26.2.12

How many people would like to live this way?

I once commissioned the Gallup organization to survey the American people on this very question.  The exact wording was:
As a new way to live in America, the idea has been suggested of building factories in rural areas -- away from cities -- and running them on part-time jobs. Under this arrangement the man and the woman would each work 3 days a week and 6 hours a day.  People would have enough spare time to build their own houses, to cultivate a garden and for hobbies and other outside interests.  How interested would you be in this way of life?
Over half of the adult population expressed interest in the idea, including 40 percent who said they were either "definitely" or "probably" interested.  Surprisingly, almost two-thirds of the college educated expressed interest, as did 58% of those with family incomes in the top quarter of the population.

Why should a businessman invest in such factories?

Imagine you are the manager a factory that produces some product. It might be a tangible commodity -- something you can actually touch or hold in your hands -- or it might be something intangible like processing insurance claims. We will assume the market be a large enough to justify the techniques of mass production, including the division of labor and the use of specialized equipment and machinery. In other words the factory must employ considerable amounts of labor and capital.

As a manager your goal is to produce as much product, at the least cost, and of the highest
 quality as possible.  Only then can you maximize profit and get the best possible rate of return on your investment.


Let me now state as concisely as I can the case for factories in the countryside run on four-hour shifts: Many such factories -- particularly those with a variable pace of production -- can be made to run faster and more efficiently than similar factories in urban areas employing a full-time workforce.    For two reasons:

19.2.12

Could families afford to live this way?

Indeed.  Would families be able support themselves on the earnings from two half-time jobs?   What would be the new standard of living?

In the 1950's families routinely supported themselves on the earnings of a single full-time job.  So on the surface at least the idea seems plausible.  But a lot of things have changed since then.

18.2.12

Can people really build there own houses?


That's a good question.

To find out I apprenticed myself as a carpenter soon after college and spent the next several years learning how to build houses.

16.2.12

A three-generations household?

We read more and more about children moving in with their parents.  And parents moving in with their children.  Maybe it is time to give thought to a new, three-generation form of the family -- not under one roof necessarily, but perhaps under two, at opposite ends of the garden:
The main houses will be set forward, facing the neighborhood green.  That means the gardens will have to be located behind, in the long back yards that would stretch from the rear of each house, with the grandparents' quarters being located at the far end of the garden, but accessible by a small alleyway that runs across the back of each lot.  The advantage of this arrangement is that it would define a space -- bounded by the larger house in front and the smaller one behind -- of relative peace and quiet: a place not open to the street, where a person could sit and meditate, or think, or sing the baby to sleep, and not be bothered  


15.2.12

What's in it for the common ordinary average human being?

Well, first of all she (or he) would enjoy a lot more personal freedom than is true today. Along with this new birth of freedom would come an enlargement in the scope and variety of activities that compose the working day. Instead of being confined to the routine of a nine-to-five job, she would be spending fully half her working hours as her "own person," leading a far more varied existence than is possible today, an existence much closer in spirit to the one in which we evolved as a species, and to which we are still to a considerable extent adapted by nature.

It is probably not a coincidence that those areas of the economy that have most stubbornly resisted the techniques of mass-production -- the care of our children, the construction of our houses, the preparation of our food -- are also the ones that promise the greatest intrinsic rewards. They afford us opportunities to express ourselves with the work of our hands, to satisfy what a great American sociologist once called the "instinct for workmanship," and in the process to exercise our manifold human capacities for love and affection.

Thus would the pursuit of happiness become a far more agreeable enterprise for the average man or woman in America.  And one with much better prospects of success.

14.2.12

Marriage and the family

The twin institutions of marriage and the family are the oldest and most basic in all human society, being responsible not only for the procreation and nurture of children (as if that were not enough) but for their enculturation as well.  Without strong families a culture and civilization -- any culture and any civilization --  will soon cease to exist. Liberal institutions that have been created over centuries by generations of sacrifice will dissolve like the insubstantial fabric of a dream.  Moral axioms that today we accept as self-evidently true will tomorrow be mocked and denied.
I raise these issues because today America's working families quite literally are falling apart.  And because the plan we propose promises to mend them in precisely those places where now they are weak.  Three instances:

1.  Couples and their children will spend a lot more time in each others company than they do now, doing things besides surfing the net, playing video games, or watching TV while plunked on the couch.  Hearth and home will become again what traditionally it always was: a scene of domestic activity in which every member of the family has a role to play and real responsibilities to meet. More time is quality time when the opportunities are plenteous for parents to chat, joke, and horse around with their children -- as well as discipline, teach, and discuss with them the more weighty issues of life when the occasions arise. Thus would the family be restored not only as a functioning economic institution but in its age-old role of nurture and support.


