Jobs in a shareable society: how do we get paid if no one is buying?

Despite my love of shiny shiny things, I am generally in favor of a society focused less on consumption and more on community. Our current levels of consumption as a society are unsustainable and harmful to both workers and the environment; if you want a good in-depth analysis of these problems and some potential solutions, I highly recommend Annie Leonard’s book The Story of Stuff.

But there’s one thing I keep wondering when I think about transitioning to a less stuff-focused society, and reading this post about planning a shareable wedding helped me put my finger on it.

The author’s wedding, which included contributions from creative friends and lots of DIY, sounds wonderful. I especially like the idea of a make-your-own-mojito station, which I’m totally stealing for future use:

Think about all the things you can make instead of buy. Instead of programs, we painted the day’s agenda on a big smooth piece of wood, propped up on an easel. Instead of a full cocktail bar, Michael made a giant pitcherful of sugar-mint-lime mash the day before, and guests enjoyed the make-your-own-mojito station with instructions and ingredients. And instead of store-bought invitations, we designed and formatted our own, and printed them at a local copy business for under a hundred dollars.

I have no problem with the author, or anyone else, planning their weddings or other events this way (although I would caution anyone considering using “friendors” to think about it carefully and be aware of the risks).  But when I see such stories held up as a model for “how we should do things,” it leaves me wondering: if everyone did it that way, what would happen to all the professional photographers, florists, wedding coordinators, artists, designers, craftspeople, and bakers?

More broadly, if we move toward a model of sharing–that is, replacing paid labor with volunteer work done by friends and family–where does that leave people who make things and provide services for a living?

One potential way around this conundrum is the basic national income, which would free people from having to work to survive. Under such a system, people who want to make art could do so without having to find a way to make money from it, and people who want to volunteer for their friends could do so without losing out on much-needed wages. But even then, there are probably many people who would want to do these types of work. After all, being an accessory maker, photographer, event planner, graphic designer, florist, or maker of tiny wedding cake replicas sound like fulfilling and rewarding jobs–exactly the kind we’d want more of in a new economy.

How do we move away from ubiquitous commercialization, from the constant beating drum of buy-buy-buy, without devaluing creative work?

I know this is a rather theoretical question, as we’re nowhere near a large-scale shift away from consumption. But I care about figuring out social and economic models that would work for as many people as possible.

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5 thoughts on “Jobs in a shareable society: how do we get paid if no one is buying?

  1. I love this post. I have been thinking about this for a while. It especially concerns me with new media sites like youtube where you can learn yoga, how to do your nails, etc. It’s like we all expect to get things for free now. What distresses me even more is that women-dominated industries tend to get hit the hardest in that respect, as you just mentioned.

  2. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a society built on selling commercial goods and services. Buy local. It really makes a difference. You may not practically be able to do so all the time, but when you have a choice between food/art/products from major international corporation v. locally owned business, go local.

  3. Pingback: Robots and drones can’t replace us: even more ways to make a living in a green economy | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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