Saturday, January 11, 2014

Renaissance of the Fix-It Society?

A fix-it, doing-more-with-less community economy can create decentralized, localized, non-state, non-corporate employment and trade.

My long-time friend G.F.B. recently suggested that the widening income/wealth disparity in the U.S. might drive a broad-based cultural Renaissance of the once prevalent "don't replace it, fix it" value system and the small-scale economy of repair shops that enabled the repair of household items.

The popularity of the "Maker" shows, culture and magazines certainly supports the contention that at least one segment of the populace has a renewed enthusiasm for crafts and fixing/re-using things. The rising sales at auto parts stores (Autozone, etc.) (and the delivery of parts via the Brown Truck Store, a trend noted by correspondent Mark G.) also support the view that as the real incomes of the "middle class" decline, more households are turning to fixing vehicles on their own rather than replacing them.

The average age of vehicles in the U.S. continues to rise, offering evidence of this trend:Average age of U.S. car, light truck on road hits record 11.4 years.

In other words, the continuing decline in purchasing power will leave an increasing number of households with a choice: either buy low-cost, low-quality replacements of broken items that will need to be replaced themselves in short order, or repair a higher-quality item--the ideal of the Degrowth movement I have been covering for the past year.

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption (May 9, 2013)

Looming U.S. Retail Implosion: DeGrowth 2014 (December 4, 2013)

Two other trends support this return to repair: the availability of a staggering number of spare parts via the Internet, delivered to your door, and the rise of 3-D printers/fabrication devices. As G.F.B. noted in our conversation on this topic, the Web, software and 3-D printers enable do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) to download the software bits that define a specific part to a 3-D printer and then push the button to fabricate the part in metal or plastic.

Could 3-D Fabrication Technology Lead to Re-Industrialization?

The feedstock for 3-D fabs is not free, of course, but it is certainly cheaper than fabricating parts by hand.

The rise of a fix-it, small-scale economy of repair shops and community 3-D fabs that can be rented by individuals would be a welcome expansion of what I call the Community Economy, the parts of the economy that are neither owned or controlled by global corporations or the Centralized State.

Such localized repair venues are already proliferating; I have seen stories on such community shops in Germany, where people can either borrow tools to fix their broken appliances or pay a repair person a fee to help them effect the necessary repair. Here in Berkeley, there is a bicycle shop operated by a non-profit that lets the public borrow bike-repair tools for free (it's open to the public on certain days). It also has paid staff who make repairs and teach bike-repair skills to teens: Waterside Workshops.

We all bemoan the loss of quality in many household appliances and electronics. The possibilities for repair are not unlimited, but they are certainly broad enough to enable the rise of a localized, small-scale fix-it culture and economy. Doing more with less can create decentralized, localized, non-state, non-corporate employment and trade.

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 50, one of the weekly reports sent exclusively to subscribers and major contributors (i.e. those who contribute $50 or more annually). 

The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy:
The Revolution in Higher Education

Reconnecting higher education, livelihoods and the economy

With the soaring cost of higher education, has the value a college degree been turned upside down? College tuition and fees are up 1000% since 1980. Half of all recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed, revealing a deep disconnect between higher education and the job market.

It is no surprise everyone is asking: Where is the return on investment? Is the assumption that higher education returns greater prosperity no longer true? And if this is the case, how does this impact you, your children and grandchildren?

go to Kindle edition
We must thoroughly understand the twin revolutions now fundamentally changing our world: The true cost of higher education and an economy that seems to re-shape itself minute to minute.

The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy clearly describes the underlying dynamics at work - and, more importantly, lays out a new low-cost model for higher education: how digital technology is enabling a revolution in higher education that dramatically lowers costs while expanding the opportunities for students of all ages.

The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy provides clarity and optimism in a period of the greatest change our educational systems and society have seen, and offers everyone the tools needed to prosper in the Emerging Economy.

Kindle edition: list $9.95 

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

Kindle: $9.95       print: $24

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