New Work Centers and HTSP

A few days ago I gave a keynote address to the International Society for Ecological Economics which was held in Bremen, Germany. First time teleconferencing for a keynote, which was a nice, minimal carbon way to get the message out. Afterwards, people in the audience asked for some more detail on high-tech self-providing. Here’s my answer to them, which is also available online here.

I argued that to reduce ecological footprint and solve the unemployment crisis, hours of work should be reduced. This shares the available work and reduces pressure on eco-systems. The additional time off work available to households can then be deployed to what visionary philosopher Fritjhof Bergmann has called high-tech self-providing. That is, people make and do for themselves in areas such as food, shelter, energy, clothing and small manufactures. The high tech dimension is that the methods of production used require sophisticated knowledges and skills and in many cases, computers and other high-technology machinery. With HTSP, small scale production is high productivity and therefore sensible to undertake in an advanced modern economy.

The high tech self-providing economy is one that has a great deal of initial appeal, but also raises many questions. Is it really possible that people could go back to doing so much for themselves? Is it a viable option for the unemployed? What can be done to promote such a model?

The answer to these questions is yes, this is a viable model. Once households and individuals have time available to engage in it, the way to accelerate its adoption most quickly is to organize it at a community level. Bergmann has been active in Germany for many years, encouraging what he has termed New Work Centers. These community gathering places were initially aimed at the unemployed, who were time rich and cash poor. The centers purchase the machinery needed for some of the HTSP activities, such as the small-scale manufacturing technologies. (One version of these is the “fabrication laboratory,” pioneered at MIT in the US, which is a complementary set of small-scale machines that can be programmed and used to make small numbers of almost any kind of simple manufactured item.) Centers can also be used to house lower-tech tools for woodworking, sewing, etc. and they are also centers for skill development. Workshops, classes, talks and informal skill development activities take place at centers. They serve as nodes of networks of people who are practicing self-providing (of the high and low tech variety).  By bringing people together who are involved in these activities, centers lead to faster adoption of this way of life, both because it becomes socially normative and because of the practical advantages of learning that are possible in a communal setting. Such centers also build social capital, and with it the potential to be organized for political change.

In coming years, the economics of HTSP are likely to improve, for two reasons. First, fabrication technology and practice and other high-knowledge ways of production such as permaculture are being refined and improved on a continual basis. The extra work required by early adopters will be lessened over time. The transmission of knowledge and machinery will become more routinized and easier. These ways of producing things will become more feasible for those who are technologically less adept. Second, with economic stagnation and high unemployment likely to continue, and income growth predicted to be low, the financial benefits to individuals will increase. When households have surplus time and are short on cash, self-providing becomes a more intelligent way to meet needs than in eras of plentiful market work and easy money.

Finally, HTSP is also a high satisfaction way to spend time. In contrast to more passive or spectatorial methods of entertaining oneself, self-providing activates our creative impulses. That in turn creates deep satisfaction and happiness. In the end, the joys of making and doing may turn out to be the most important factor promoting a return to this way of life.

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14 Responses to “New Work Centers and HTSP”

  1. Carol says:

    Great article, but Juliet you missed the “h” in the http in your link so it won’t work. Correct link is http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/en/Online-discussions/Blogs/Global-green-economics/The-joys-of-making-and-doing-ISEE-2010

  2. Ryan Gardiner says:

    When will plenitude be available in soft cover format? I can’t afford the hardcover!

  3. Juliet Schor says:

    Yes, likely in May. There’s also a lower priced electronic version, if that’s any help. I hope you have a chance to read it.

  4. Cindy Maxey says:

    Ryan, check out your library. Even if they’ve failed to purchase a copy of Juliet Schor’s book up to now, they probably will if you request it.

  5. Mark Goldes says:

    Readers might enjoy Millions of Jobs at http://www.aesopinstitute.org It provides three paths to that goal.

    The third one is a 20 hour week no later than age 50. The missing income provided by diversified investment not dependent on savings.

  6. ewan morrison says:

    There are some good ideas here – what is needed though is an ideological push against the idea of private ownership duplicate commodities (Why does every house on a block have to have 1 washing machine which is dormant five days a week, the same for cars, etc). Communality has to become acceptable through positive endorsement, not reluctantly through each individual being forced to downsize. From your article I still get a sense of individuals beavering away (albeit in communal workspaces) to create duplicate, not shared, commodities.

  7. Juliet Schor says:

    Ewan,
    I have a section in my book (Plenitude) about sharing–common ownership of commodities, sharing space, etc. Take a look at it and see if you think I’ve satisfied your objections.
    I think you’ll find we’re in more agreement than you think based on your reading of this blog. I make a strong statement for sharing. All the best, Juliet

  8. Ken says:

    Have you noticed in the discussion of raising the SS age, that the case of the hard physical worker as being “broken” by his/her sixties is mentioned, but the case of the professional worker is today’s corporate meat grinder never is? The assumption is, that you could, or some corporation will permit you to, keep merrily working until you are 70 after a lifetime of long hours and high pressure. The discussion is totally out of touch with the employment reality of today’s professional.

  9. Juliet Schor says:

    Yes, it’s crazy! There’s an irrational (dog with a bone kind of stance) on not letting go of the maximal growth and consumption model. But we shouldn’t be surprised, that’s where the money is. The connivance of the economics profession with the refusal to consider alternatives makes it even worse. Thanks for your excellent point. Juliet

  10. ken saucke says:

    Juliet; in your interveiw on “writer’s voice” you spoke of how people are opting out of high priced higher education by going to the internet. i’m searching now, some things at the public library database, like language programs but where else to look? this HTSP sounds great.

  11. Juliet Schor says:

    Ken, Thanks for yours. One place is the P2P (Peer to Peer University. You can check out the P2P Foundation to learn more about the P2P movement, which I also mention in my book Plenitude.
    There are also options which are bricks and mortar schools, such as Yestermorrow in Vermont or The Farm in Tennessee. The permaculture movement has a lot going on, on and offline. There’s the Open Source Ecology movement, but mostly those folks are fairly skilled at design and software. I’m not sure what education you’ve already had. Good luck! Juliet

  12. [...] New Work Centers and HTSP | Juliet SchorAug 26, 2010 … When households have surplus time and are short on cash, self-providing becomes … 11 Responses to “New Work Centers and HTSP”. Carol says: … [...]

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  14. staf laget says:

    The time available to stay at home, to walk around or to “do it yourself” sounds very attractive if you are living in an environment fit for such activities.
    How can we integrate this in the current trend towards megacities?
    I didn’t read the book yet but I looked at the picture movie. The pictures are showing a wonderful world with standalone house and garden and with some space to grow vegetables at home.
    There are some drawbacks related to our standalone houses compared to compact housing with less space to heat (and to isolate), to illuminate and to maintain.
    Is the “more free time model” fit for those who live in the megacities?
    Is it possible to reverse the trend towards megacities and what would be the impact on the earth if we all want to have our own little garden and 4 free walls detached from other houses?
    Isn’t it important to look into the development of sustainable cities for huge numbers of inhabitants?

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