If you are going to talk about contentious issues, it is always good to start out with one sure to create a buzz and Me Too, Sex, gender politics and personal outrage is, perhaps, the top pop-issue of today (and yesterday and tomorrow). Sexual politics is an easy fire-starter for one’s hair, ya know?
But as good as sex is to get everyone’s attention, let’s be honest – sex is mostly just personally important but it is not as important as climate change, species extinction, micro-plastics and all the other mundane but still lethal threats we all are now facing. I mean, I really should be talking about Gaia, shouldn’t I?
But I will, instead, raise a different and currently (for me) topical issue: let’s go with the economy one more time – but this time, the micro-economy of a small village or loose gathering of neighbours, or just a gaggle of individuals spread out over a large space. In other words, I am talking about here.
I have an old boat. Good hull. Up on the hard. A neighbour asks, “Hey! Wanna talk about that ol’ boat ya got?” I say, “No need to talk. You want it? It’s yours.” “Just like that?” “Yep. I’ll tell the dozens of others who wanted to talk about it that I have given it away!” “How many others?” “None.”
A lot of hard bargaining around here.
Mind you, that kinda barter-gifting-favour-exchange thing is not universal. Young people charge money for their services. Old people generally do not (but then again, old people usually don’t work too long or hard). And old people prefer to deal in favours or exchanges more than cash, as a rule.
It is not that old people are richer or are more or less generous, it is just that young people have children and kids need cash. The going rate for unskilled labour is about $25.00 an hour. If muscles are gonna ache and the body is going to sweat, the price goes up to $30.00 an hour. Skilled labour is generally done on a contracted price. Newbies who come in and say, “Well, I can’t really estimate the time it will take but I charge $30.00 an hour” rarely get the job. Folks out here are cash-strapped and so they can’t take the risk of an un-bloody-guessable non-estimate.
All that sounds reasonable enough but some folks are better workers than others and so even the ‘general labour rate’ is still hard to peg. Some people work like Trojans, others stand around a lot and do not work hard at all. Both use up time……at $30.00 an hour. So, the local labour pool is a crapshoot. The cost-estimate of getting anything done is nebulous at best. The only thing that is generally always acceptable is free. There are attendant strings, obligations and expectations but they are always more than reasonable. Free+ is a good system.
The labour pool is also small. Out of say 250 folks out here, maybe 25 of them occasionally look for work in the area. Which translates into, “Well, I can get to it in week maybe. When do ya need it? I have to fix a bearing on the machine first. You know, the main one on the swing arm? And Barb wants to go to town soon, too. But, if ya need anything picked up in town, we can do that.”
What does that non-answer actually mean? No idea. He’s busy? Not interested? Barb doesn’t drive? Is it a way of bargaining? Is it avoidance? The usual best answer to that is, “Hey, thanks for the pick-up offer. I’ll get back to you.” (Note that the original topic – work – has been left untouched, unresolved and, for the foreseeable future, undone).
Free old guys and their piles of junk are the best. “Ya wanna get a new roof on J’s place? Aw’right. Let’s go!”
“I have to get in a few roof panels first.”
“Hell, if she isn’t fussy about the colour, I have some in the back she can have!”
“Alright then, let’s get ‘er done!”
Our economy is hard to actually get a handle on out here. As are the people. And it has a bit of a generation gap, too. The market is small, the labour pool is smaller and the discretionary cash-pool is even smaller yet. Attention spans? Non existent. Doing business out here is not at all like doing business in the city….but, somehow it is better. It’s more personal. It builds community. It helps people. But it truly is on the micro-nano-scale of an African village…..and, I swear…half the folks speak a form of business-Swahili and change the topic until, maybe, sometime in the future (could be years) when they bump into you on a trail and say, “Hey? You still interested in fixing that bearing on the swing arm for me?”