Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lex Anteinternet: Expatriates: Looking at it a bit differently.

 Father and son farmers, farming and ranching are one of the few local industries that's still often a family business.

I ran this item on the long running perceived problem  of Wyoming's youth leaving the state last Wednesday:
Lex Anteinternet: Expatriates: Looking at it a bit differently.: Okay, I know that this is a history blog, and it's now been running so long as research for a book, that it's becoming historical i...
 And I've run items on family businesses here before.

 Proprietor of family butcher shop, 1940s.  This industry still exists, but the butcher shop has yielded at least partially to the chain grocery store.  For people who like little clues from movies, the film "Marty" involves the story of a simple butcher who has bought such a shop from an owner who has no family.  The intrusion of the super market is actually mentioned in the film.

The two, it occurs to me, don't seem to be obviously tied together, but I wonder if in fact they aren't a bit.  And if they are, it reflects a long term change in the economy that, at least with our current economic model, we can't do a whole lot about.  Something could be done, of course, but I don't think it will be.

 British soldiers in World War Two overlook a man making a fish net in Sicily, an art that was done as a family enterprise at the time.

The concept of a "family business" is an old one. Beyond that, the idea of father's following their sons into their father's profession is an old one.  Interestingly, I'd note, recently I have seen quite a few examples of daughters going into professions occupied by their mothers.

 Drug store in Southington Connecticut, 1940s.  This family had a shop on this corner for about 200 years at the time this photograph was taken. Do they still?

Now, it's really easy to make too much of this, as this has never been a hard and fast rule by any means. Still, if you go back into antiquity, you find that it was so strong that at one time entire families would end up being named for the occupation that they generally held.  My last name, for example, stems from a Westphalian name (it also occurs as a Dutch name) which identified men whose occupation was making wooden shoes.  At one time, and that time was extremely long ago, most of my ancestors who bore that name did that for a living.  Thankfully, they don't now, as I wouldn't care for that much.

Cartoon of dancing, pipe smoking, Dutchman wearing wooden shoes, which my ancestors at one time made, and which I'm tankful I neither make nor wear.

Be that as it may, even relatively recently quite a few people followed a father into a business.  Some of my near relatives, for example, had a "drug store" in which the sons went to work for their father.  My same ancestors mentioned above, when they immigrated from Paderborn Westphalia, opened a general store that became classic "drug store" and which is still open and still owned by a member of the family that I'm distantly related too (the last member of my direct line who would have worked there would have been my great grandfather). 

 Family that was, at the time this photograph was taken, entirely engaged in the fishing industry.  This is hard work, and chances are you would never see such young laborers in it today.  Fishing remains a family industry in the US, although it's greatly imperiled. 

As noted in the earlier post on this topic, my grandfather owned a packing plant locally, amongst other businesses, and there was briefly enough of a family connection that one of his brothers went into the same industry, which he worked at until he retired in the Mid West.  My grandfather died when he was only in his 40s, which through the family into a crisis, and that ended up in the loss of those businesses.  I've sometimes wondered if he'd lived if the family would have continued on in that occupation.  I suspect so, which would have made, maybe, for a much different daily existence for me.  If he'd lived at least until his 60s would my father have followed him into that business?  My father has noted how the margin in that industry is very thin and while he missed his father greatly, I think for the rest of his life, he never indicated to me that he lamented the decision to sell the plant. At the same time, however, he never said anything really negative about the industry either.  My grandmother insisted he get a university education, and he did, but I also know that he wasn't independently inclined to do that, in spite of fairly clearly having a genius level IQ.  I suspect that, had my grandfather lived, he would have entered that industry.  And if the plant still existed when I graduated from high school, I very strongly suspect I would have probably pursued a business degree and entered that business as well.

Otherwise, obtaining a business degree is something I never would have considered and still wouldn't now.  One of my friends has lamented to me how often this degree is overlooked by people who feel that they must have a professional degree, and as he's done very well as a businessman, and loves it, I can see why.  Still, that pursuit sounds really dull to me (although, quite frankly, a law degree has business elements and I didn't find that dull). 

My point is that at one time this path, entering into a family business, was a fairly easy and obvious one to take.  And it's still one that people take today. And, and this is significant, it's one that was available to quite a few who didn't take it either.  At least part of the reason that this path is so less common today is because so many of those local enterprises just don't exist as local entities anymore.  People transferred their loyalty from a local shop or artisan to a big box entity or chain, and so many of those jobs are just simply gone.  Not all, but many.

Not that this is a new topic here. We've touched it before. The point is, however, that this is a significant aspect of our economy that's changed quite a bit in recent decades. We still hear, quite frequently, that the majority of jobs in the US come via small business, and I suppose that's true.  Supposedly a majority of business start ups also fail (which is sort of counter intuitive.  At any rate, we've certainly cut into this class of business enormously in recent decades and, when we look at the story of returning sons and daughters, the family business, if there would have been one, certainly isn't what it once was.  Americans have long held, as part of that really vaguely defined, if defined at all, concept of the American Dream that every generation should be upwardly mobile (although there's some evidence that this isn't the dream of the younger Middle Class anymore).  To some extent, the demise of the family business forces that decision, and departing the state, in a way earlier generations didn't have to face.

No comments: