How Do the Amish Compete in Modern Society?

The Amish. They use horses and buggies for transportation, (although they may rent a van and driver for long trips or to run a construction business that goes out to the customers). They put steel tires on their tractors. They have a phone booth away from their houses or shops. They use propane and gasoline fuel, not natural gas or electricity. They may use a car battery to power an electric fence.

They clearly are living as was done back in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Some advantages:  they are a close-knit society…helping each other in times of trouble.  They even speak their own language.  They communicate regularly and have good memories…if you’ve wronged one of them, they all know it.  On the other hand, if you have treated them well, they all know that, as well.

They don’t believe in commercial or government insurance (Social Security and Medicare).  They’re self insured.  They work until death or disability.  There’s no minimum wage…wages are based on productivity.

There’s on-the-job training from age 5…always something to do on the land.  Formal education (in their own schools, that focuses on the “3 Rs”) ends with 8th grade.  Practical knowledge is more important than book smarts.

Bottom line:  It’s hard work…up with the sun, chores, meals to prepare for large families, cleaning, gardening, animals to tend to, equipment to repair, horses to harness (and slow travel time), social gatherings for youths and adults.

Much of their business is done in cash…selling their goods at farmers’ markets, for example…but they do pay income tax.

So how do they compete?

They shun many of the time-consuming modern conveniences like television, radio, internet and computers (for the most part) that can become a distraction if not controlled carefully.  Alcohol is usually just consumed for medicinal purposes.  In short, there isn’t much time for getting into trouble.  They pretty much have the same lifestyle all America had back in the 1800s…back when America was becoming great.

Hard labor…turning their time into food and capital improvements as much as possible.  Being frugal.  Paying minimal tax (barter, cash), no social security or insurance expense.  Doing things that others aren’t willing to do or can’t afford to do because of the labor laws.  For example, lumber mills can be hazardous, and one claim from an injured employee could put many non-Amish companies out of business.  But because the Amish are self-insured, hire only Amish help, and they don’t sue people, they can assume the risks associated with running a lumber mill without the risk of a business-destroying law suit.  And without insurance, they clearly have an incentive to be careful.

Work, work, work.  Set an example for the next generation.  Be as independent from the government as is legally allowed.  That’s how they stay competitive in an internet world.

Robert F. Sennholz

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