Why did Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak have to start-up Apple Computer in the Jobs-family’s garage? Why don’t suburban American houses have workshops for that sort of thing?
Because of a conspiracy, that’s why.
Last year, James Altucher created controversy when he wrote: “Why I Am Never Going to Own a Home Again“. Said James:
“Lets spell out very clearly why the myth of home-ownership became religion in the United States. Its because corporations didn’t want their employees to have many job choices. So they encouraged them to own homes. So they can’t move away and get new jobs. Job salaries is a function of supply and demand. If you can’t move, then your supply of jobs is low.”
I don’t have any evidence for a labor-mobility conspiracy, however about 25 years ago, I read a very interesting article about the design of suburban houses. The author stated that mortgages guaranteed by the various agencies of the federal government would not be approved for houses that had workshops or pantries.
If you have a workshop, then maybe you can make yourself a nice chair instead of buying it from Sears. And if you have a pantry, maybe you can grow some food in the back yard and store it over the winter, saving on grocery bills.
American retailers frowned upon such activity, so they hired lobbyists and got rules installed to prevent the construction of houses that were too self-sufficient to their taste.
Sure, many people put workbenches in their garages, but in my suburb that was only a few feet of space. And when you consider how entrepreneurial the American people have been throughout their history, the lack of workshop space is very surprising.
In a second post, Altucher wrote:
“…it’s a fact that many early factories would often provide housing for their employees and then charge them for the ‘rent’ and deduct it from their salaries. This was a standard technique only 100 years ago.”
To this I would add that you don’t have to go back 100 years. Just last year, Hershey was housing workers in Pennsylvania. They docked the rent from paychecks such that some workers were taking ‘home’ only $1 per hour. See the post I wrote here. And only a few years ago, the garment industry housed thousands of Asian girls in squalid barracks in Saipan, which is American soil. See the post I wrote here.
Altucher’s larger point is dead-on: a good deal of our culture is shaped by the sneaky machinations of commercial interests.
Note: The world has changed since the American suburbs were built. Today, you can produce things like software, websites, and other virtual goods without a workshop filled with power-tools. So, that’s a change for the better – at least until we are all using tablets.
Note: My grandmother used to can tomatoes that my grandfather grew in their large backyard. The local supermarket lost out on a lot of Ragu sales.
Note: It was a long time ago, but I think I read that article in Chronicles Magazine.
Note: If anybody knows more about this subject, please let me know. I would ask the famous “housing historian”, Newt Gingrich, but I can’t afford the million-dollar fees that he was charging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.