Been reading up about William Morris – someone who fascinates me because he seems a man of such energy and varied interests – many of which fall into the same areas as my own (he wrote books and poetry, he loved the countryside, he cared about the design and preservation of buildings, he wanted only beautiful or useful items in his home).  He was a passionate believer that hand-made products, produced by skilled craftsmen (and women) who took pride in their work, were infinitely superior to mass-produced factory-made items.  The benefits of this were both that the products themselves were more intrinsically valuable (and valued), and so was the skill of the workers.  Whilst the “division of labour” made economic sense, it did nothing for the development of the worker’s soul. 

There was a problem with this though – the goods produced by Morris’s workers took so many man hours to make that they obviously had to be sold at extremely high prices.  This put them beyond the reach of Joe Public, and meant his customers came from the upper classes.  As a socialist, Morris must have felt pretty uncomfortable with this situation.  Understandably, he came in for a fair amount of criticism from the press of his day who were quick to point out that if he was such a socialist boss, he ought to operate a profit-sharing scheme.  Apparently, he did look into this, but decided against it.  His reasons seem just a tad on the flimsy side – along the lines of: a) well, my doing the profit-sharing would be a drop in the ocean – it wouldn’t change the whole of society… and b) by the time you shared out the profits, each worker would get such a small amount as to not be worth doing – it wouldn’t change their material or social position…  Hmm…. 

But it obviously weighed on his conscience.  And there’s no realistic answer – after all, you’d need a Utopian situation where everyone was working in a skilled job, everyone was well-paid for it, and thus everyone had the means to buy quality goods and services from each other.  Plus you’d need everyone to place value on quality in the same way – not, as seems prevalent in our current culture, getting the largest quantity for the lowest price.

The funniest thing is that in his own day, Morris was known mainly as a poet, whereas now, more often than not, he’s “that bloke who designed wallpaper”.  In his relatively short life (62 years) he managed to do an awful lot of other stuff too – and perhaps it’s that energy and enthusiasm for such a wide range of interests which makes him so admirable.

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