Adam Davidson, co-founder of NPR’s Planet Money, has a piece in the upcoming edition of The New York Times Sunday Magazine called ‘Don’t Mock the Artisanal Pickle Makers,’ in which he argues that, “The craft economy is the fulfillment of Adam Smith’s notion of capitalism.” Davidson calls Brooklyn, “ground zero of the artisanal-food universe,” and spotlights Kings County Jerky as a prime example of the type of specialty goods manufacturing that he believes is the model for American economic success in the coming decades:
“Like many successful entrepreneurs in the United States, [King’s Country Jerky Founder Chris] Woehrle followed what seems like an ancient business model: making things by hand. He rejected the high-volume, low-margin commodity business in which ConAgra and PepsiCo compete against each other with their Slim Jim and Matador jerky products. Instead, Kings County found a niche in which engaged consumers will pay a premium for a specialty product.”
And craft manufacturing isn’t just a Brooklyn food fad, Davidson argues, citing the case of Jason Premo, a South Carolina entrepreneur who crafts precision parts for ICBMs and Black Hawk helicopters. Yes, artisanal inter-continental ballistic missiles – they might not be the next big thing, but they’re out there.
To Adam Smith, the 18th century social philosopher who crystal-balled the emergence of capitalism, it was all about specialization. The Industrial Revolution eventually freed individuals from the need to do a little bit of everything to survive, allowing them to focus on specific tasks, which drove technological and economic development at a far greater pace than ever before.
Now, Davidson says, we’re entering an era of hyperspecialization, which is allowing vast numbers of middle-class Americans to make a living by specializing in something they enjoy doing (like making really good high end beef jerky), which in turn generates enough wealth to allow them to afford similarly hyperspecialized products (like, say a growler of locally-brewed craft beer, or for the fortunate few, a $100 shot of whiskey at Char No. 4).
“When it comes to profit and satisfaction, craft business is showing how American manufacturing can compete in the global economy,” Davidson writes. “It’s tempting to look at craft businesses as simply a rejection of modern industrial capitalism. But the craft approach is actually something new — a happy refinement of the excesses of our industrial era plus a return to the vision laid out by capitalism’s godfather, Adam Smith…Instead of rolling our eyes at self-conscious Brooklyn hipsters pickling everything in sight, we might look to them as guides to the future of the American economy. Just don’t tell them that. It would break their hearts to be called model 21st-century capitalists.”
Find the full article here: Don’t Mock The Artisanal Pickle Makers (NY Times)