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Rambling Thoughts on Evolving Economic Paradigms.

For many centuries China produced ceramics which were inspirational throughout the world. In recent times, "made in China" evokes appropriation, commercialism, worker exploitation, and low costs for consumers in the western world. In response, in contemporary times. there is an emerging "Designed in China" movement,in China, complementing the "Made in America " mission in the USA.

The transformation of the China brand typifies the transformation of popular conception of hand crafted products. I recently over heard a young woman tell her friend of the same age that it is so cool that a popular store really does sell crafts made in the third world. I have visited the store not too long ago and was taken aback by the commercial character of the work on display. It felt cold and inauthentic, reflecting the globalized corporate management of the hand craft industry.

A comparison of the hand made market presented on the website for the non-profit organization, Aid to Artisans with the free enterprise venue, Kickstater, displays a distinct difference. Aid to Artisans shows many images of smiling emerging nation artisans, in native dress, and rooms filled with colorful crafts, but the crafts are displayed at such a distance that one cannot get an idea of their quality. On KickStarter, a private benefit corporation, there are images of the artisans from emerging and developed economies and a perpetually present focus on the  artisan product, conveying each product's unique qualities.

According to Wikipedia Aid to Artisans mission is "to create economic opportunities for low-income artisan groups around the world where livelihoods, communities, and craft traditions are marginal or at risk". Aid to Artisans does not include the United States or other developed nations among the artisan class. In the new centrally managed global world order, the developed economies are the hand craft markets and underdeveloped nations are the hand made makers. In economic-development-speak, "quality jobs", where ever they are located in the world, are defined in terms of income and benefits, not in terms of other rewards inherent to the work process.

Surely many of the formerly impoverished are beneficiaries of the globalization of the hand made industry. Such organizations bring a full range of quality to the marketplace, dependent upon how local productions are run, and by whom. In the best case scenario, management genuinely cares about the craft and its makers, but by the same token, large centrally managed organizations can collectivize and commercialize the hand made process to the point wherein the individual soul of the made by hand product, and its makers, is missing in the end result.

Andersen Design is a hand-made ceramic art and design enterprise established by my parents, Weston and Brenda Andersen in 1952 on Southport Island Maine. I use the slogan "The road less traveled" on our website, because this has been the tradition of our company since it was established, during the age of plastics, with a mission to create a hand- made product affordable to the middle class- not the low income and economically undeveloped class, but the middle class, which at that time was the largest class. In the 1950's the distribution of wealth took the form of a bell curve in the USA, with the greatest amount of wealth distributed among the largest number of people.

Dad was raised on a farm in Iowa, where, as a young child he dug clay out of the earth and fashioned his first ceramics sculptures.

In high school Weston read about a new field called "industrial design' in Scientific American magazine. The article inspired Weston to apply to Industrial Design Department of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. At Pratt, he learned about ceramic slip-casting in a class taught by Eva Zeisel.

Weston's college education was interrupted by World War II. Weston met Brenda while stationed in London. My mother once told me that I  came from a long line of craftsmen on her side of the family. Her talent landed her a scholarship at the Royal College of Art where most of the student body came from upper-class backgrounds. Weston and Brenda returned to Brooklyn after the war while Dad completed his education. Eva and Dad became friends and colleagues, sharing a mutual sensibility about nature and simple, modern, elegant design. Dad also found himself in an environment in which his social background contrasted with that of his peers. Dad was raised on a mid western farm, while Eva came from a wealthy and sophisticated European background and had held high placed jobs in the German and Russian ceramics industry before escaping Stalin and fleeing to America.

In the urban environment of  post-war New York, Weston and Brenda were part of the core group of young urban designers who brought about the mid-century designer movement in America and Europe, Weston and Brenda Andersen moved from the East Coast to Akron Ohio, where Weston became Dean of the Art School at the Akron Art Institute. There he had the opportunity to explore ceramics using the facilities of the Institute. He began to design a line of ceramic slip-cast functional forms but soon realized that the housing code in the Levittown community would never allow him to pursue his ideas. He took a different path, when, instead of designing for established industry, Dad chose to become a designer-craftsman and to move to Maine to set up his own slip-casting industry. Eva was taken aback, remarking that it was such a difficult thing to do. It was a difficult thing to do and that is why, this unique American enterprise needs to be continued into the future. Sixty seven years of design and development history created a line of contemporary classics, with sustained market appeal and a distinguished brand identity, which is an industrial design achievement and an economic development asset.

Weston and Brenda took a chance when they invested in entering the first New York Gift Show, which at the time was located in guest rooms in a hotel in Manhattan. That worked out for them for several decades until the gift show venue became watered down by too many competing shows while the costs of attending the show, for both buyers and vendors, soared. Then along came the internet and the rest is the history of once thriving Main Streets, malls, and big box stores falling into decline. Meanwhile the internet as a sales venue continues to expand.

Today we have much touted economic development resources not available in my parent's generation which have evolved into a wealth redistribution economy, composed of a conflation of the public-private and non-profit sectors. Beyond the parameters of the wealth redistribution economy, free enterprise lives on, as if hidden in the Mists of Avalon, borrowing a theme from Mary Zimmer Bradley's famous novel. The wealth redistribution sector and the free-enterprise economy are like non-intersecting alternate universes and it is easy to become trapped in one while not seeing the other. In Maine, the media most often functions as an extension of the wealth redistribution economy. One cannot help but feel that one should explore its options, but the wealth redistribution economy is like a grid. Unless one fits neatly into the spaces of the grid, designed managed, and organized by central management, for all meaningful purposes, one does not exist to that world.

