The Path to the Artisan Economy


Photo by Stefano Intintoli on Unsplash


The value of human imperfection, plus the power of new technologies are inspiring a return of the artisan economy

Last year, I gave a presentation on the rising importance of artisanship in a world of perfect machines, and followed it with an article about the one thing computers will never beat us at. I wrote:

In the world of the future, automated perfection is going to be common. Machines will bake perfect cakes, perfectly schedule appointments and keep an eye on your house. What is going to be scarce is human imperfection.

We are still early in the early days of these developments, but we’re already seeing an uptake in artisanship. As Economist’s Ryan Avent writes, the trend offers clues about the future economy:

Craft is, in general, far less well-paid than professional work. Yet the benefits it offers — the satisfaction of controlling one’s own destiny, acquiring a range of skills, creating beautiful and delicious things, forming friendships with suppliers and customers — make up for the reduced incomes and ensure that there is a small, steady migration of professionals into the craft economy.

Noah Smith depicts craft brewing as one path forward for the middle class, that could serve as a model for other industries:

Craft beer offers one small way in which an enterprising, hard-working individual can bootstrap themselves to the middle- or upper-middle-class and accumulate some capital.

Finally, digital fabrication is bringing back the principles of artisan economy:

As a result, standardized, centralized production is no longer either needed or warranted. Digital mass-customization, or the mass-production of different pieces at the same unit cost, is the universal technical and economic logic of digital manufacturing — the default mode of use of all digital tools.

I wrote about the rise of artisanship and the future of work in this week’s Exponential View newsletter.

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