Jonathan Glancey

An object lesson in why you might not want your architecture correspondent to write about matters economic.

The argument, essentially, is that making things you can drop on your foot is in some manner more satisfying, even more human, than making a service which others might consume. Very William Morris really. This idea might even be valid, but it does lead to a number of problems.

For example, noting that the economy seems to have stopped growing (by the, I admit, not entirely complete measure of GDP) at the same time as deploring the way in which we no longer make things ourselves, for ourselves, is pretty odd. For the things we make ourselves, for ourselves, not being part of the cash economy, are not included in GDP figures.

The argument then swerves wildly to this:

Of course, this is a slightly unfair view of Britain as a whole. The curious thing is that as we become ever more a nation of consumers, in order to balance this phenomenon, we put increasing effort into creative hobbies. While Chinese pick cockles for us in danger of their lives and refugees from what was the eastern bloc tend our fields, we cherish allotments. We bring old railways back to life with gleaming trains in better condition than pretty much any of those you might ride on the nation\’s crudely profiteering main lines. We restore classic British cars even as we refuse to make our own, although we are happy if car factories can be bought and run by Germans, Japanese and Indians.

So, erm, in fact, we are indeed working more for our enjoyment, that enjoyment of doing as we wish to create things. Glancey seems to be arguing two things therefore: that there\’s something valid about this sort of manufacturing for money but something invalid about doing it for love. An extremely odd view of the boring necessity of doing something for a living.

Jobs, work, the effort required to scrape a living together: these are not joys to be cherished, they are not desirable in and of themselves. They are a boring necessity, one that is best done with the maximum of efficiency and the minimum amount of time dedicated to it.

It costs some £10 for a toaster these days. The average wage in the UK (median, not mean) is some £10 an hour. If you desire a toaster it is better to work the hour (say, in a call centre) and buy the toaster than it is to spend however many hours it is building a toaster yourself.

The time you have saved by this measure can then be spent doing something that you actually enjoy: it might be that you enjoy making cast iron toasters on your makeshift forge in the back garden. It might be that you prefer to play with the babbie, restore a sorts car, drive a steam train, chat on the phone or simply lardbutt on the sofa.

But that\’s your choice, your maximisation of your utility. Whcih of course is the aim of the economy as a whole, the direction we wish it to travel in. The most people getting the most fun out of life as they themselves define said fun.

If that means buying our new cars from the Sons of Nippon then spending 20 hours over a weekend restoring some 50s British banger then so be it.

2 thoughts on “Jonathan Glancey”

  1. The ideal, of course, is to have a job you enjoy, doing work you would do for fun even if you had to pay to be allowed to do it. Say, auditioning prospective nude models for Playboy.

  2. I know you’re being humorous, ZT–but the actual and practical fact is that, because most preferences are actually shared by a great many people, jobs providing satisfactions of any popular sort are always oversubscribed, with the concomitant that the enjoyment potentially
    available is, in fact, “paid-for” in the shape of a
    wage structure lower than otherwise would be the case. This is precisely why vocations affording certain widespred but disapproved satisfactions feature again and again in notoriety (such as teachers, clergy, and coaches frequently featuring in sexual peccadilloes, especially with minors). The presence and attraction of these satisfaction-seekers enlarges the ranks (and lowers the prospective pay) of those seeking such employment. A similar case exists with law-enforcement and its attraction to those predisposed to “throw their weight around.” Eliminating these from the pool of seekers is never easy: who wants cops who are wimps or teachers uttterly uninterested in children?

    And the auditioning jobs to which you aspire are likely “paid for” as well–given out as payments in kind for favors done in the past.

    You an’ me’ll just have to tough it out and earn a living by the sweat of our brow(s) and look for kicks of an evening or weekend.

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