Fortunately the free enterprise sector is inventing many new beneficial innovations for the micro-economy and beyond. One such innovation is the contest app. Contests are a way to build highly targeted email  lists. In the age of internet retailing, growing a  targeted email mailing list is an invaluable asset which can be used to bootstrap a business. Bootstrapping comes from a phrase once common in America, "pulling one's self up by your bootstraps", or another way of saying it is self-capitalization, using one's own assets, what ever they are, to capitalize growth. This is the primary method which my parents used to grow Andersen Design.

After spending many hours exploring contest applications, I found the app with the best functions and excellent online tutorials, and yet lacking in design functions and personal customer service. Since I cannot fully recommend the app I am not saying publicly which app I am using, but am happy to reveal it if any one wants to contact me by email. Despite the major shortcomings, the app has major strengths and is working very well for us, having already increased the size of our email list by over 45%, after a little more than a month.  Since the email list grows in response to a contest in which the prize is our product, it is a very targeted email list expansion. The viral function, which depends on social sharing is working only minimally to date but that can change by developing ways to communicate the way the contest works.

The company which produces the app is driven by a singular independent entrepreneur from the Netherlands. His tutorials include an insightful entrepreneurial discussion. I allowed the audio to repeat over and again a few times.  It was refreshing to hear a grass roots entrepreneurial voice. Here was a voice not of a corporation, but an individual carving his destiny out on his own and creating a tool that can benefit all sectors of the economy. This is the epitome of cool. I find myself willing to forgive the many shortcomings for the benefits, not just the app benefits but the community connection to the free enterprise zone. which. lest we forget, still exists outside the ubiquitous grid of public-private relationships in the all-encompassing environs of the wealth redistribution economy.

The basic app functions are useful bootstrapping tools for the small entrepreneur. The author  discusses the entrepreneurial life from the point of view of one whose starting assets are none other than talent, hard work and vision. Listening to the voice of a lone individualist entrepreneur feels like finding the underground resistance to the global corporate grid.

A Recap of Maine Economic Development History

As reported to the Maine Legislature by the Beldon Hull Daniels firm, In the 1970's and early eighties, Maine's small business sector. employing 100 people or less, was the fastest growing economic sector in Maine and Maine was exceeding national growth in that sector.

 In 1976, the Maine Legislature, led by a board composed of the heads of Mainer's largest companies, brought in by Governor Longley, used Maine's distinguished growth in the small business sector to justify assigning itself central management of the Maine economy, which was declared to be "an essential government function". The reasoning was that because it is substantially more difficult for small businesses to acquire capital than it is for large businesses, the State needed to step in to help the small business economy gain access to capitalization.

However, beginning with the Maine Capital Corporation, as first on the agenda of the Governor's board, the newly centralized economy was used in the self interests of its own authors. Ever since the goal of Maine's economic development policies, as documented in this blog, has been to benefit  the top of the economy at the expense of the lower. In December of 2017, with total media silence, The Maine Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Governor LePage which, through the combined effect of refundable tax credits and tax exemptions, potentially taxes the Maine people, including its small business sector, to finance the capitalization of global corporations. The use of public funding for private benefit is marketed under the popular rubric of "job creation", but for the first time, it is authorized by a Maine statute to use Maine taxpayer money to capitalize jobs located anywhere in the world, in exchange, the global or national corporation will commit to locate headquarters in Maine and employ at least 1500 people. Factoring in the eminent domain authority granted by the US Supreme Court Decision, Kelo vs New London,to private corporations employing at least 1000 people, such a corporation can have its way with any Maine community on the taxpayers dime, to boot.

That is the way the centralized economy of Maine works, from global to municipal, it benefits the large at the expense of the small - or at least it attempts to have that kind of control at the municipal level but Maine's Home Rule Amendment, added to the Maine Constitution in 1969, says otherwise, granting the municipality authority to write its own charter. However most Maine municipaities accept central management and have not realized the valuable tool which the Home Rule Amendment makes available to them. The value of this tool is most likely to be realized by the less affluent communities since Maine economic development policies advantage the affluent communities over others. It comes down to self interest. If the State advantages the affluent, the affluent will channel State policies, while the less affluent municipalities, as the beast of burden, will have more reason to push back and effectively use the Home Rule Amendment to create cultural alternatives to central management.

New Terminology For An Ever Changing World

More than a decade a go I read the Non-Profit Economy by Burton Weisbrod. Weisbrod identified the primary economic sectors as public, private and non-profit. As I studied the Maine statutes I found that the sectors viewed as distinct by Weisbrod have been conflated. For instance, the Maine Technology Instituted, chartered by the Maine Legislature under Governor Angus King, conflates all three sectors into one. The Institute is chartered as a public charity but the board is authorized by the  statutory charter to make a profit and claim ownership of intellectual property rights. Given the contemporary conflation of three formerly separate economic sectors, the old terms are inadequate for today's world and so I  have done my own reconfiguration, using only two sectors, the wealth redistribution sector and the free enterprise sector.

After listening to the entrepreneurial insights by the author of the contest app, I was curious about what sort of economy exists in the Netherlands. I expected socialism, but was optimistically surprised when I found this Netherlands Economic Profile describing its type of economy.

Anyone who engages in political discussions on social networks in America should know that it is a popular and over-used misconception that the antithesis of socialism is capitalism. "Capitalism" is a term used by Karl Marx intending "free enterprise" or "free market capitalism" in which the private sector owns the means of production.

The Netherlands Economic Profile uses the term "free enterprise" instead of "capitalism", with the antithesis being "the command economy". There is also another contemporary term which takes the edge out of "command economy" and that is "planned economy" Whether Maine's public-private government is a command economy or a planned economy is a matter of interpretation to be pursued at a later date.


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