In a recent post I wondered what if footwear could be made using similar advanced manufacturing processes as cars? After all wouldn’t it be strange if our cars were hand welded in Asian factories?
This got me thinking, how much of our daily comfort and wealth is dependent on other people being poor?
How much of our well-being is dependent on people earning the lowest wages, so that we can afford to buy more things? Would you wish for your neighbor, or on your cousin to be on the receiving end of your lifestyle? Sure is difficult and we worked hard to afford our comfortable lifestyles, but how many of our our consumer choices are part of a chain of events that creates a harder life for someone else?
In a sense the reason your bargain all inclusive holiday is priced so low is also because the people that work in the resort can’t make enough money to go on an all inclusive holiday themselves. Would you still be able to afford the same holiday if those resort employees earned roughly as much as you?
Ask yourself next time you find a good deal on a pair of shoes, or a digital camera how come its so affordable? Was the retailer doing you a friendly favor by offering you such a good deal? Or was it because the costs of making your purchase were low? If so was it because of advanced manufacturing using automated processes and component reduction, or because of low cost labour?
If there wasn’t global poverty, if people in all countries had a similar income and quality of life would the things we buy still be affordable?
What would the social effects be if a pair of shoes cost as much as a computer and what if a computer cost as much as a care, because the people making it were paid higher wages?
Would fewer shoes be sold? Would companies make fewer profits?
Here are some figures on average hourly wages in manufacturing industry, as estimated by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Germany $26.90 US $23.03 UK $21.14 Greece $10.38 Brazil $4.45 Mexico $3.93 Philippines $1.13 China $0.81
Note: data from 2010, except China from 2006.
In a commercial model/pricing war that focuses on underselling the competition, should factory staff be the victims?
This exploitative economic model of low cost labour is a not only reliant on people being poor, but our reliance on it doesn’t encourage the development of automated production processes.
Fore example while slavery was legal in the USA, there was less reason to invest and develop advanced cultivation machines such as the Cotton-Stripper, or the Combine Harvester.
The problem is that advanced manufacturing requires a bigger investment and is currently less versatile than human labour especially in a fashion market that is dependent on new and diverse seasonal aesthetics. But if car companies have somewhat managed to progress, so how can footwear companies?
I’m not saying that the current mainstream production model is cruel, but it is inconsiderate, imperfect and unimaginative so how can we change it?
I think designers should spend more time in factories and appreciate the conditions and methods used to make their designs. That way they can understand that their design is not destined only to the consumer, but should also benefit its maker, both economically and functionally.
Can we create more quality, more product and with less labour? Ephemeralization as Buckminster Fuller called it; making more with less.
Shouldn’t this be a common goal of the human race?
Is it fair to say that for as long neglect advanced manufacturing development in favor of manual labour, we will be reliant on other countries and people to remain poor?
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