lundi 25 août 2008

Mom & Pop Stores ...

And what happened to the medieval Mom and Pop merchants who could not produce goods in larger quantities or deliver them to distant ports? They could not compete with the politically dominant “cloth barons”, and many found themselves extremely disadvantaged. (footnote already cited in my first response)

That was cloth. What about cobbling? If we take Sweden, I know my grandfather (born 1900), as a young, very poor man was cobbler's apprentice for a short while. He showed me an awl he had used. It is used for shoemaking. I e shoes, unlike the era of ecco (founded in 1963), Scholl (over 100 years), and their the Goodyear Welt shoe toe laster - gramp used a pincer (see picture to left, where right is that machine, both near bottom) - were long a local product. Gentlemen usually had them sewn individually. A Swedish television series shows a shoemaker's nephew in a curious friendship with a girl living in the house of the "häradshöfding" (judge/notarian of a hundred). The point here about this series is that the shoemaker was poor and had many children to feed- living, mainly, from his shoemaking. Shoe repairing, as in modern malls, would not have sufficed. In that village, shoes were obviously produced and sold in a mom & pop shop.

Later my grandfather became a qualified worker in a very big business indeed: he was a distiller of our then state monopoly of Swedish distilling, V&S. But when I was born in Vienna (1968), he found a friend there: a vinyard owner, wine producer and taverner in a combination seen in Austria since Maria Theresia. He and even more his wife were part of my childhood. That is a mom & pop shop (with agrarian roots) for you, and less poor than cobbling!

In Austria as in Germany and France ... God knows how many other countries ... it is still usual to buy your bread fresh from a local bakery. Some of them buy half-baked from a central factory and only add the last five minutes, but this is not universal. Even those who do that for one bread or two (la baguette/la banette, le pain au chocolat/la chocolatine) may be baking other products from scratch.

Arabs (with other Orientals) are a model for mom & pop shops! The family works, pays part of their earnings to a family hoarding, from which family members may then make rent free loans to - for instance - open shops. Usually they are either restoration or oriental merchandise in Europe. In Lund, studying in the early nineties, I was neighbours with a Persian double business - restaurant and food store. Brother and sister were the two owners. And how many cyber cafés are owned by Arabs? The technology as such is very big business, but the local access is very distributist.

Distributist ideals are not dead as realities. As Dr Carol Byrne said herself, mom & pop shops may well co-exist with big business. A capitalist reform going in since Reagan and Thatcher has been reusing distributist themes. Including small companies. G. K. Chesterton himself had no quibbles about the post office being a big business (and indeed, in those days, recently changed by privatisations, a state monopoly). And how many small companies (including some family business) depend on sale by mail order? But she will not concede that the distributist ideal was once the main reality and big business the exception. However, I think she will concede:
  • distributism has diminished, lost market shares (up to whole sectors)

  • big business has taken over market shares (up to whole sectors)

  • this process has been going on in the West since the Crusades introduced capitalism to the West

The conclusion will be that when the process started, mom & pop shops/farms were greater and big business smaller than now.

If in 13th C England cloth trade was exceptional (among some 80 different kinds of guilds) by being big business, and in early 20th C Sweden cobbling was exceptional by being still a mom & pop shop, the conclusion would be that most shops in 13th C were mom & pop shops, as most shops now are owned by bigger businesses. G K Chesterton maintained that this could again be the case.

It seems that Dr Carol Byrne is making a real straw man of Belloc's Mediaevalism - for Chesterton's, it is obviously the case, if it is thought to correspond to "Belloc's":

The facts of history, however, are at variance with this utopian dream. To begin with, it presupposes that the whole of the medieval economy was sustained by subsistence farming and local, small-scale production of goods. According to this view, whatever commerce existed in those days was confined to the small tradesman solely preoccupied with earning a living for himself and his family. So it is simply assumed that there was no commercial activity of any magnitude to justify belief in a class of capitalist merchants in Europe prior to the Reformation.

She is conflating two categories which, though not always neatly separate, were held apart in theory and much of the practise. In Cicero, full honesty applies to autarchy, to own production for own consumption, next step is someone buying what he will consume or selling what he has produced. Buying one thing only to sell it - which is what a merchant does - would be only third level honest, and edging on dishonesty. Though Aquinas contrasts merchants to mainly civil and domestic servants, he makes a minor distinction between selling something as one bought it for a greater price (what is usually called being a merchant) and selling something at a higher price than bought, after improving it (i e being an artisan buying one's raw or proximate materials). Merchants, who sold luxuries from abroad and raw materials not found everywhere (salt, iron, wool - since sheeps don't grass on wheat fields) were obviously Capitalist. But farmers began an existence less feudal and artisans making local products had not ended it and did not end it until the industrial revolution.

Hans Lundahl
14/27 August 2008,
St Cesarius of Arles (NC)

series: 1 Defending Distributism 2 Mom & Pop Stores ... 3 What is a cartel? Snow and milk business compared

2 commentaires:

Hans Georg Lundahl a dit…, on Irish Cheese making

Hans Georg Lundahl a dit…

"In Ireland our farmhouse cheeses are unique to each producer. This has the advantage of allowing for innovation and creativity, while still respecting the values of traditional cheesemaking. Our European neighbours find it hard to believe that each cheese is only produced on one farm and is the result of the passion and dedication of one family."

So, mom and pop stores do exist.