From her new perch at The Atlantic, former Reason editor Virginia Postrel profiles the massage industry. As with any good piece of business reporting, it's the details that make the article interesting. To see them, you'll have to read the piece; I'm just gonna highlight two broader lessons.
The massage industry's product is invisible, less "real" than a hamburger or a video game. It doesn't contribute to national power or prestige the way semiconductors or aircraft do. It doesn't create world-famous stars like sports or the movies. Its establishments are small, often run by a single individual, and most of its practitioners lack a college education. It is literally touchy-feely.
When Americans think about the economy, we tend to focus on familiar, "serious" businesses–computers or autos or high finance. We don't notice Starbucks until there's one on every corner, changing not only what we drink but also how we live and work. Massage may not be the biggest new industry or the most influential, but it's a microcosm of how commerce and culture interact.
I don't buy the medical line, and I don't think it's necessary….Humans are sensory beings. Massage doesn't need to justify pleasing our muscles and skin any more than music has to justify pleasing our ears. Chefs don't have to call themselves "nutritional therapists." Hairstylists don't have to pretend that gray hair is a disease. Enjoyment is a perfectly fine reason to get a massage.
The piece is online for only a couple of days, so read it while you can. (Or just buy the damn magazine!)