Like most self-employed people, I do it all: accounting, advertising, tech support, you name it. I spend almost as much time running the business as I do writing or consulting. That’s not unusual, and a lot of the stuff of running a business is fun. But some of it is a drag. I do many things that I am not good at. Some I outsource, but I can’t afford to outsource everything. Hence, I am not as productive as I could be. It’s not a model of economic efficiency.
And I’m not the only one. One of the huge advantages of an industrial economy is gains to specialization. If everyone concentrates on the things that he or she does best, then the entire economy will be more efficient. Instead of the writer also doing the accounting and the marketing and the tech support, the writer writes, the accountant keeps the books, the marketer does the marketing, and the tech wiz does the tech support. Because everyone is more efficient, everyone can make more money.
Our economy has been paring support functions for decades. Receptionists have been replaced by voice mail. Public relations has been replaced by do-it-yourself social media. Tech support has been replaced by Lifehacker. Corporations are looking to get rid of extraneous costs, but not all support functions are wasteful, nor can they all be replaced by TaskRabbit. We’re all doing it ourselves, and we’re not necessarily doing it very well. My father held an executive job for years without ever learning to type. Those days are gone, but does that mean an executive should do everything?
This craft economy is capitalism, but not of the Adam Smith variety. It changes the nature of how things work. Will MBA students need to learn industrial organization, or will they have to master QuickBooks? What do we want people to be able to do? How do we balance independence, flexibility, skill, and efficiency?
I don’t know, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.