What will you do for money?

Voluntary deindustrialisation gives plenty of opportunities for reducing the amount of money we spend. Less straightforward is a deindustrial response to bringing in money in the first place. Most of the skills we learn by deindustrialising are too niche to use making a living unless we’re willing to compromise them for the sake of making them profitable – I might one day have the skills required to build a house using nothing but hand tools, but if I wanted to make a living building houses today I have to use industrial technology to be competitive. At the cutting edge there is work for teachers, authors, and other folk catering to other sustainability and resilience minded folk, and those with a craft they excel at and some good business sense can make themselves a living marketing to people wealthy enough to be able to afford to pay for hand-made items. But extracting money from the wider economy inevitably requires some compromises.

What that compromise looks like will vary depending on your circumstances. It might mean going out to work, maybe in a job that requires you to run a car, and do something contributing more to the continued functioning of the industrial economy than anything else. It might mean claiming benefits and being reliant on the largesse of a shrinking and increasingly dysfunctional state bureaucracy. If you’re lucky and astute enough to have the kind of amounts of capital that means you don’t have to work it means relying on the continued functioning of global capitalism that pays you a profit on your assets and allows you to continue to trade them for usable currency.

Environmental writing tends to lack advice for getting out of this trap beyond, at the fringe, advising that you quit your job, move to the countryside, grow your own food and live without money. Ok, so that’s a bit of a lazy stereotype – you will find very few people advocating this as a mass strategy, but it is certainly an ideal that is widely held up. It contains within it a lot of useful concepts, and is great if you adopt it piecemeal as and when it fits into your life, but as a wholesale strategy it simply doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of people.

That isn’t anyone’s fault by the way. Subcultures build their own ideals, and this one is merely a collection of parts that individually make sense in plenty of cases, but have been taken to an illogical extreme. Its the very human tendency towards simple all encompassing answers. But in this case all we have as response to this particular conundrum is a piecemeal collection of little steps, which can be adopted or ignored as appropriate.

But needless to say, I don’t think that resilience automatically involves kicking in your job. More important is making yourself less dependant on wages, by reducing the amount you spend unnecessarily. Handily this ties in well with other resilience projects, which tend towards doing more things yourself and relying on your local community more, both of which will help reduce your outgoings.

By freeing up a chunk of your income every month, you then have an income stream that you can invest in longer term resilience planning like training courses or purchasing tools or equipment for a favourite new skill. This also opens up options like paying off your debts more quickly and taking the kind of long term financial decisions with high up-front costs that are guaranteed to save you money and make you more resilient in the long term.

Equally, you could invest this money in your local economy, or reduce your working hours in order to free up time for other projects. It also means that you have a steady buffer. A reduction in your income due to inflation, illness or unemployment will cut into your savings, but your lifestyle will be able to go on as before, or at least the shift will be less of a shock.

For me, having experience in construction, this meant gearing my skill-set towards energy efficiency and inexpensive maintenance. It also means making a hobby out of working with hand-tools sometimes, even if power tools might make more economic sense. If you worked in public health, for example, it might mean brushing up on crisis management, and working out what health interventions make sense under ongoing economic constraints. If you work for an engineering firm, consider how much of a local market there might be for what you produce, and think about what products could be produced inexpensively that could better target local markets. Hopefully this will remain an interesting thought experiment, but a little mental preparation can’t go amiss. And even if it never does become necessary, it might provide some food for thought on improvements that could be made.

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2 Responses to What will you do for money?

  1. Most of it very good sense and from many points of view in terms of avoiding wasteful expenditure, paying down debt and building skills. It’s very useful to know how to use hand tools, because for many small jobs setting up power tools is overkill and it’s useful to be able to finish a small job on the odd occasions power tools break down.

    As to living without electricity for the sake of it, that’s maybe for religious reasons like the underlying rationale behind the choice made by the Amish, but not a most sustainable choice for many. Electricity generation now has a much higher (and rapidly increasing) proportion of renewable sources now than other kinds of energy – e.g. heating and transport fuel. As grid electricity rapidly becomes more sustainable, it’s my view that many non-grid energy forms will have to be progressively phased out (e.g. replacing most natural gas heating with domestic heat pumps and better insulation, and shifting private car transport to cycling and rechargeable or hybrid biofuel or synthetic fuel buses) in order to meet carbon emission reduction targets.

    As to post-industrial social consensus concerning the form and nature of money, making too many assumptions about this based upon current practice limits the options, and most options made feasible by the Internet have only barely begun to be explored. In a more fully sustainable society interest rates will generally have to be extremely low or zero – the very rapid strides towards more sustainable electric generation made in the UK in recent years could not have been “financially viable” within the Thatcherite high interest-rate monetary framework of the 1980ies. Low interest rates are better news for young families and people at the start of their careers, if not such good news for the middle income class of pensioner.

    • Lots of people view reducing their reliance on industrial society as akin to a religious practise – something which I think has some merit (and produces a lot of visionaries and pioneers), though I tend to take a more pragmatic stance these days.

      A big premise of this blog is that much of our current way of life is not and cannot be made sustainable. That applies to the electric grid, with or without renewable technologies. Where you see a green version of what we have now, I see smaller local grids providing enough electricity for lighting and communications, when they exist at all. Where you see electric cars, I see decaying transport networks.

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