self-sufficiency en-US Become a Producer to Put Your Consumption in Perspective <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/become-a-producer-to-put-your-consumption-in-perspective" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="carpentry" title="carpentry" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="167" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Since the invention of agriculture, and especially since the industrial revolution, the division between what we call production and what we call consumption has grown increasingly stark. This is crazy. (See also: <a target="_blank" href="">The Freedom of the Independent Yeoman</a>)</p> <p>Oh, there's a reason for it &mdash; if everybody specializes in whatever they do best, all our standards of living go up.</p> <p>Whether the thing you do best is drive a truck or operate precision machine tools or write software or style hair, it makes the most economic sense for you to do that thing for as many hours a week as practical, and then use the money you earn to buy the necessities of life.</p> <p>Even if you're a polymath who can do carpentry as well as the best cabinet maker <em>and</em> brand steers as well as the best cowboy, it makes no economic sense to try to do both jobs for yourself (and not just because of the overhead of switching from workshop to open range). If you stick to what you do best and I stick to what I do best, and then we use economic transactions to trade for what we need, we both come out ahead.</p> <p>That simple fact does not make it reasonable to create this rigid binary division in our lives. Many things can &mdash; and should &mdash; be both production and consumption.</p> <h2>Why You Should Expand Your Production</h2> <p>Your standard of living is usually measured by how much money you spend getting the things you want, and by that standard you're always going to come out ahead working more hours at your regular job, earning more money, and then spending it on stuff you want.</p> <p>So, of course, what I'm saying is that that standard is wrong. There are a bunch of <em>non-economic</em> advantages to including some production in your life, besides your regular job. Let's look at some of the key ones.</p> <p><strong>It's More Fun</strong></p> <p>Maybe whatever you do for your job is the <a target="_blank" href="">most fun thing you can think of</a> to do. I hope so &mdash; that's the best situation to be in. But even people who love their jobs usually have other things they want to do, too. Some of those things will be pure consumption &mdash; eating dinner, watching a movie, playing a video game &mdash; but some of them will have a component of production &mdash; knitting a sweater, painting a picture, working in the garden. Do not disdain the productive aspects of these sorts of activities, just because you'd be &quot;more productive&quot; at your regular job.</p> <p><strong>It's Higher Quality, Maybe</strong></p> <p>For a lot of things, you can't produce a higher quality item than you can buy. (You can't make a better cell phone or camera lens, for example.) But there are a bunch of ways that your own production can be better than what you can buy. You can use better raw materials &mdash; knitting with premium wool. You can produce exactly what you want &mdash; cooking dinner exactly to your own taste. You can add a personal touch &mdash; writing your own condolence notes.</p> <p><strong>It's More Satisfying</strong></p> <p>A lot of the things where the quality of what you produce doesn't quite measure up can still be entirely satisfactory &mdash; and more satisfying. Anybody can whittle a wooden spoon, and even your first efforts are probably going to be good enough to use in the kitchen, even if you could buy a better wooden spoon for less than the cost of a piece of wood suitable for whittling. It would probably take years of practice (not to mention a forge or metal shop) to make a kitchen knife as good as one you can buy for a few dollars &mdash; but if you enjoy the work, even your early practice knives are going to be good enough to use, and much more satisfying than an $8 knife from a big box store.</p> <p><strong>It's More Dependable</strong></p> <p>It's always more dependable to do something yourself than to seek it in the money economy. When you do, you're insulated from global corporations deciding that whatever you want is no longer sufficiently profitable to produce, or should be produced in inferior form, or should be sold at a higher price. You're also much less dependent on the smooth functioning of the economy &mdash; each thing you can produce yourself is one thing you can be sure you can provide for your family, even if you lose your job.</p> <p><strong>It's Healthier</strong></p> <p>This comes to the fore with food-related production: gardening and cooking. From a health perspective, you're way ahead of the game cooking your own food as compared buying industrial food. Food you grow in your garden is unquestionably fresher than anything you can buy, and it's probably more nutritious as well (not to mention tastier). But not just food falls into this category. You can choose your own lawn care chemicals, if you do your own yard work, for example.