Acton Institute Powerblog

The economic virtues of ‘maker culture’

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Last weekend, my wife’s employer had her working at a local “makers” expo. Such events are where members of the “maker culture” meet together to show off their projects and skills. Attendees can find robotics teams, 3D printing, wood-turning, model-building, blacksmithing, and all sorts of traditional (and not-so-traditional) arts and crafts on display.

You can get a taste of maker culture by perusing community hubs like Make, Hackaday, and Boing Boing, or sites like Tested, which features Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of MythBusters.

I can’t help but cheer them on, not only because I enjoy witnessing such activities, but also because maker culture is good for our society, serving as a delightful testament to the Imago Dei in man.

The “do it yourself” attitude of such makers helps form them into capable and productive participants in a free society. There is a strong sense of mutual cooperation (illustrated by the makers’ love of open-source software and hardware) combined with real, sensed agency (which often comes with knowing how to fix and make things). Such a combination is essential for a flourishing society that prizes both liberty and the common good. Both as individuals and as a broader community, makers can be labeled as “anti-fragile.” They have the skills and character to be significant assets to their wider local communities, whether in times of plenty or dearth.

Makers are also a significant asset to the economy at large. They prize creativity and problem-solving inventiveness. They acquire productive property and marketable skills, combining them with a can-do perspective and approach. It isn’t surprising to find entrepreneurs of all ages sprouting out of the maker community. Even if the people who are influenced by maker culture don’t go into business for themselves, they can get exposed to skills like programming, engineering, and manufacturing—setting them on a path to important, substantial careers.

As a whole, the maker community has a strong sense of stewardship. They preserve old skills and local art forms while also seeking out new creative frontiers. The makers’ approach to life mitigates our wider society’s attitude of disposability and dependence on (and thus vulnerability to) massive entities. If we ever do find ourselves in a Brazil-like totalitarian dystopia in the future, the makers may be the Harry Tuttles who provide our rescue.

Perhaps most importantly, they help remind us that we are creatures made in the image of a Creator. We cannot help but create; it is part of our nature. All sorts of wonderful things have been made by mankind, and they glorify God in their goodness.

In turn, maker culture deserves our encouragement and support. Many public libraries and other local institutions already feature “makerspaces” or “hackerspaces,” and local maker fairs or festivals are popping up all over the country. Take some time to observe what is happening and, better, get involved yourself.

It helps form a durable, creative, enterprising, and socially seasoned populace. That’s a benefit to our politics and our economy. And making things is good in and of itself. We should rejoice that there is a community that supports and encourages creativity for all. What a clear exhibition of the glorification of God by living out His creative image in humanity!

Image: CC0 Public Domain

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Barton Gingerich Barton Gingerich is an assistant priest at St. Jude’s Anglican Church in Richmond, VA. He holds a B.A. in History from Patrick Henry College and an M.Div. with a concentration in Historical Theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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