Book Review – Masters of Craft

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Those intrigued by the ongoing reinvention of old bombed out spaces in cities across the country would do well to read Masters of Craft – Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy.  The author, Richard Ocejo, is a professor of sociology at John Jay College in New York City and he has immersed himself in these once industrial but now gentrifying urban spaces.  His previous book was Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.

In Masters of Craft, Ocejo focuses on four of the myriad new “artisanal professions” – bartending, distilling, barbering and butchering.  His in depth look at these four crafts provides a narrow but fascinating perspective on how the millennial generations, many of which are just entering the workforce, are grappling with a post-industrial economy that has seen many traditional career paths disrupted or eliminated entirely.  On page 253, Ocejo addresses this jobs dilemma –

“The rise of these new elite jobs as niche occupational communities in their industries has occurred because of shifts in people’s understanding of taste and consumption, new sociospatial dynamics in cities due to gentrification, and larger economic shifts that have redefined ‘good’ jobs in the ‘new economy.’  A lot of research has been conducted recently on how workers are adapting to life in this new economy of precarious work conditions and individualized risk.  Some workers have thrived as risk-takers and have adopted the mindset of being their own entrepreneur, sellers of their own human capital.  Some are reorganizing their traditional occupational communities to better help members deal with these changes, such as musicians who have reconstituted their networks and relationships to survive in a shifting music industry.  And some have struggled to adapt, stagnating in their careers, experiencing unemployment, and internalizing their struggles as personal failures, rather than as outcomes of structural conditions in the economy.”

At the macro level the impact of the craft economy should not be dismissed.  Craft distillers continue to take market share from corporate distillers and craft brewers, which were not covered in Masters of Craft, have accounted for all the growth in the U.S. beer market in recent years.  They now account for 12% of total U.S. beer sales and their success has forced consolidation among most of the major beer brands.

A popular feature of Saturday Night Live in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the Conehead family that was famous for “consuming in mass quantities.”  It was a clever spoof of the mass consumer brands that then dominated a consumer driven economy.  Much has changed in the intervening decades.  Today, a Conehead family anxious to be hip to the current zeitgeist would most likely be “loco for local.”

Mississippians now have the chance to witness first hand a new era in craft economics.  The state legislature passed and Governor Bryant signed a new law effective 1 July 2017 that allows craft brewers to sell their own product on-site.  This hybrid business model that includes on-site sales improves brewers overall profit margins and is a key enabler of the extraordinary growth that craft brewers have enjoyed nation-wide over the past two decades.

Two important takeaways from Masters of Craft: 1) – Think, shop and buy local.  2) – The 2017 urban economy is not your father’s economy, but it may be your great-great grandfather’s.

 

Ashby Foote, President

Bigger Pie Forum

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