This week’s Time magazine has a cover story about the new entrepreneurial economy typified by such businesses as Uber (the ride sharing business) and Home Away (the house sharing business). The author, Joel Stein, wonders about the value of these emerging businesses. Stein asserts that the corporations are taking advantage of workers by allowing them to participate in these businesses as independent contractors and then ignoring benefits, like health insurance, or any other sign of corporate responsibility. He’s probably right and these new practices have a high technology, urban flavor that seems foreign to those of us who live somewhat apart from the urban world.barter2

I’m talking about rural living of course and here independent contractor and sharing are the rule, not the new exception. Living in a small, rural community engenders a lot of non-corporate businesses and just plain old barter for services and goods. The I.R.S. hates rural entrepreneurs because they often don’t pay enough taxes or jump over all the regulatory hurdles.

Regardless, rural life depends on the handyman, the friend next door, and the mom & pop stores in town for daily existence.

This is of course changing somewhat. Large firms based in cities have expanded their service areas to include rural towns. I can ask my friend, the handyman, to fix my stove or I can call Sears and get a technician to stop by. Which is better?  As a recent rural inhabitant with a long history of urban living, I tend to want the security of Sears but really the local guy is the better moral choice.

As we all get older and find that age has cut our mobility and strength options, a local person who can fix things and who is also a friend looks better and better. My son, when he first moved from San Francisco to Wimberley, worked with one of our venerable handymen. It usually ended up with my son doing all the work while the handyman chatted with the customer. It turns out that human contact is as important as fixing the toilet. My son wondered how the handyman ever got any work done before he had him as the assistant.

We don’t really “live-off-the-grid” here but a bit of that old Texas grit and independence of sprit is alive and well in rural communities.


Joel Stein. On-Demand Economy. Time, February 9, 2015, 185, 4, 32-40.

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