Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paintbrush Factories and Old Farmers

The Times magazine today has a piece on brush manufacturers, mostly paintbrush manufacturers. It seems the U.S. still has a bunch of them.  According to the article the manufacturers are competing with China, not by doing the lowest cost brushes, but in two other ways: constantly innovating to find new niches for their expertise, and doing the same old, same old thing they and their forebears have been doing, producing high quality brushes for the most demanding end of the market.

As I read it, I was struck by some parallels to farmers.  The author cited one manufacturer who wouldn't get into the business today, but since he already had the plant, and the machinery paid for, and he had the labor and customers, he could make a profit going forward.  I suspect that has been the case with many farmers over the years: they have the land and equipment and expertise so they can produce and get a positive cash flow for as long as their health holds out.  It doesn't make sense to an economist, but it makes human sense. 

Yes, I'm talking about my parents.

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