Business. Economics. Capitalism. Communism. There arethose among us who have labored through self-determinism inattempts to figure it all out, figuratively and literally. There are somany questions with seemingly few answers, although there arealways those with their version. Even so, the endless variables canwreak havoc to theories and practice.
The “free market,” however, remains a popular philosophyin both practice and in theory, and it’s certainly the approach takenwhen looking at the businesses of skateboarding. In fact, anunusually high number of the top-25 best-selling book titles ineconomics on the Amazon.com Web site are written by economistspushing the “free-market” theory. The authors include a virtualwho’s who of free-market economists: Freidrich Hayek, MiltonFriedman, Henry Hazlit, and Ludwig von Mises. Hayek’s book, TheRoad To Serfdom, originally published in 1944, is so popular itappears on the Amazon.com list twice–at number one on thepaperback list, and number thirteen on the hardcover list.
If we agree the free-market system of economics can bestbe described as a system that produces goods (products) forconsumption by the general population (including those producingthe goods), then we can look more closely at how it relates toskateboarding. The free-market approach is based on the conceptsof supply and demand. The more people want a certain item, themore those items are produced. As Ray Barbee said, “If you want tosell something in the skate market, then just put Muska’s name onit–or Koston’s–and it’ll sell.”
The wonder of the free market is that if supply cannotmeet demand, then the producer of the demanded product willinvariably raise prices. The “free” term relates to the government ororganization allowing the opportunity. With the exception of cornand Amtrak, the United States “allows” the free market to set itsown prices. China, in its wisdom, abandoned government controls ofits farm products in 1979, and the Chinese now enjoy the fruits of athriving agrarian free market–they have an abundance of foodresulting from a highly competitive independent-farming marketsystem. Of course, even in rural China, if prices go too high, fewerpeople will purchase said product, usually creating a surplus. Anysurplus, in a true free-market system, will typically lead to lowerprices.
Thus, our “market” is free to seek and find its own level ofsupply and demand. If only it were that simple, survival in theskateboard 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, theattachment of a certain name to any given product doesn’tnecessarily guarantee survival, which is to be expected within thestructure of the market. It’s not supposed to be easy–it’s aboutsurvival, not ease. To keep it in perspective, just reference thoseeleventh-century Irish monks who slept with rocks as their pillow inorder to demonstrate their commitment–they wanted everyone toknow 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, andit’s certainly not free of its challenges. How to survive then?Sensibly. Sensible choices based upon information, and genuinehard work is almost a formula for success. Almost. Because luck isoftentimes part of the bigger picture of survival, too.
Lucky, like me. There I was, in Durango, Colorado, and Ihappened upon a beautiful example of Wally Holliday’s creations. Itwas early in the day. The park is situated at ground level, with aclover-leafed bowl, and I couldn’t help but notice, way over there,the sudden appearance of a skater–backside air. It could have beena beautiful telephoto long shot; it looked like he was flying up out ofthe ground.
Lucky, like me, because around the corner and down thestreet from the skatepark is an excellent bookstore, Maria’s Books,where I found a copy of A Pattern Language. Published in 1977 byOxford University Press, the book is the result of work done at theCenter For Environmental Structure in Berkeley, California. Thebooks were authored by a group of architects relooking at thestructure of our culture, of human society, and then suggesting,through the development of recognizing what “patterns” aresuccessful, a better way of life. Tucked into the pages of this book isthe key to survival for you, for me, and perhaps for skateboarding.
Actually, there are three books. Volume I is The TimelessWay Of Building, Volume II is A Pattern Language, and Volume III isThe Oregon Experiment. Since discovering the books (I think it wasfive years ago that I stumbled through Durango while crossing theContinental Divide), I tend to reference them when I speak witharchitects or structural engineers. I’m curious what their take is,because for me, these publications have become nuggets–they’regolden. However, the typical architect’s response is something like,”Oh, yeah, I looked at those when I was in school.” Or, “Yeah, Iremember someone telling me about that, it was sort of trippy.”
Trippy? Maybe, but moreover the books hoist a freshnessinto how we look at our world. A world that includes the freemarket (there’s an entire chapter on markets) we’re trying it survivein. Here’s how it works–they start with the planet. The planet isbroken 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 OfSubcultures”: “The most basic structure of a city is given by therelation of urban land to open country. Within the swaths of urbanland the most important structure must come from the great varietyof human groups and subcultures which can co-exist there.”
Section ten is “Magic Of The City,” in which there is adescription of a “catch basin” for 300,000 people. The catch basin iscreated by a network of the “Community of 7000,” which is thenbroken into section fourteen’s “Identifiable Neighborhoods”–unitsof 300 to 500 people. The suggestion is for cities to give localgroups their own neighborhood, with their own autonomy, taxes,and land control, and especially to keep major roads outside ofthese neighborhoods.
The text just keeps going, from section 28’s “EccentricNucleus” to section 89’s “Corner Grocery,” all share a patternlanguage–a way of thinking?that can help you establish a languageof survival. How?
The thinking behind the patterns allows you to determinethe location of your new shop. There are patterns that can beanalyzed–all the information is there, you just need to see thepattern. How about that new skatepark? Yours or the city’s–wherewill it be located? How do you make that decision or influence yourcity’s decisions? By looking at the patterns that will affect the use ofthe park. (Do you think the city is really going to do that? For you?)
If you have a skate shop, have you ever actually analyzedyour store’s layout? What’s your criteria for deciding which productgoes where? Why? Did you call in your girlfriend, your localskateboard Feng Shui expert? Where, in your shop, should yourdecks be displayed? On the wall? Why? Because everybody else doesit? Is everybody else surviving? How do you make these decisions? APattern Language suggests your survival could depend on whether ornot you have a front porch at your shop. What type of chair shouldbe on the front porch you’ve never considered?
The thinking put forth in these books allows theopportunity to expand your consciousness without the risk ofincarceration. Do you actually want customers in your store? Dothey know that? What patterns, what language have you establishedin your place of business? For what purpose? What kind of productsare you creating? Why? Why are you making those decisions? Whatpatterns are you operating from? Why?
Is the business of skateboarding the same as it was tenyears ago? No. Will it be the same ten years hence? No. What are yougoing to do today that will assure your success in our free market? Ifyour commitment is genui
ne, if skateboarding is important to you,then your thinking, your “patterns,” will have to change to assureyour survival. Considering change, you may need to develop newpatterns, a new language, for your survival. Here’s to the fittest!