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In her May 1, 2015 column in the New York Times, author Emily Matchar takes issue with the liberal conventional notion that rejecting industrialization in favor of "home-grown" and "hand-made" products is morally or practically superior to the established ways of consumer shopping involving large chain stores and the mechanization characteristic of capitalistic enterprises. As the title of her article suggests, Matchar is not particularly entranced by product lines such as Etsy, an online consumer products retailer that specializes in offering handmade items and mass-produced items manufactured according to strict environmentally and labor friendly processes. While the idea behind companies like Etsy may appear meritorious, Matchar suggests the reality is not quite so simple. First, she notes even the most well-intentioned consumers find it hard to ignore fiscal considerations:
"A vast majority of people will continue to buy what they buy for one reason: It’s a good value. Very few of us will order a $50 handmade scarf on Etsy when one is available for $5 at Target."
Additionally, Matchar takes issue with conventional liberal notions of "home-grown" and "locally produced" as commensurate with environmentalism, noting that definitions of what constitutes "environmentally friendly" economics is a little more complicated than simply advocating for reductions in the use of fossil fuels required to ship goods longer distances. As she notes in her column:
"[F]ew economists give much credence to the idea that buying local necessarily saves energy. Most believe that the economies of scale inherent in mass production outweigh the benefits of nearness."
While Matchar is critical of quaint liberal notions such as those discussed, however, she does see within these movements at least one positive development associated with those notions, namely, the greater freedom enjoyed by working mothers associated with home-grown retail:
"A potentially positive effect of the handmade movement has been the creation of a new income stream for parents (mostly mothers) and others who need flexible work. Since its inception, Etsy has served as a sort of modern version of what selling Mary Kay and Tupperware used to be. It offers the possibility of self-directed part-time work that can be done while attending to child care responsibilities, a rarity in America. But the dream has only ever materialized for a few..."
And, finally, as her column draws to a close, Matchar reveals the agenda underpinning her arguments: revolutionary transformations that fundamentally change the way women are treated in the work place. "What’s truly needed is systemic change: mandatory paid parental leave and subsidized day care."
Matchar's column is a broadsided assault on the quaint notion of hand-made goods as a panacea for what ails society. She repeatedly emphasizes the fact that liberal movements regarding consumerism have failed to change the landscape, including in the area of unionized labor, which may have successfully burnished its image during the 1970s but failed to protect the jobs that unions existed to defend from foreign competition. And, she is considerably more sympathetic to those foreign laborers who benefit from Western consumerism when employed in factories that adhere to strict standards commensurate with those mandated in the United States. Her overriding agenda, mandatory paid parental leave and subsidized day care, may be meritorious, but she neglects to mention the costs associated with such requirements and, at the end of the day, she turns back the clock on the notion of having to make difficult choices between career and home and completely ignores the very contentious question of exactly how far the government should go in dictating how business owners run their businesses.
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