which underpin our society today. Infamously he analyses work at a Pin factory and identifies 17 (from memory) different tasks that would be more efficiently by a person undertaking each task rather than all making individual pins. This concept is the division of labour, and economies of scale simply extends this to point out that if you can fit 34 workers(for the sake of argument) into the workshop that used to house 17 you get to be rich (if you're the owner of the workshop). Of course if you are the worker your job suddenly lacks something and you might not really be all that efficient unless of course we invent the concept of a 'holiday' and pack you off on those new fangled trains and charabancs to the seaside to forget your misery so you'll be really efficient and won't 'lose your temper' when you get back with your 'nose to the grindstone' and are 'forging ahead'. Actually, forget the holidays even better to sack the workers and replace them with machines and in time Robots - I'll get a lot richer and quicker that way. And a whole heap less messy if I move my factory somewhere where I can't hear the complaints of the workforce and it's somebody else's problem. But hold on I'm telling you the plot!

Welcome to Today Central, where everything is Bigger, Brighter, Better and it's also Buggered Off somewhere else. Doesn't matter if you are thinking train station (thank you Dr Beeching), local hospital (remember those?), the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick maker(thank you Tesco - and the rest of them), local garage (now a set of charming flats), the old mill (now a premium set of flats, ooh and ones a bigger sewage works for the output from our dishwashers and pressure hoses), the old manufactory (now affordable housing), the ambulance station(replaced by a van sitting on a bypass with its engine permanently running, while the station is......yes you guessed it flats). In fact the only thing thats coming to you today, is the new road/bypass which like as not is going to knock your centuries old house down in the name of progress. Hmm, I think I've heard this plot before somewhere? But you gotta larf, otherwise you'd cry!

Well intriguingly (to me at least, but then I did have an economics teacher who taught me to drink real ale and worship landrovers) it turns out that even Adam Smith wasn't sold on the division of labour - and himself warned in the book that <i> 'it will destroy human beings and turn people into creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from proceeding to its limits.'</i> (this is a quote from a quotation not from the book by the way).

Well it looks to me as if we didn't heed Adam Smith's warning and in our headlong rush towards the benefits (in terms of money) we've ignored the consequences to a greater or lesser extent. Though as usual it's more complex than that and Britain's role as a trading nation, much more so than either Germany or France, perhaps carried the seeds of our own future destruction in terms of industrial capability. And there is that little matter of a lot of people, not much land - at least down here there is.

But that's no excuse for not trying either. My vote does make a difference (though I didn't predict a coalition!) and in my own way I am trying to pushback just a little against the 'consumerist society'. For so long the centralised philosophy grown from Adam Smith's concepts have dominated and demolished the small distributed systems that used to be in place in local economies without leaving them any room to flourish. But it really isn't more efficient if so many people have to travel so far to work, if goods have to move halfway around the globe and if so many people don't even have a role in society. I am not arguing that big businesses should not exist or centralisation be banned but am very interested to see just how efficient a local economy built upon networks of interdependence can be (which is in a sense what I see working in Germany) working alongside the results of division of labour and economies of scale.

Since leaving 'Big Industry' to become involved in 'little industry' several years ago I have become so much more conscious of the effect that even my little money can have upon the next person along who makes something. It makes no difference at all if I give my money to Tesco, or even Waitrose to be honest, but if I give it to just one local person who makes something - bread, beer, bodger it makes no difference what as long as they've made it and I have a use for it.

It's not all bad news. Do you want to hear the Good News? You can be saved..............yes but. By Adam Smith. It's not completely broke, we live in a great country with lots of talent that does make lot, we just need to make a bit more on a local level. Changing is going to be a lot of work. Too much for one person - possibly even too much for Robin Wood. There is a lot of education needed. But luckily the division of labour can work another way as well, in that if we all just do a little of the same thing it does add up and the more so the more often you do it. So go out this weekend and make one thing, and buy one thing from somebody local who made it, you'll be amazed at the people you meet, how much you will enjoy it and the difference you can make!

Oooops. How did that happen? If anyone has read this far - I apologise, but it has helped me connect a few thoughts in my brain even if its not helped you much. I've ranted for far too long, and I've got to go and sow some onions, mend the fence and the odd landrover and enjoy the weather at the allotment while I make some potting compost (I've got this idea......about woodash, charcoal fines, seaweed and .......). Later on I'll treat meself to a swift half, made from organic barley traditionally malted at the Warminster maltings and mashed and sparged by me the other week, in the shed of course. But in the meantime I'll get me coat, see you later,


Polelathe Turner, Woodsman & Green Woodworker. Demonstrations and Coppice Products
User avatar
Mark Allery
Posts: 314
Joined: Mon Oct 23, 2006 5:50 pm
Location: Lynchmere, Western Weald

Re: "We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby ToneWood » Sun Apr 01, 2012 5:02 pm

Long but interesting. Sounds like Adam Smith foresaw our current society quite accurately, at least some aspects of it :(. I see the Times last week had a piece on Scandinavian parenting (the latest fad?). There seems to be a general air of "somethings wrong here" but nobody is quite sure what, so "let's look at what is working elsewhere" might be the order of the day. The media have focused on all things Scandinavian over the last few years, with Wallander, etc. on TV, shops like Ikea. Perhaps its just the novelty of something new, or perhaps a longing for open spaces/peace/quiet - Britain seems terribly busy/congested/crowded these days. The countryside is disappearing under tarmac, concrete and building sites. Ironically, this occurs just at a time when machines & computers mean that we don't need anywhere near as many people to make/do things as in the past.

Mark Allery wrote:...Welcome to Today Central, where everything is Bigger, Brighter, Better and it's also Buggered Off somewhere else...
Posts: 1846
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:21 pm

Re: "We should be making more things" Guardian article

Postby jarrod stonedahl » Thu May 03, 2012 4:41 pm

good one mark, ill be thinking of all that as I make things in my shop today....
User avatar
jarrod stonedahl
Posts: 145
Joined: Mon Mar 22, 2010 3:55 am
Location: wisconsin,united states

Return to Experiments and Ideas AKA Heretic's Corner

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests