Craft economics and housing crisis: why I do what I do the crazy way that I do

I’ve spent the summer developing the most sustainable product my itinerant business can feasibly produce: ponchos made from all-British, mostly undyed, artisan wool. They’re not in fancy colours, they’re not super-soft, and they’re not going to be cheap. (You already know that.) But they are handsome and wholesome in every way (you know that too). I will launch them in the next month or so, so keep an eye here and in my shop. Meantime…

Last week I was interviewed by Devon Live reporter Frankie Mills who’s one of a team investigating how the national housing crisis afflicts our rural county. My particular story is highly idiosyncratic, but in essence the story is the same the world over. The issues behind it concern every person and creature on this planet. To explain in brief:

Buying a home in (my native) Devon countryside on an average income has not been possible for some decades. A local craft business can barely even achieve an average income since global capitalism means we’re always outcompeted by cheap, industrialised labour in poorer countries.

So if your main skills are not managerial but hands-on; if your ethics value local over imports; and if your mental health requires rural life and self-employment, you are likely to live at the behest of far wealthier landowners (who are also the only few who can even begin to afford your services or wares, even though they’re only produced at minimum wage, max).

That means being a lodger, or living in a caravan (my parents’ neighbour charges some £400 pcm for a pitch on his land, which is about a quarter of an average wage here), or a rental house share. Which may be acceptable when you’re very young, but not when you’re middle aged, have health issues, or are trying to sustain a family, or a professional career – or even just a craft business.

And of course this situation only worsens as long as neoliberalism concentrates wealth yet further so that modest people in all walks of life are more and more squeezed.

This is acutely felt in a county like Devon where the rich-poor divide is extreme and the modest are less and less able to participate in society.

It is not poverty, but wealth, that is the problem: not poverty, but the poverty gap that cripples. (Debt is obviously only an interim solution that in most cases makes your situation worse.)

How can those (most of us) priced out of access to land ever hope to minimise our carbon footprint and environmental impact whilst maximising our positive social impact if we can’t afford a simple, self-sufficient life with autonomy and rights?

It’s estimated that the global 1% (and that includes vandweller-me here in the West) is currently responsible for some 70-odd% of environmental destruction worldwide, and that each of us is sustained by sixteen workers (basically, slaves) around the world.

Our planet may be able to sustain about a billion long-living, industrial capitalists in material comfort, or about ten billion shorter-lived, more self-sufficient peasants on the land. But not both, and not more.

By that reckoning, a billion long-living, industrial capitalists need either sixteen billion short-living, urban-caged workers to sustain them, or a web of machines as complex as the current web of life, with the sixteen billion dead.

Maybe if that billion, long-living, industrial capitalist group served by an unimaginably complex web of machines trod very lightly, biological life on our planet would come back from the brink to rewild around them. But that’s a pretty big ‘if’, isn’t it?

So that’s the sixteen billion AND the biosphere dead. Neither Gates nor Bezos wants that. They probably also know that they would not enjoy life on Mars.

So what to do?

Personally, I’m emigrating to wherever I can afford my own garden with a shed to live in without enslaving anyone but myself. Though of course my relative wealth in that place will adversely affect that local land market in this stinking pyramid-scheme economics. Ouch.

That’s what we have to change, before it’s too late. This stinking pyramid-scheme economics. #changemoneychangetheworld!

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