POLITICAL THEORY – William Morris – Free Ebook

the nineteenth-century designer poet and entrepreneur William Morris is one of the best guides we have to the modern economy despite the fact that he died while Queen Victoria was still on the throne never made a telephone call and would have found the very idea of TV utterly baffling Morris was the first person to understand two issues which have become decisive for our times firstly the role of pleasure in work and secondly the nature of consumer demand William Morris was born in 1834 into a well-off English family after graduating he spent some time training as an architect but at this stage a conventional career wasn’t his main concern he saw himself as an artist and a poet he was simply interested in making things for his own satisfaction and maybe for the enjoyment of a few friends a year after he married his favorite actress and model Morris became obsessed with a project of building and furnishing a family home at Bexleyheath in southeast London it was called the red house and pretty much everything in it was designed from scratch either by Morris himself or by his close friend an architectural collaborator Philip Webb the experience of building and fitting out his house taught Morris his first big lesson about the economy it would have been simpler and maybe cheaper to have ordered everything from a factory outlet but Morris wasn’t trying to find the quickest or simplest way to set up home he wanted to find the way that would give him and everyone involved in the project maximum satisfaction this process fired Morris with an enthusiasm for the medieval idea of craft the worker would develop sensitivity and skill and enjoy the labor it wasn’t to be mechanical or humiliating he spotted the craft offers important clues to what we actually want from work we want to know we’ve done something good with the day that our efforts have counted towards tangible outcomes that we actually see and feel a worthwhile labor can be dignified it was a timely insight this was an era of massive industrialization and the conditions were often horrendous Morris was determined to show that the principles of craft and of satisfying work for the worker could and should be at the heart of the modern world and that he realized and making them into a business so in 1861 still in his mid-twenties Morris started a decorative arts business Morris Marshall Faulkner & Co which they like to call simply the firm his colleagues included burne-jones the brilliant poet painter and charismatic personality Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the architect Philip Webb they set up a factory making wallpaper chairs curtains and tables they were very proud not only of the elegant designs but of the quality of the workmanship that went into all their products but the firm soon encountered a very instructive problem the factories and machines of the Industrial Revolution had brought about mass production if you ask a comparatively high price to ensure the dignity of work and quality of materials and so make something that will last you really risk losing customers surely the logic of economics dictates that the lower price will always necessarily win or does it for Morris the key factor is whether customers are willing to pay what he called the just price if they are then work can be honorable if they’re not then work is necessarily going to be on the whole degrading and miserable so Morris concluded that the linchpin of a good economy is the education of the consumer we collectively needs to get clearer about what we really want in our lives and why and how much certain things are going to be worth to us until we have better collective taste we’re going to struggle to have a better economy in society it’s a huge idea an important clue to good consumption Morris insisted is that you should have nothing in your houses that you don’t know to be useful or believed to be beautiful it’s not an invitation to bleak renunciation Morris wasn’t trying to make anyone feel guilty or ashamed he wished for people to see their purchases as investments and buy items sparingly he would have preferred for someone to spend a great deal on an intricate handmade dining set that would last for decades and grow to become a family heirloom and for each generation to buy its own cheap alternative just to be thrown away when fashions changed for Morris himself his business didn’t work out terribly well there was healthy demand from the well-to-do the Morris lines of furniture wallpaper fabrics and lamps continued to sell for many years and still do but he didn’t manage to into the wider bigger markets that he aspired to he died in 1896 of tuberculosis still we should remember him because he directs our attention to a set of centrally important tests that a good economy should pass how much do people enjoy working how long a consumer goods expected to last other cities beautiful generally not just in a few privileged parts the economy can with fatal ease feel as if it’s governed by abstract complex laws Morris’s point is that nevertheless the economy is intimately tethered to our preferences and choices it may not be necessary to bring factories banks and corporations into public ownership and it may not be necessary to wind back government impact on markets the true task in creating a good economy Morris shows us lies much closer to home in our own homes you

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