2.  Something similar can be predicted for the institution of marriage, which not only is the biological basis of the family but also the foundation of its stability. The bonds of matrimony will certainly grow stronger once the earnings from two part-time jobs together with the contributions of two adult sets of hands are required to support an independent household. Contrast this to the typical situation today where we find that both parents are employed full-time outside the home and can thus afford to live by themselves if they are so moved. Small wonder so many marriages now end in divorce!  But under the terms of the new household economy walking out of a marriage becomes a much less convenient option than it is now -- which means that fewer couples are likely to go through the traumas of divorce, with all this implies for the happiness and emotional security of their children, to say nothing of themselves.


3.  Finally, under our plan having three or even four children would not longer be the unaffordable option it is now for most working couples who live in large metropolitan areas.  The demographic foundations of our society would be re-established and the future of our posterity assured.

13.2.12

Retirement

Under the arrangement we propose work and leisure will be integrated into the fabric of everyday life.  This means people will no longer feel the same need to retire they do today.  As they grow older, instead of retiring they can gravitate towards easier kinds of work -- 12 hours behind a check-out counter, for example, instead of 20 hours on the assembly line. And when, eventually, they do reach the point when they are no longer physically able to work, their children and grandchildren will be close enough by to help take care of them.   That way they will not have to rely on their monthly Social Security checks alone to meet all material needs.  Their monthly benefits can be lower without compromising the quality of their lives.

And finally, when death finally approaches, instead of being carted off to a nursing home at enormous public expense the dying person could remain at home, where hospice services could be provided at a fraction of the cost.

How much better to die that way, at home in one’s bed, surrounded by the voices of loved ones, than alone in a hospital room somewhere or in a warehouse of strangers?

12.2.12

Neighborhoods

If the family is the oldest human institution the local neighborhood community runs it a close second, corresponding as it does to the primitive band and to the ancient and medieval village.  What new sorts of neighborhoods become possible under our proposal?   How might they differ from the ones we grew up in?

One thing is for sure.  There will be many more adults up and about during the regular course of the day.  With half of their working lives centered around the home, you will see them tending their gardens, doing routine choirs around the house or engaged in some other useful pursuit. It could be something as simple as painting a porch swing or mending an appliance; or it could be something as complex as a major home improvement project, adding a new room, or building a shed.   

But whatever it might be the point is these neighborhoods will no longer be the “deserted villages” of the present in which adults typically get up in the morning, climb in their cars, and drive away to work for the rest of the day.

For the children this has certain obvious advantages.  They will be exposed to the adult world of work to a far greater extent than is possible in today’s society, where most real work is done away from home and out of sight of the children.  Being the naturally curious creatures they are, children in the neighborhood will inevitably be drawn into the world of work: at first by looking, then later by asking, and finally by helping -- and thus in the natural course of growing up will acquire a certain amount practical knowledge and a number useful skills, things which nowadays completely pass them by.
 
Another advantage is that those same adults who are out working in their yards will be in a position to keep a collective eye out on the children in the neighborhood as they run and play among the houses, warning them away from danger and keeping them out of mischief, thus providing a useful extension to the family itself.  Friendly faces in friendly places will make neighborhoods far safer and more congenial places in which to work or play.

Nor should we overlook other possibilities for sharing.  With so many adults at home during the day it becomes a simple matter of convenience to go next door to borrow a cup of sugar or to ask for a helping hand from the neighbor down the street.  Visiting and casual hospitality are sure to be more common occurrences as one’s friends and neighbors begin to avail themselves of some of their new-found leisure.

Or consider such a simple thing as a neighborhood post office instead of individual mailboxes in front of each house.  Not only would this save the postal service a good deal of  time and expense but it would provide a convenient spot where neighbors are likely to run into each other, exchange gossip, and pass along any news that might be of local interest.
 
Neighbors might even go in together in the purchase of a small neighborhood tractor, which they could share in the spring to turn over their gardens.  Or they might organize house-raising parties in the old Mid-Western barn-raising tradition: an effective as well as enjoyable way to get through the early phases of construction.  And of course there is the possibility of neighborhood picnics on the 4th of July, a sure way to create a sense of local feeling and village solidarity.

Let me say a few words on the subject of neighborhood planning.  What would be the best way to arrange the houses. supposing we intend to take maximum advantage of the new possibilities for sharing?  Here I think we have something to learn from the Traditional Neighborhood Movement, as it is sometimes called, which is already underway in a number of places around the United States.  

One opportunity in particular stands out. We could get away from the contemporary practice of arranging our houses along both sides of the street like so many beads on a string.  The alternative is to arrange them around a central open space -- a village green -- which would serve both as a neighborhood park and a playground for children. (see Figure 1)

Plan for a Hamlet from The Art of Building a Home, 1901.  This was the earliest suggestion of grouping various combinations of houses and a break in the building line.  It was intended to give a unified impression from the standpoint of a traditional village green, which was supposed to serve the same communal gathering purpose out-of-doors that the two story living room did for the family inside.  The thought was to draw people to a place so that favorable and positive things might begin to happen to them. 

As you can see from the figure, another habit we might get away from is placing our houses back from the street with large lawns in front.  Instead we could arrange our houses close to the street, facing the park, and give them front porches, as was commonly the practice before the age of the automobile.  This arrangement would make for easy line-of-sight communication between the house and the park, and between the porch and any pedestrians who might happen to be walking by on the sidewalk that runs in front of each house.

