Hand Tools Archive
"As a shop manager, I feel it's my duty to ensure we're producing quality products, as fast as we reasonably can. This allows us to remain competitive in today's economy. I doubt it was much different 150 years or more ago. There was always more than one shop around, and always someone willing to do it for less than you. I'm guessing you needed to focus on quality, with a reasonable price instead of competing on price alone. Unless you were lucky and perched at the top of the pyramid, doing work that few could, and even fewer were willing and able to pay for."
I think you want to be very careful about imposing ideas that weren't even universal in the united states till quite recently, to some period hundreds of years ago. For instance, Deming the post war (say that again) genius of quality and efficient manufacturing, had his ideas proven in Japan, and then they fed back here, maybe as late as the 80s in areas like autos. A major purpose of the guilds was to ensure that competition was minimized but that quality was held high. When Adam Smith came along and later was expanded upon by early 19th century economists, the result wasn't the invisible hand of the market, but mass protests that led to unions. When the first sewing machines were used to replace hand work, it led to violent confrontations.
The ability to have a lot of competition and to smash the trades has in part been made possible by the crash to crap of the standards in almost everything. Furniture today, including most so called custom cabinetry is garbage, and clothing and footwear is unimaginably shoddy. The standards we expect in modern products like cars and phones are very high, but look at the crud Steve Jobs wore in announcing his contributions. It is amazing to go to some mall in a rich part of the US and see people making the trek from Mercedes to Mall dressed in clothes of lower quality (though fresher) than the rag and bone man from the 60s in the UK. You can't train for 7 years if you are going to be displaced by a guy who cleans out his garage and goes into competition with you. And he can only do that if expected standard of work is very low. But, of course there are many conveniences and features that make up the difference. Synthetic counter tops can be easier to maintain, hinges can be made for fold well out of the way. So the refinement comes in different forms.