Thursday, June 21, 2007

Some Economic Lessons from the Amish



By Dan McLaughlin, from the Ludwig von Mises Institute

The Amish are interesting people. Having lived much of my life in a rural area with a significant Amish population, I have had the opportunity to interact with them, and have some level of understanding of the culture. It is a fascinating study.
The Amish make a conscious choice to live without most of the modern conveniences that Americans take for granted. They have strong religious beliefs and a commitment to principles. Different communities have varying perspectives on what is allowable and what is not, but they all have a common belief that they must maintain a separation from the world and worldly things. They provide lessons to us that they may not intend, but are valuable nonetheless.
Their life is centered around the local Amish community, and they live separate lives from non-Amish people around them. They generally don't use insurance, but they share risk in a different way. They have a strong sense of internal community, and in time of disaster, they are drawn together to help their neighbors. When someone's barn burns down, there is a barn raising, where the whole community gathers to build a new one. It is an amazing display of cooperation.
Many people view full employment as the primary purpose of society. It is a concept that animates much of the discussion in economics and politics. If full employment truly is the primary goal of our society, then we should follow the lead of the Amish. They have developed a social structure that provides full employment for every member. In fact, the problem is not too little employment, but too much employment. They have to have large families with many helping hands to absorb all of the employment that the lack of modern equipment affords them.
Because they do not use tractors, they need many hands to plow, cultivate, and harvest the fields. Milking cows by hand is time-consuming manual labor. Shoveling manure by hand provides employment for some of the less fortunate members of the family. Cutting, transporting, and stacking wood for heat and cooking provides more work that can keep someone busy and sweaty for a considerable period of time.

Read the rest here

3 comments:

D.A. Silvestri said...

"The Amish may hold the secret to full employment, but rejection of modern capitalism is full employment in poverty and hardship, not the rich fruits of progress."

Thus ends that interesting article. I would suggest that the connotation phrase "rich fruits of progress" should be examined. Undoubtedly there are such rich fruits, helpful aids, many things that have contributed to the way we live in this age. However, there are things which have been lost and other things continue to be lost. I would suggest that the Amish solution of a called out and set apart micro-society fosters community, responsibility,and obligation in a way which would seriously cramp the rampant individualism of many of us.
And as the Bard hath it, aye there's the rub; we have accepted the label of 'consumers' for that 'rich fruit', we have accepted the label of 'individuals' rather than 'persons'. A person is understood by his or her relationships, how and where he or she stands in relation to others. That is the pivotal thing; it is what we were made for, for God and each other,for communion, for participation in the Divine Nature in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share the perichoresis of infinite love,and ineffable courtesy,whilst they sustain the wonderful plenitude of their creatures, perfecting all things in love.

Benedictus said...

"I would suggest that the Amish solution of a called out and set apart micro-society fosters community, responsibility,and obligation in a way which would seriously cramp the rampant individualism of many of us."

I do agree, of course. I like the way the article began, though, with a description of the manner in which the Amish copperate in times of duress-they help each other out. If a neighbor's barn burns down, there is no expensive insurance company that gets involved, no government subsidy. His neighbors simply get together and have a barn raising.

It's interesting that he leaves out the Mennonites in Mexico, who live lives much like the Amish, and who prosper in a country known for high-level corruption and grinding poverty.

D.A. Silvestri said...

Yes, i liked the way it began, it's just a pity that he seems to view the situation purely from an economic perspective when he makes the final assessment.
It puts me in mind of early monastic communities that chose the simple life (and yes chose poverty) to escape the corruption of the cities which had spread to the church in many instances.
My personal dream is of a monastic society called to a radical gospel life, the liturgy, and the life of prayer, enriching and renewing society around them through the priory system.
I think that we need to be 'called out' before we can be sent out. This would require a radical rejection of contemporary
dehumanising values and practices, by people sharing a common commitment to conversion of life and service, with a balance of head ,hands, and heart. Like the espresso :-)