Monday, April 15, 2013
The Return of the Guild
The Captain has another insightful video on the continually growing credentialism that is bogging down our economy. What is happening in America is no less than the return of the guild. Guilds sought to maintain control of the materials, skills and markets for their tradesmen. A skilled individual would be forced, by threat of exclusion if he didn't comply, to a series of apprenticeships and promise to not act against his fellow guild members. This meant that the guild effectively controlled the price of goods and labor; a monopoly sometimes enforced by kingly decree.
Guilds were great for individuals that were members, especially if they were high in the order, since they were sheltered from competition and could command whatever rates the guild deemed acceptable. Individuals, regardless of their skill, had to undergo the tradesman journey; starting out as apprentices and moving up the ranks until they were masters or even grand masters. This journey would take a long time, regardless of the skill of the individual in question. An individual would have to be a part of the guild if they wished to open a shop as capital was difficult to acquire, and often control by other guilds like the bankers guild that had a gentleman's agreement with the other guilds in the city.
The guilds policy of rent seeking, redistribution, anti-competitive practices, artificial price controls and other economic ills were pervasive throughout the medieval period; it should be no surprise to anyone, familiar with Austrian economics, that the decline of the guild system corresponded with an increase in economic productivity. The great liberal economists of the 18th and 19th century were highly critical of the guilds and by the middle of the 19th century they were a shadow of what they once were. Guilds should have been relegated to the dustbin of history but we are seeing a resurgence of the guild
But it isn't the watch maker, smithy, carpenter or many other skilled trades where we see reappearing. It is in the various organizations that advocate tests, certificates, and degrees. Once, in the not too distant past, an individual could learn an intellectual trade on the job, but now no longer. At first the requirements were simply bachelor’s degrees, but now masters have become more common, and PhD's may be the norm in the future. If degrees weren't enough, a legion of certifications, some of which didn't exist 15 years ago, are now required as well. Even jobs that shouldn't require anything, other than a person’s ability to hustle, now require certification, to sell a piece of property you need a license. It's absurd, and it is killing this economy.
The medieval period was a time when the guilds ruled the economic roost. It was a time of stagnant economies and inefficiencies and it shouldn't surprise anyone that as more and more jobs require certifications and degrees economic opportunity will continue to decrease.