Good News For the Pros


Wired founder Kevin Kelly was recently musing on his blog about the position gardeners will have as the "network economy" takes hold.

He quotes Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman:

The time may come when most tax lawyers are replaced by expert systems
software, but human beings are still needed–and well paid–for such
truly difficult occupations as gardening, house cleaning, and the
thousands of other services that will receive an ever-growing share of
our expenditure as mere consumer goods become steadily cheaper.

And then Kelly adds his own fillip:

My argument is that
great gardeners will be high-priced not only because they are scarce and
exceptions, but also because they, like everyone else, will be using
technology to eliminate as much of the tedious repetitive work as
possible, leaving them time to do what humans
are so good at: working with the irregular and unexpected.

I'm not sure either one of these guys has any idea what he's talking about: "truly difficult occupations" and "great gardeners" and "tedious repetitive work."  Are we discussing farmers? Landscape designers?

But yes, I have noticed that the people who do manual crafts get to charge nicely for them.  Last year I hired a handyman for two days without asking his rate: $45 an hour.


  1. Only $45 an hour, here plumbing and electrical contractors are charging C$100 per hour and not exactly hurrying about their work. And then there are doctors and dentists (yes they are engaged in manual occupations)… The lack of reality in that whole discussion became clear when he refered to house cleaning – when did that become well paid?
    As far as I can see most landscape designers employ lower paid labourers to actually do the hard work. And where are the “mere consumer goods” that will become “rapidly cheaper” come? Not from China and East Asia as their people achieve a ‘Western’ standard of living.
    These two guys need to get their heads out of the sand.

  2. I pay my gardener and my cleaning lady very well and they do a very good job. I don’t think these positions need to be underpaid at all. Paying people what they are worth creates good work and tremendous loyalty — both of these people have worked for me for many years now.

  3. In contrast, the contractor I hired to build my patio and low seating wall used other laborers to do the work and rarely showed up at all to supervise. I paid him, but have never used him again and do not recommend him to anyone else.

    If we are all willing to pay those actually doing the work, and make sure their workers are all well paid, then the world gets better. If we don’t do this in our own dealings, how can we criticize the inequalities in our system?

    If landscape designers want to be well paid, all they have to do is work with those who appreciate their work, and eliminate the clients who do not appreciate them. There’s no point in doing a job you don’t feel you are paid adequately for doing.

  4. Actually, I find as consumer goods (which tend to be industrial products) become cheaper, people expect everything else to be cheaper as well. So they tend to balk at spending their money on specialty skills or products.

    For example, industrial produce makes organic produce look expensive to the average consumer. Organic farming involves skilled labor and in-depth knowledge and is more expensive, but also a better product. Still a lot of people wont buy organic because industrial is so much cheaper.

    As a side note: As it applies to your handyman, $45 for a carpenter is low for someone who can work on his own and do a good job.

    Handyman is really a thankless job. You have to string together a slew of small jobs (usually located all over and outside the city) to fill your schedule, they are not repeat jobs, you’re usually working to fix broken junk, and people think you should be cheap because the job is small and you’re not a full-fledged contractor.

    If he did a good job, be generous and wish him well, I say.

  5. “Are we discussing farmers? Landscape designers?”…. They , Kelly and Krugman are speaking about those who ply their trades in the manual crafts.
    Their theory seems to be based upon the fact that highly skilled manual crafts is a diminishing field and that those who have these skills can demand a fair price for their services.
    The Network Economy / ie :technology, has gobbled up much of the population under its tech-no umbrella leaving few to who really know their how to ply the manual craft trades.
    Hence, the handyman who makes 80$ an hour vs. the computer draftsman who makes 20$ an hour.

    Love eco-(nomic) speak ! After working 8 years as a gardener for a nobel laureate in economics , it sounds great to read a good eco minded rant.
    Thanks !

  6. I’ve been a farmer for 20 years (small family farm, as opposed to huge corporate), and I can tell you that we are not going to become wealthy growing the food that people eat any time soon; but then, we don’t look at what we do as merely an income-generator. Krugman and Kelly need a reality check (or maybe it would do them good to get out in the garden once in a while:) )

  7. Hmm. I’m reading Radical Homemakers right now. I’ve never subscribed to the cheap consumer goods economy myself, so while it’s interesting to see these guys try to apply some logic to lines of work a lot of us have been convinced we don’t have time for (and honestly, I don’t have time for much of what I do because so much time is spent commuting to and from work), I don’t think you can get there from here, with the points they’re making.

    Are gardening job skills in demand? Sure they are. There are edible landscape gardeners on the west coast who will put a small subsistence garden in your yard and even maintain it for a fee. I see that on the rise, but eventually I see some of these things happening in a skills bartering way. You’re a CPA? Cool, if you do my taxes for me I’ll fix up your yard and you won’t have to buy produce all summer. That sort of thing.

  8. Where I live there is an overabundance of educated folks willing to garden for people so the rates are quite low due to the old supply and demand curve.

    We also have one of the largest populations of Master Gardeners, Garden Designers, and Landscape Architects. The Great NW is such a funny place this way. I think the fact that we can grow virtually anything is a huge part of this equation.

    I’m not complaining, but I think it’s easy to say that none of these folks are getting terribly wealthy. They are mostly just content to be able to do what they love with people they like in a place that is very inspirational.

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