Risk-Seeking Peasants, Excessive Artisans: Speculation in the Northern Andes:

Jason Antrosio
Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld


Thomas Friedman (referencing Harvard economist Lawrence Katz) declared that the economic future for the United States meant that "everyone today has to be an artisan“ (The New York Times, October 23, 2010). But what does it mean to be an artisan in a globalized world? This article suggests that artisan economies may involve high levels of risk and excess, frustrating the search for economic justice and more equitable opportunities. Fieldwork with peasant agriculturists in southwestern Colombia and textile artisans in northern Ecuador challenges the stereotypes of conservative, risk-averse peasants or of traditional, low-output artisans. Rather, risk-maximization and excessive behavior is widespread, and may be vital for maintaining the system. The chance at windfall profits encourages small-scale production, making it seem worth persevering through adverse conditions. At times when traditional calculations of toil and expenditure make agriculture or artisanry seem like wasted effort, excessive display of winnings can provide motivation to continue. In booms and busts in the northern Andes, peasants and artisans have built an infrastructure of excess: overbuilt streetscapes, overcapacity in workshops, lost economic diversity, and production shifted to niche markets. To participate in a global economy, this is the meaning of "everyone today has to be an artisan.“