Business. Economics. Capitalism. Communism. There are those among us who have labored through self-determinism in attempts to figure it all out, figuratively and literally. There are so many questions with seemingly few answers, although there are always those with their version. Even so, the endless variables can wreak havoc to theories and practice.
The “free market,” however, remains a popular philosophy in both practice and in theory, and it’s certainly the approach taken when looking at the businesses of skateboarding. In fact, an unusually high number of the top-25 best-selling book titles in economics on the Amazon.com Web site are written by economists pushing the “free-market” theory. The authors include a virtual who’s who of free-market economists: Freidrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Henry Hazlit, and Ludwig von Mises. Hayek’s book, The Road To Serfdom, originally published in 1944, is so popular it appears on the Amazon.com list twice–at number one on the paperback list, and number thirteen on the hardcover list.
If we agree the free-market system of economics can best be described as a system that produces goods (products) for consumption by the general population (including those producing the goods), then we can look more closely at how it relates to skateboarding. The free-market approach is based on the concepts of supply and demand. The more people want a certain item, the more those items are produced. As Ray Barbee said, “If you want to sell something in the skate market, then just put Muska’s name on it–or Koston’s–and it’ll sell.”
The wonder of the free market is that if supply cannot meet demand, then the producer of the demanded product will invariably raise prices. The “free” term relates to the government or organization allowing the opportunity. With the exception of corn and Amtrak, the United States “allows” the free market to set its own prices. China, in its wisdom, abandoned government controls of its farm products in 1979, and the Chinese now enjoy the fruits of a thriving agrarian free market–they have an abundance of food resulting from a highly competitive independent-farming market system. Of course, even in rural China, if prices go too high, fewer people will purchase said product, usually creating a surplus. Any surplus, in a true free-market system, will typically lead to lower prices.
Thus, our “market” is free to seek and find its own level of supply and demand. If only it were that simple, survival in the skateboard market would be easy. But it’s not supposed to be easy. Survival is only for the fittest, and with all due respect to Ray, the attachment of a certain name to any given product doesn’t necessarily guarantee survival, which is to be expected within the structure of the market. It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s about survival, not ease. To keep it in perspective, just reference those eleventh-century Irish monks who slept with rocks as their pillow in order to demonstrate their commitment–they wanted everyone to know they were willing to suffer.
Which is not to suggest you begin sleeping with boulders. Nor that you suffer, but the free market is not without its risks, and it’s certainly not free of its challenges. How to survive then? Sensibly. Sensible choices based upon information, and genuine hard work is almost a formula for success. Almost. Because luck is oftentimes part of the bigger picture of survival, too.
Lucky, like me. There I was, in Durango, Colorado, and I happened upon a beautiful example of Wally Holliday’s creations. It was early in the day. The park is situated at ground level, with a clover-leafed bowl, and I couldn’t help but notice, way over there, the sudden appearance of a skater–backside air. It could have been a beautiful telephoto long shot; it looked like he was flying up out of the ground.
Lucky, like me, because around the corner and down the street from the skatepark is an excellent bookstore, Maria’s Books, wre I found a copy of A Pattern Language. Published in 1977 by Oxford University Press, the book is the result of work done at the Center For Environmental Structure in Berkeley, California. The books were authored by a group of architects relooking at the structure of our culture, of human society, and then suggesting, through the development of recognizing what “patterns” are successful, a better way of life. Tucked into the pages of this book is the key to survival for you, for me, and perhaps for skateboarding.
Actually, there are three books. Volume I is The Timeless Way Of Building, Volume II is A Pattern Language, and Volume III is The Oregon Experiment. Since discovering the books (I think it was five years ago that I stumbled through Durango while crossing the Continental Divide), I tend to reference them when I speak with architects or structural engineers. I’m curious what their take is, because for me, these publications have become nuggets–they’re golden. However, the typical architect’s response is something like, “Oh, yeah, I looked at those when I was in school.” Or, “Yeah, I remember someone telling me about that, it was sort of trippy.”
Trippy? Maybe, but moreover the books hoist a freshness into how we look at our world. A world that includes the free market (there’s an entire chapter on markets) we’re trying it survive in. Here’s how it works–they start with the planet. The planet is broken into independent regions. Within each region policies (natural and synthetic) develop to create the distribution of towns. By the time you get to section eight you’re looking at “Mosaic Of Subcultures”: “The most basic structure of a city is given by the relation of urban land to open country. Within the swaths of urban land the most important structure must come from the great variety of human groups and subcultures which can co-exist there.”
Section ten is “Magic Of The City,” in which there is a description of a “catch basin” for 300,000 people. The catch basin is created by a network of the “Community of 7000,” which is then broken into section fourteen’s “Identifiable Neighborhoods”–units of 300 to 500 people. The suggestion is for cities to give local groups their own neighborhood, with their own autonomy, taxes, and land control, and especially to keep major roads outside of these neighborhoods.
The text just keeps going, from section 28′s “Eccentric Nucleus” to section 89′s “Corner Grocery,” all share a pattern language–a way of thinking?that can help you establish a language of survival. How?
The thinking behind the patterns allows you to determine the location of your new shop. There are patterns that can be analyzed–all the information is there, you just need to see the pattern. How about that new skatepark? Yours or the city’s–where will it be located? How do you make that decision or influence your city’s decisions? By looking at the patterns that will affect the use of the park. (Do you think the city is really going to do that? For you?)
If you have a skate shop, have you ever actually analyzed your store’s layout? What’s your criteria for deciding which product goes where? Why? Did you call in your girlfriend, your local skateboard Feng Shui expert? Where, in your shop, should your decks be displayed? On the wall? Why? Because everybody else does it? Is everybody else surviving? How do you make these decisions? A Pattern Language suggests your survival could depend on whether or not you have a front porch at your shop. What type of chair should be on the front porch you’ve never considered?
The thinking put forth in these books allows the opportunity to expand your consciousness without the risk of incarceration. Do you actually want customers in your store? Do they know that? What patterns, what language have you established in your place of business? For what purpose? What kind of products are you creating? Why? Why are you making those decisions? What patterns are you operating from? Why?
Is the business of skateboarding the same as it was ten years ago? No. Will it be the same ten years hence? No. What are you going to do today that will assure your success in our free market? If your commitment is genuine, if skateboarding is important to you, then your thinking, your “patterns,” will have to change to assure your survival. Considering change, you may need to develop new patterns, a new language, for your survival. Here’s to the fittest!ing from? Why?
Is the business of skateboarding the same as it was ten years ago? No. Will it be the same ten years hence? No. What are you going to do today that will assure your success in our free market? If your commitment is genuine, if skateboarding is important to you, then your thinking, your “patterns,” will have to change to assure your survival. Considering change, you may need to develop new patterns, a new language, for your survival. Here’s to the fittest!