</p> <p><strong>It's More Ethical</strong></p> <p>Each thing you can produce for yourself is one more thing you can be comfortable consuming, without having to worry if it was produced in a sweatshop by child laborers or prisoners or slaves. You can know that it wasn't tested on animals. You can know that it is made from materials produced in a sustainable manner.</p> <p><strong>It's Possible</strong></p> <p>When you think about it, the whole idea that you could just work one more hour and earn another hour's pay may be completely false. A lot of people are on salary &mdash; they can work all the hours they want, but they won't get paid any more. A lot of other people are already working as many hours as their employer has available. A lot of people don't even have regular jobs. What they can earn for each extra hour worked is hard even to know. But you can always produce the things you need and know you'll have those things.</p> <h2>How You Can Produce</h2> <p>In the examples above, I've already implied a bunch of ways you can add production to your life, but here's a short list of some of the most obvious &mdash; the ones that anyone can do.</p> <p>All of these are, of course, in addition to your regular job, your regular contracting gig, or your regular profession.</p> <p><strong>Cooking</strong></p> <p>Cooking is probably the most basic way to add production into your life. It's always going to be <a target="_blank" href="">cheaper and healthier</a> than eating out, and <a target="_blank" href="">probably quicker and easier</a> as well. It can also produce better tasting food, if you put a little effort into getting good at it.</p> <p><strong>Your Garden</strong></p> <p>Gardening is a bigger step than cooking, but it doesn't have to be a huge step. A few pots on the windowsill can give you fresh herbs that will taste way better than anything you can buy in a jar. Even a small patio or balcony has room for a pot to grow a tomato plant or a pepper plant. Even the smallest patch of ground has enough space to grow some lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard or collard greens. It is immensely satisfying to eat food that you grew yourself.</p> <p><strong>Your Hobby</strong></p> <p>When people think of the economic impact of the hobby they're usually listing it as an expense &mdash; the cost of tools and supplies. If they think of it as production, they're usually thinking of what they can make and sell. But many other things are also production; things you make and use. Things you make and trade. Things you make and give away. <a href="">Any hobby</a> where you make something is production.</p> <p><strong>Household Repair and Maintenance</strong></p> <p>This is the classic example of coming out ahead by sticking to the money economy &mdash; work at your regular job; pay someone to do your yard work for you. This is all the more true for work that requires specialized tools, such as car repair, where someone who specializes in the work can keep their tools busy. And yet it remains the case that doing it yourself can be more dependable (no more waiting around for a workman who doesn't show up), more satisfying (getting something done the way you want it), healthier (choosing what chemicals your family gets exposed to), and all the other advantages listed above.</p> <p><strong>Solar Panels, etc.</strong></p> <p>Just like a garden is an opportunity to have your yard produce for you, things like solar panels are a way for you to <a target="_blank" href="">have production happen</a> without having to do anything yourself. (And solar panels are getting cheaper all the time.) Something as simple as a rain barrel, catching water that falls on your roof so that you can use it later to water your lawn or garden, makes you that much less dependent on the money economy.</p> <p>Be careful about dividing your life into production and consumption. Many areas of your life can &mdash; and should &mdash; be both at the same time. I like to start each day with a bit of production, just to know that I've done so, even if I do quite a bit of consuming later in the day.</p> <p><em>How about you? What do you produce that isn't part of your regular job?</em></p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Become a Producer to Put Your Consumption in Perspective" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Lifestyle consumer hobby self-sufficiency Wed, 03 Jul 2013 10:36:30 +0000 Philip Brewer 980306 at Got a Problem? Why You Should Figure It Out Yourself <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/got-a-problem-why-you-should-figure-it-out-yourself" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="man reading on bench" title="man reading on bench" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="159" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>An aunt of mine recently asked me what the Internet was <em>for</em>. Of course, she has email and knows how to use a computer, but she just couldn&rsquo;t understand why I found having access to all that information so exciting.</p> <p>&ldquo;Well, I can look up <em>anything</em>!&rdquo; I told her &mdash; and I often do. Whether I&rsquo;m searching for statistics for a story I&rsquo;m writing or I&rsquo;m just trying to remember what that great restaurant we went to a few years back was called, I can call the information up any time I want.</p> <p>My aunt, though, is from a different generation &mdash; one that I have a hard time even imagining. If you wanted to know something, you could find it in a book, you could ask around, or you just figure it out for yourself. While I won&rsquo;t be giving up my Internet connection, like, <em>ever,</em> I&rsquo;m wondering why I don&rsquo;t take the time to figure things out myself more often, rather than running straight to Google. Come to think of it, there are some good reasons for taking the extra time. Here are a few. (See also:&nbsp;<a href="">Can You&nbsp;Buy&nbsp;Your Way Out of the Rat Race?</a>)</p> <h3>Because You Can</h3> <p>I think sometimes when we don&rsquo;t know something, our egos automatically kick in. Either we don&rsquo;t want to admit we don&rsquo;t know it, or we want to skip over the part where we&rsquo;re left feeling stupid and find the answer right away. At the same time, there really isn&rsquo;t anything wrong with not knowing the answer to a question or not knowing how to complete a task. Learning those things is what life&rsquo;s all about. Most people who want to understand a complex scientific theory or know the 100,000<sup>th</sup> digit of pi will probably have to visit Google, but there are many things we can solve all on our own &mdash; especially when we have to. Have you ever been stranded somewhere with few resources and been forced to find a solution to a problem? Getting that tent set up without the forgotten poles is something you could easily solve with a trip to the camping store, but doing it yourself will leave you feeling exultant &mdash; and you&rsquo;ll have a great story to tell your friends. Try the same strategy when you aren&rsquo;t quite as stuck.</p> <h3>Because If Can&rsquo;t, You Can Learn</h3> <p>Let&rsquo;s get back to ego again. It can make learning things very difficult. Actually, it can prevent us from even trying to learn things. You can&rsquo;t fail if you don&rsquo;t even start. Just to be clear, I&rsquo;m not speaking as someone who&rsquo;s mastered the art of self-education; when my ultra-complicated recipe fails or I can&rsquo;t figure out how to put the doohikey that fell off my car back on again, my tendency is to throw it aside in a huff and never go back to it. I feel stupid, and I just don&rsquo;t want to go there. Sometimes, though, I manage to peek past my own pride and look at what went wrong. Often, it&rsquo;s something really simple, and if I&rsquo;m patient enough, a solution will usually come to me. And boy do I feel smug when it does.</p> <h3>Because You&rsquo;re Always Available</h3> <p>There&rsquo;s nothing wrong with asking friends and family for help and advice, but there&rsquo;s something to be said for self-sufficiency. After all, help isn&rsquo;t always available (or helpful), but chances are you&rsquo;ll always be on the scene of your own personal problems and disasters. If you believe other people have the answers, why not put the same stock in yourself?</p> <h3>Because You Can Afford Your Own Labor</h3> <p>Figuring something out for yourself often involves <em>doing</em> something for yourself too. In many cases, this can be a great way to learn something new and save some money. Yes, your time has value, but if you aren&rsquo;t busy, why not try your hand at fixing a household appliance or <a href="">changing your own motor oil</a> rather than paying someone else to do it? Google might come in handy here, but even if you pull in a few references, there&rsquo;ll still be plenty of confusing bits left for you to sort out on your own. If you learn to do a few things like this, the savings will really add up.</p> <p>We have access to so many resources these days, it&rsquo;s possible to eliminate having to do much of anything at all (besides working to <a href="">pay someone else to do it</a>!). So here&rsquo;s a salute to the art of figuring things out ourselves. I think I&rsquo;ll try to do it a little more often. After all, if it doesn&rsquo;t work out, I can always Google it.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Got a Problem? Why You Should Figure It Out Yourself" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Tara Struyk</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Personal Development learning a new skill problem solving self-sufficiency Thu, 17 May 2012 10:24:18 +0000 Tara Struyk 929146 at Stay Off the Frugal Path to Disaster <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/stay-off-the-frugal-path-to-disaster" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Suspension Bridge" title="Suspension Bridge" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="180" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Frugality is a great tool. But if your approach to frugality is to pare away everything non-essential, you're setting yourself up for failure. (See also:&nbsp;<a href="">Ruthless Frugality</a>)</p> <p>If you're already living at the lowest acceptable standard of living, what happens when you suffer a negative event &mdash; an injury or an illness or a recession or a theft or a natural disaster?</p> <p>The capacity to tolerate negative event is resilience, and for an economic unit, the key enabling factor for resilience is to use inputs no faster than the environment supplies them.</p> <p>You already know a form of that rule &mdash; live within your means. But that's a simplistic version of the rule, one suited to the decades between the New Deal and the Great Society, but now rapidly becoming obsolete. In a world where no job is secure, it's no longer safe to take the view that you're okay as long as your spending is well under your take-home pay.</p> <p>The environment doesn't provide inputs at a steady rate, so you can't just assume that your current income is reliable. You need additional tools.</p> <h2>Frugality</h2> <p>Frugality is a useful tactic for dealing with variability, as long as you avoid the trap of targeting the lowest-acceptable lifestyle. Through frugality, you produce a gap between your income and your spending. Especially if, like most people, you spend all you earn (or, like a lot of people, spend more than you earn), it's a starting point for accumulating a bit of a surplus.</p> <p>An accumulated surplus makes your household more resilient. It's not the only <a href="">source of resilience</a>, and it has <a href="">definite limits</a>, but a household with no accumulated surplus is very fragile.</p> <h2>Self-Sufficiency</h2> <p>On the face of it, self-sufficiency would be the perfect tactic for insulating your household from the vagaries of economics or politics. In practice, of course, self-sufficiency is much too hard a way to live. It takes capital, skills you probably don't have, and long hours of difficult, dirty, and often dangerous work, all to produce a standard of living lower than minimum wage.</p> <p>But <a href="">strategic partial self-sufficiency</a> is a great idea. If you can cover at least a fraction of your household's most essential needs &mdash; water, food, shelter &mdash; outside the money economy, then you can tolerate those negative events, as long as they're transitory.</p> <h2>Community</h2> <p>The downside of self-sufficiency comes from the &quot;self&quot; part. The more you try to do for yourself, the less you're able to benefit from specialization. That's why living in the global economy produces a much higher a standard of living than living as a subsistence farmer.</p> <p>But the downsides of living in the global economy have been made abundantly clear over the past few years.</p> <p>The safe strategy is to aim for the middle &mdash; localization. Don't try to produce everything you need yourself, but live someplace where the community can produce at least the essentials.</p> <p>I've been following the work of John Robb on resilient communities. (In fact, it was his post on the difference between <a href="">thrift and frugality</a> that started me thinking about these issues this way.) I think he goes awry in suggesting that frugality is at root an unsuccessful attempt to get by on nothing. As I said above, I view frugality as a tactic for matching your resource demand with the resource supply provided by the environment in a world where the resource supply is highly variable.</p> <p>But despite that misstep, Robb is clearly right that a resilient community is the right strategy if you want to have a high standard of living without being terribly vulnerable to negative events. There are lot of ways to start making your community more resilient. <a href="">Shop locally</a>. <a href="">Share things with your neighbors</a>. <a href="">Make common cause with the people around you</a>.</p> <p>Those sorts of tactics, together with some frugality to match your resource demands to the reliable supply and some strategic partial self-sufficiency to buffer your household from external shocks, will make your household a lot less vulnerable.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Stay Off the Frugal Path to Disaster" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Frugal Living resilience self-sufficiency thrift Tue, 24 Apr 2012 09:36:25 +0000 Philip Brewer 923652 at The Freedom of the Independent Yeoman <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/the-freedom-of-the-independent-yeoman" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Man ploughing" title="Man ploughing" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="156" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>The financial crisis is resurrecting the oldest economic tension in the country. Will it finally be the day of the independent yeoman? (See also: <a href="">Self-Sufficiency, Self-Reliance, and Freedom</a>)</p> <p>Never mind that they were always more mythic creature than reality. Thomas Jefferson's model for the U.S. economy was built around the yeoman farmer.</p> <h2>The Freedom of Self-Sufficiency</h2> <p>The yeoman farmer was free, because he was self-sufficient. He owned some land and the tools he needed to produce the necessities of life. When possible, of course, he'd produce more than that &mdash; a surplus to sell, so the family could afford more than the bare necessities. But even in bad times they could produce enough food, clothing, and shelter that they wouldn't starve or freeze.</p> <p>Jefferson thought this was critical. Men who worked for wages were dependent on their bosses for their livelihood, and that sort of dependency was dangerous for a democracy. There was always pressure on employees to vote their employer's interests, rather than the country's interests.</p> <h2>Industry and Finance</h2> <p>On this issue &mdash; and even more so, on the issue of finance &mdash; Jefferson was the loser. The prevailing view was that of Alexander Hamilton, who wanted an industrial, financial basis to our economy.</p> <p>This was anathema to Jefferson, who thought bankers were even worse than bosses. (Jefferson famously called banking institutions &quot;more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.&quot;) The whole enterprise of finance led to a concentration of money and power, while Jefferson thought the nation's interests were best served when money and power were dispersed to the individual citizens.</p> <p>Jefferson lost &mdash; and we're all vastly richer because of it. I've got a post up about <a href="">how to have a rich country</a> on my personal blog, but the basics &mdash; privately property, free markets, and the rule of law &mdash; are well known. It was Hamilton's pushing that insured that we had those things, and more: industrial production and a financial industry.</p> <p>It's tough to get rich as a subsistence farmer. (The only scenario that comes to my mind involves giving up subsistence farming after oil is discovered on your land.) You're going to have a higher standard of living if you work for money, and then use the money to buy the stuff you want.</p> <p>But you give up a lot when you do that. I've talked before about the many reasons besides frugality to <a href="">do for yourself</a>. But even more important than those is the freedom that comes from actual self-sufficiency. That freedom has benefits for others besides just yourself. It benefits your neighbors. Indeed, as Jefferson understood, it benefits the whole country.</p> <p>So, there's an upside to the knocks that the financial system is taking. They're pushing people to <a href="">learn how to be a little more self-sufficient</a> (sometimes, it's that or starve). They're pushing people to <a href="">live off the grid</a>. They're making the standard-of-living comparison a little less stark.</p> <h2>Attainable Self-Sufficiency</h2> <p>Real self-sufficiency is tough. But limited, partial self-sufficiency is easily within the grasp of most people.</p> <p>A little frugality is an important first step. If there's only one job in town that pays enough to cover your expenses, what will you do if you <a href="">lose that job</a>? If you can get your expenses down to where there are a dozen jobs that would pay the bills, you're vastly more secure &mdash; and vastly more free. (Plus, if you happen to have the high-paying job, you're in a position to do some serious saving and investing.)</p> <p>There are a lot of possible second steps. Find ways to acquire some of what you need <a href="">outside the money economy</a> &mdash; produce it yourself, barter or trade, <a href="">share with friends and neighbors</a>.</p> <p>Although the yeoman farmer was Jefferson's model, the point is not to work the land. The point is to be free enough &mdash; to be self-sufficient enough &mdash; to follow your own conscience.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="The Freedom of the Independent Yeoman" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Frugal Living freedom jobs self-sufficiency Wed, 21 Dec 2011 11:24:54 +0000 Philip Brewer 829553 at Book review: The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/book-review-the-self-sufficient-life-and-how-to-live-it" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Cover of The Self-Sufficient Life" title="Cover of The Self-Sufficient Life" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="323" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href=";tag=wisbre08-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0789493322"><cite>The Self-sufficient Life and How to Live It</cite></a> by John Seymour.</p> <p>In the days when self-sufficiency was simply the normal way of things, you'd learn the necessary knowledge and skills from your parents. (And from your grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, and whatever other adults happened to be around.) Now that most of us work for money to buy what we need, rather than growing or making things ourselves, few of us have the knowledge or skills to be self-sufficient. Few of us even know anybody we could learn from. This book tries to fill that gap.</p> <p>The breadth of scope of this book is amazing. It talks about farming, gardening, and managing a homestead. It talks about hunting, fishing, gathering wild foods, and raising cows, pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and geese. It talks about making beer, wine, and hard cider. It talks about spinning, weaving, pottery, tanning leather, and making bricks.</p> <p>It's probably worth thinking about knowledge and skills separately, because knowledge--different kinds of soil and what grows best in each kind--can actually be learned from a book, while skills--how to throw a clay pot on a wheel--really can't be. But that doesn't mean that it's useless to have a reference for those skill-based tasks--quite the contrary. I wouldn't want to live under the first roof that I'd thatched after reading how in this book, but I'm sure it would be a much better roof than if I'd just tried to figure out roof-thatching from first principles.</p> <p>Other good things about this book:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Lavish illustrations</strong>. Any time a picture can help, the book has a picture (eleven little thumbnails, for example, on how to make butter).<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Beginning at the beginning</strong>. There are a lot of places where you can learn how to make beer from a kit. This is the only one I've found that covers the whole process, beginning with growing your own barley and hops.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Principles</strong>. Improving your land calls for an understanding of what comes out of it when you harvest your crops, and how those things can be returned (via compost, manure, letting the land lie fallow, grazing animals on it, etc.). In this part of the book--and in many others--Seymour explains the principles rather than just suggesting specific solutions to specific problems.<br /> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong>Encouragement</strong>. Without making things sound easier than they are, Seymour makes it sound possible that you'll be able to gain a mastery adequate to your needs. It can take a lifetime to become a great vintner. But if all you want is to turn a bounty of fruit into a tasty beverage that you can enjoy long after the fruit would have spoiled, the four pages in this book will suffice.</li> </ul> <p>Books of this sort always have two audiences. There are the people who are actually living a self-sufficient life, and there are the people who simply find the topic interesting--and especially those who want the vicarious pleasure of <em>imagining</em> a self-sufficient life. This book is suited to both. It has enough stories of hard-won experience to satisfy the vicarious reader, while being jam-packed with useful information for anyone trying to be more self-sufficient. (And there are a lot of reasons to <a href="">do things for yourself</a>, even if you don't aim as high as actual self-sufficiency.)</p> <p>I've written before on <a href="">the self-sufficient life and the trade-offs involved</a>. It takes three things: a willingness to work very hard, some capital (in the form of land and tools), and knowledge and skills. You'll have to come up with the first two on your own. But if you've got those, then <a href=";tag=wisbre08-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0789493322"><em>The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It</em></a> will give you a huge leg up on the third. Better if your parents can teach you how to milk a cow or build a hedge. But if they can't, this book can.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Book review: The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It" rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href="">Lifestyle articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Lifestyle book review books reviews self-sufficiency Fri, 17 Apr 2009 15:22:12 +0000 Philip Brewer 3058 at Self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and freedom <div class="field field-type-filefield field-field-blog-image"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/self-sufficiency-self-reliance-and-freedom" class="imagecache imagecache-250w imagecache-linked imagecache-250w_linked"><img src="" alt="Garden by a dugout house" title="Garden by Dugout House" class="imagecache imagecache-250w" width="250" height="189" /></a> </div> </div> </div> <p>Self-sufficiency is producing the actual stuff you use--your own food, your own clothes, etc.  It&#39;s not a common lifestyle.  Most people chose instead to follow the path of self-reliance.  Rather than directly producing the things they use, they produce something they can sell for money, or else they work for someone who will pay them money, aiming to earn enough to buy what they use.</p> <p>Actual self-sufficiency takes on nearly mythic significance in the United States, because so many iconic figures in our national history were self-sufficient:  </p> <ul> <li>Native Americans</li> <li>Early settlers</li> <li>The pioneers</li> </ul> <p>The notion shows up in popular culture other places as well, as in the wonderful British TV series &quot;The Good Life,&quot; (available in the US on DVD as <a href=";tag=wisbre08-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B000784WKO">Good Neighbors</a>) about a couple ditching an affluent lifestyle in favor of being self-sufficient in their own little suburban plot.</p> <p>The thing is, though, self-sufficiency turns out to be a hard way to live.  It takes capital (in the form of land), it takes skills that most people don&#39;t have, and it takes lots of hard work.  During the 1960s and 1970s there was a back-to-nature movement of people trying to be self-sufficient, often in the form of a commune (which is rather easier than trying to be self-sufficient at the level of the household or the individual).  Some of those old communes are still around, but most people who tried self-sufficiency gave up pretty quickly.</p> <p>The appeal of self-sufficiency never disappears, though.  Just recently, as a response to environmental degradation and soaring prices for food and fuel, self-sufficiency is once again showing up, under names like urban (or suburban) <a href="">homesteading</a>.  <a href="">More</a> and <a href="">more</a> people are turning their lawns into gardens, getting <a href="/real-eggs">a few chickens</a> (even a goat) and producing a large fraction of their own food.</p> <p>As I said, though, it&#39;s a hard way to live.  You can have a higher standard of living if you work for money and then buy the stuff you need--and not just a little higher; stuff that&#39;s mass produced by low-cost labor is incredibly cheap.  For example, I&#39;ve seen perfectly good wool sweaters at the store for less than the cost of the yarn to knit a nice sweater.</p> <p>The whole structure of the economy is designed for people to work for wages and then buy what they need--and that design turns out to favor the wealthy.  The poor and middle-class get a higher standard of living, and the rich get richer.</p> <p>Sometimes, of course, that standard of living creeps up high enough that the household is no longer really even self-reliant.   Depending on how you measure it, <a href="">personal saving</a> in the United States has been close to zero (or even negative) since 2005--and, since we know that a small number of wealthy people are saving plenty, that means that large numbers of poor and middle-class people have been spending down their savings or sinking into debt.</p> <p>It&#39;s easy to make the case that our economy is structured specifically to tempt poor and middle-class folks to enjoy a higher standard of living than they can actually support.  When they do, they not only make rich folks richer, they also trap themselves in the money economy.  Even if you have the skills, the inclination, and the willingness to do the hard work, you can&#39;t move yourself toward self-sufficiency when you&#39;ve got debts that have to be paid with money.  </p> <p>Once trapped in the money economy through debt, people end up stuck being little money-producing machines for the rich.  It&#39;s not too extreme to call it <a href="">wage slavery</a> or <a href=";en=6d6169df7852a01d&amp;ei=5090&amp;partner=rssuserland&amp;pagewanted=all">debt peonage</a> (albeit at a rather high standard of living).  In any case, it is definitely not freedom.</p> <p>You don&#39;t need to be self-sufficient to be free--it&#39;s good enough to be self-reliant, as long as you&#39;re careful with debt.  In fact, unless you&#39;ve got some capital already--such as family land--a period of self-reliance during which you live below your means and accumulate capital is probably a necessary step toward self-sufficiency. </p> <p>Even then, there&#39;s some value to the tactics of self-sufficiency.  <a href="/make-your-hobby-pay-its-way">Hobbies that produce something useful</a> can often pay their own way, and are certainly better than hobbies that leave you seriously out-of-pocket.  It&#39;s worth having a garden, even if you don&#39;t grow all your own food.  It&#39;s worth knitting a sweater or sewing a dress, even if you don&#39;t make all your own clothes.  It&#39;s worth learning how to fix a bicycle, even if you also own a car.  </p> <p>Think of it as strategic partial self-sufficiency.  Think of it as a step on the road to freedom.</p> <a href="" class="sharethis-link" title="Self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and freedom " rel="nofollow">ShareThis</a><br /><div id="custom_wisebread_footer"><div id="rss_tagline">Written by <a href="">Philip Brewer</a> and published on <a href="">Wise Bread</a>. Read more <a href=""> articles from Wise Bread</a>.</div></div> Personal Finance Frugal Living Career and Income Debt Management debt Economy freedom self-reliance self-sufficiency Wed, 14 May 2008 18:28:03 +0000 Philip Brewer 2092 at