Self-Sufficiency Past the Good Times

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The more the population skyrockets and guzzles the world's once plentiful resources, the more urgent the need for self-sufficiency.

Once again, we must take strong exception to all the Washington politicians and economists who are trying to bring back the economic “good times” of the 1950s and 1960s with mirrors, hot air, and wishful thinking.

In the first place, those “good times” — with their suddenly intensified use of strip mining, clear-cutting, and other “more efficient” methods of exploiting the earth — were not at all good times for the planet. More species of plants, birds, and animals were hounded into extinction, more square miles of irreplaceable ecosystems were paved over or plowed under, more new forms of pollution (and substantially more tons of most old pollutants) were spewed into the air, dumped into the water, and spread across the land by man during the 1950s and 60s than during any earlier 20-year period of Homo sapiens‘ short reign upon (and misuse of) this beautiful Big Blue Marble we ride through space. (Of course, we’re doing our damndest to break that pollution record right now.)

In the second place, those “good times” of the 50s and 60s weren’t really so good at all for exceptionally large chunks of the world’s people: Hundreds of millions of blacks, browns, reds, yellows, and whites continued — en masse — to be forced to work as slaves, tortured, persecuted, raped, displaced, dispossessed, disinherited, and, murdered. Whole countries disappeared and entire nations lost control of their destinies during those “good” twenty years.

And, in the third place, many — if not most — of the individuals living even in the Western countries that did boom throughout much of the 50s and 60s (the U.S., Canada, western Europe, etc.) also failed to share in the real wealth of that boom. Sure, we’ve all had more plastic geegaws to buy and the paper dollars to buy them with.

But how many more of us now own land that a bureaucrat can’t arbitrarily take away? How many more of us now own our own businesses? How many more now walk the streets of our “great” cities in safety? How many more actually feel that our lives are deeply satisfying? How many more think their savings will really be worth something when they retire? How many more of us now even feel secure in our own homes with all the doors double-latched, a pistol in the bureau drawer, and a German shepherd curled up on the floor?

And that’s the Good News.

The Bad News is that the free ride (which, as noted, even at best wasn’t all that good) is over. The most fertile land is already being farmed. The fossil fuels are drying up. The most easily exploited resources of all kinds have already been tapped. And there’s more of us every year to use what’s left.

There are, in short, too many people expecting too much and not enough to go around. It is simply no longer possible for New York City to keep 1,200,000 of its residents alive with welfare payments and to pay back the 160,000 small, middle class investors who trusted the city enough to loan it money. Forget the big banks and the politicians and the weak administrators in the middle who caused it all (and who profited, now profit, and will continue to profit from the NYC mess). Think just about the little people on either end: Now that there’s no longer enough to go around, which ones are you going to cut off? The welfare recipients or the trusting investors who put their life savings into your bonds?

And New York City, of course, is only the beginning. Only a teeny, tiny, little, playacting dress rehearsal for the real day of reckoning that has to catch up with us all sooner or later.

Because, just like NYC, we’ve all been living beyond our means. And now again, just like NYC we’re all starting to get found out. We’re running out of everything food, fuel, minerals, ozone, clean air, pure water-except people. There’s simply not enough to go around anymore. And there’ll be even less, per capita, tomorrow. And less the day after that. And less and less and less.

And as we all begin to try to “get ours” while we think the gettin’s still good, the planet and a lot of little people are going to get hurt.

You think we’ve got big strip mining equipment now? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Just wait until we’re really desperate for that coal and that iron ore and that bauxite. You think the pollution is bad now? Just wait until the issue of “jobs or a few fish” really begins to heat up. You think processed food is tasteless, chemical-laced, and expensive now? Just wait till we’re all eating seaweed, pulverized rocks, and chocolate-flavored bacteria. You think that retired people and others living on fixed incomes have it rough now? Just wait until it really gets down to a question of “us or them” (and-unfortunately-by long before that comes to pass, you’ll probably be a “them” yourself). You think crime, inflation, shoddy goods, bureaucratic highhandedness, terrorism, political infighting, and such other products of “progress” are bad now? Friend, you just ain’t seen the way it’s gonna be.

Long term, then, the quality of life has to deteriorate possibly quite drastically and much faster than you care to imagine.

Short term? Anything can happen as politicians and economists all rush to center stage with contradictory “cures” for what each “leader” believes (probably mistakenly) ails us.

And so, once again, we’ll stick by the economic guidelines we first suggested in mid-May of 1975:

Just as Walter Prescott Webb predicted 25 years ago (see Part I and Part II of the interview with MOTHER EARTH NEWS co-founder John Shuttleworth), Western Man’s 450-year-long expansionary binge — which was fueled by cheap, plentiful energy and other resources — is now drawing to a close. And, just as predicted, the industrialized nations of the world are having a difficult time understanding what’s happening to them. The sooner our “leaders” realize this and begin converting the world’s countries to a steady state economy, the better.

Still, there’s no need for you to wait until those leaders wise up. The time was never better for you and your family to make the necessary conversion on your own. If you haven’t already done so, learn to become as food and energy self-sufficient as possible and do it. Strive, also, for economic self-sufficiency: Learn a basic trade or set up a home business that will always be in demand and which you or your family can control. Pay off all bills. Tear up credit cards. Put yourself on a pay-as-you-go basis. Stock up on quality tools and books that will help you live better for less by growing your own food, building the things you need, etc.

It seems a certainty that we’ll all be walking a tightrope between potentially catastrophic economic busts and just as potentially catastrophic booms during at least the next ten years. Those who insulate themselves best from our “modern, interdependent” way of life will probably fare best during the roller-coaster ride ahead.

And what if the worst of either extreme-boom or but doesn’t come to pass? Great! You’ll still be ahead of the game as you enjoy the satisfactions of self-sufficiency and independence. Economic virtue even in “normal” times is its own reward.