Thursday, 28 April 2011

Crafting and Fair Prices (again), part IV

read the start of this series 

Now... if things only were simple.

I have written about fair pricing for crafts, and I have written about values attributed to crafting work today, and organic cotton (and I can't believe that I never wrote about that before!) and things have sparked lively discussions both here and on Facebook (you will need to log in to Facebook to see these).

One thing that has come up in the FB discussions is the possibility to just swap time worked - ten hours of work for ten hours of work - plus reimbursement for the materials used by the other person for your piece.

That can be a valid option, and I know that "timeswaps" like that are successfully done both in Living History groups and associations and in private organisations, like Local Exchange Trading Systems. Those swappings of time value work on the basis of an hour spent being an hour spent, regardless of whether you are cooking and baking, working in the garden, butchering a pig, making a Fabergé egg, repairing a car, re-wiring the installation in a building, or writing a short story.

Because the work time invested is the same. Easy concept. No debates, no haggling, no unfair de-valueing of the housewife's baking a cake.

But is it really the same value? Or are we getting into the next bit of trouble and unfairness here?

I learned how to cook - well, the basics at least - by helping my mum and grandma at home, when I was young. I also learned how to bake cakes. My dad taught me how to gut a fish. I learned how to pull weeds in the garden and how to use a power tool for drilling and sawing. I learned how to thread a needle, sew on a button and mend a rip in a garment. I also know how to fold a napkin into a pleasing shape.
Those are basic skills that I gleaned either because it was part of my general education and the process of my growing up. Learning these things were a part of daily life, no big chunk of extra time set aside for them - just an hour here or there maybe, or a cooking procedure that took a minute longer.

Then I went to university to study medieval archaeology. I studied for years, learning things every day, honing my academic skills, writing a master's thesis and, later, writing a phd thesis. I went on conferences and I toured Scandinavia to get in contact with colleagues and to see medieval garments in museum depots. I worked on how to reconstruct medieval tailoring for years, doing test run after test run, buying fabrics and threads for this work. I wrote on my phd thesis for four years, after all the years of study before that. I did not get a funding, or a stipend, or any other money from the community or state or economy - my family supported me during that time, and I know I am insanely lucky to have such a wonderful family.

But does this mean that one hour that I spend baking a rhubarb pie after looking up the recipe in the internet really the same worth as one hour I spend teaching the medieval tailoring techniques that I reconstructed? Where is the worth of all those years? Should ten years of work to develop something not also be honoured in some way? Ten years of daily costs for food, lodgings, work utensils and supplies for research? Who pays for these? If I can work for thirty years now, shouldn't I be able to get back the expenses for the ten years spent preparing beforehand? Wouldn't that mean that I have to charge one-and-a-third hour time value for each hour I spend now doing the things that I learned and prepared for in these ten years?

continue with part V of this series


A Life Long Scholar said...

I think that when one speaks of trade of time for time people often trade an hour of their time doing something in which they are highly skilled and have years of experience for things in which you are highly skilled and have years of experience, which means that one can calculate it on a one for one trade. Yes, even baking a cake can count for this--some people spend decades of time and much money on education on the art and science of cake baking.

The hard part is finding someone who has such skill in a field you want to benefit from who also wishes to benefit from your skill in your field...

Eve said...

One can trade skill for skill as Life Long Scholar suggested, or one can also trade enjoyable task for miserable one. I would MUCH rather spend an hour doing someone's taxes than say weeding my garden, risking my life on a ladder to clean my second floor windows or cleaning. To gain my skill I spent some years in University training, and then some years as an underpaid bottom of the food chain accountant in a public accounting firm. But weeding gives me blisters and callouses, cleaning dries out my hands, and I have a fear of ladders.

So sometimes there's a very good reason to trade skilled labor for something mindless but physically demanding.