Of course if the houses are set forward like this it means the gardens will have to be located behind, in the long back yards that would stretch from the rear of each house, with the grandparents' quarters being located at the far end of the garden, but accessible by a small alleyway that runs across the back of each lot.  The advantage of this arrangement is that it would define a space -- bounded by the larger house in front and the smaller one behind -- of relative peace and quiet: a place not open to the street, where a person could sit and meditate, or think, or sing the baby to sleep, and not be bothered (see Figure 2).





Figure 2).

"It has been computed by some Political Arithmetician, that if every Man and Woman would work four Hours each Day on something useful, that Labour would produce sufficient to procure all the Necessaries and Comforts of Life, Want and Misery would be banished out of the World, and the rest of the 24 Hours might be Leisure and Pleasure. What occasions then so much Want and Misery?”                             
                                                       Benjamin Franklin



The Family

The twin institutions of marriage and the family are the oldest and most basic in all human society, being responsible not only for the procreation and nurture of children (as if that were not enough) but for their enculturation as well.  Without strong families a culture and civilization -- any culture and any civilization --  will soon cease to exist. Liberal institutions that have been created over centuries by generations of sacrifice will dissolve like the insubstantial fabric of a dream.  Moral axioms that today we accept as self-evidently true will tomorrow be mocked and denied.


I raise these issues because today America's working families quite literally are falling apart.  And because the plan we propose promises to mend them in precisely those places where now they are weak.  Three instances: 


1.  Couples and their children will spend a lot more time in each others company than they do now, doing things besides surfing the net, playing video games, or watching TV while plunked on the couch.  Hearth and home will become again what traditionally it always was: a scene of domestic activity in which every member of the family has a role to play and real responsibilities to meet. More time is quality time when the opportunities are plenteous for parents to chat, joke, and horse around with their children -- as well as discipline, teach, and discuss with them the more weighty issues of life when the occasions arise. Thus would the family be restored not only as a functioning economic institution but in its age-old role of nurture and support.


2.  Something similar can be predicted for the institution of marriage, which not only is the biological basis of the family but also the foundation of its stability. The bonds of matrimony will certainly grow stronger once the earnings from two part-time jobs together with the contributions of two adult sets of hands are required to support an independent household. Contrast this to the typical situation today where we find that both parents are employed full-time outside the home and can thus afford to live by themselves if they are so moved. Small wonder so many marriages now end in divorce!  But under the terms of the new household economy walking out of a marriage becomes a much less convenient option than it is now -- which means that fewer couples are likely to go through the traumas of divorce, with all this implies for the happiness and emotional security of their children, to say nothing of themselves.

3.  Finally, under our plan having three or even four children would not longer be the unaffordable option it is now for most working couples who live in large metropolitan areas.  The demographic foundations of our society would be re-established and the future of our posterity assured.

10.2.12

Small Country Towns


It is almost a truism to say that a self-supporting community must somehow produce and export goods and services equal in value to those that it imports and consumes.   There are exceptions, of course, but they only serve to prove the rule:  A college town that depends on student tuition and the income generated by college endowments.    Or a retirement community whose economy is underwritten by the pension benefits and life savings of its members.   It is also possible for a community’s members to work elsewhere, but in those cases the community is not truly self-supporting in the sense we are using the term.

That being said, what is the smallest collection of neighborhoods which might reasonably expect to be self-supporting over the long-haul?   We know it would be unwise to depend on the output of a single factory alone if only because factories sometimes downsize, move away, or go out of business.  Thus to be safe there would need to be a certain number of factories, no one of which was so big -- employed so many people -- that the community could not survive without it.

With these facts in mind let us try to imagine a small country town of, say, between 15,000 and 25,000 inhabitants. That would be equivalent to a
hundred neighborhoods or so, each neighborhood composed of several dozen families living on one-acre homesteads.  What would be the best (most convenient, most economical) way to lay out the neighborhoods? How should they be arranged in relation to the factories and to the places where we would shop, the local courthouse, public schools, and the like?


Here is a rough sketch of the answer to this very general problem as originally worked out in England over a hundred years ago. It was known as the garden city concept and it was this idea that inspired the English town-planning movement:

There are several things worth noting about this garden city idea. 

One is the relative compactness of the residential areas.  They are all located within a radius of two-and-a-half miles, putting them close to the factories as well as the central shopping district.  This means people could get around on foot, by bicycle, or in golf-cart-like neighborhood elective vehicles.  High-speed automobiles would not be required, thus greatly reducing a family's spending on personal transportation.  It would also reduce the community's total energy consumption.

Another thing to notice is the surrounding greenbelt.   This greenbelt is very broad -- between one and two miles wide in most places -- and because it completely surrounds the community it insures its rural character as a true country town.  It also limits the future growth of the town, and protects it from the encroachment outside development.

Here is another more professional rendering of the same basic idea: