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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Could You Live Without Money?

Great post by Dave Pollard at How to Save the World. He begins by analyzing a typical Canadian household budget, and finds that work-related costs (expenses people wouldn't have if they didn't work) eat up close to 80% of work income. He counts housing costs as entirely work-related, because "the average family has $120,000 in equity, and if that were invested in an all-season cottage far enough away from expensive cities, the rent and mortgage costs would disappear."

Next, he asks, "how much would you have to do for your wage-slave neighbors," in the informal barter economy, to make up the tiny fraction of work income that is actually net income when work-related expenses are taken into account? That might include

making clothing or furniture for them, doing renovation work, lawn maintenance, child care, driving them around in their car, picking things up for them, educating their kids, running a bed-and-breakfast for their visiting family and friends....

This assumes, of course, that your neighbors are in the inexpensive community you moved to. Or better yet,

suppose instead of just moving out yourself, you got together with nine other wage-slave families and pooled your resources and started an Intentional Community?... Now you get some economies working for you: You can share vehicles, meal preparation, education and other duties, and the space needed for these activities (which make up much of the modern 'single-family' home, and which space is unused most of the day). You can wi-fi the place for the whole group. You can grow some of your own food and use solar and wind to take the place off the grid. By doing these things you could probably halve the per-family fixed cost in the table above to $7,000, and then create one or two small enterprises to earn the $70,000 per year the whole community needs to live on. Maybe work an hour a day, or one day a week each, for outsiders, and the rest of your time would be your own, to spend with those you love doing things you love doing.

And suppose your Intentional Community provided useful services to other ICs in a 'network' that could give you things you can't provide well for yourselves (food you can't grow, say, or health care, or recreation) in return for you providing things that they don't know how to do.
Now go back and read this old post of mine: Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old

For those who've been following at Technorati, I'm putting this under a new tag:
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Blogger Bill said...

Of course, taking into account your own point about local economies knowing fairly precisely the supply/demand and economic value of goods, you could with a bit of co-operation do away with the barter concept altogether and enter into the extended co-operative econopmy of comnmon ownership - that point about the cost of work is telling, I pay £80 a month on transport costs alone, plus throw in food, sheesh...

September 07, 2005 12:12 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Of course, this is only that practical in a country with enough available land for those cottages to exist. It wouldn't work in the UK for instance - English townie demand has been squeezing out young Welsh for a long time. But even in places like Canada, the plan wouldn't be quite as useful as that makes out, because of the falalcy of composition. that is, if every Canadian family tried it, the cottages would rise in value to more than $120,000 - and more seriously their equity in their old homes would collapse. Such a scheme in fact needs to be brought in incrementally, on the back of old style building societies for instance.

September 07, 2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Some of these assumptions seem incredibly arbitrary.

Primarily, it is incorrect to say that the price of a home is an entirely "work related" expense. This seems to assume that the choice of country over city living is based on employment, or that people would not like to live in big cities. One reason people live and work in big cities is because it is a lot better than working on a farm.

This leads into the second assumption, which basically says it is preferable to live your life making clothing or furniture, doing renovation, lawn maintenance, driving people around, or whatnot than to be employed in a more conventional setting. Most of those things I wouldn't want to do.

And then add on the intentional community. I have lived in a co-op. It was actually a great place to live. However, sharing vehicles, meal preparation, and other duties seems bleak. You state "maybe work an hour a day, or one day a week each, for outsiders, and the rest of the eime would be your own, to spend with those you love doing things you love doing." This assumes that you love cooking for nine other people. It assumes you love farming and producing your own energy. It assumes that nine people can get along. It assumes that 8 other people will let you use the car. My guess is that you would be as much of a "slave" to the intentional community as "wage slaves" are now.

September 08, 2005 5:34 PM  
Blogger Presto said...

Living in an intentional community (IC) is one of many options for breaking out of the job trap. I personally am hesitant to live in one because of past horror experiences with roomates. I am more content to live alone or with a significant other. I would have to know possible co-horts in an IC very well if I was to try it.

As far as living on a farm goes, I wouldn't mind it a bit, as long as it was meant to be mostly for the use of the people living there, with perhaps a little extra to sell at the farmer's market for a little extra money.

While I might quibble with some of the details in Dave Pollards's post, his overall point is quite valid. Much of our living expenses today are connected with working at a conventional job. Having some other way of getting the necessaries of life without one can greatly reduce or eliminate need for a conventional job.

I've been studying the Voluntary Simplicity (VS) folks for quite a while, and many of them have multiple ways of making money. Most grow their own food, but don't necessarily become full-blown farmers. Some build furniture, some design web sites, some are artists - just about any thing you can think of for a small business would qualify. Most do several. Flexibility is important in such a life. Barter is also an important part of living on less money, but you can do that in or out of an IC.

Thing is, many of these people only have to put in half a normal work day to get by. Without the expense of commuting and all the other trappings of the corporate life, the remaining costs can be relatively small, if you choose to dump unnecessary expenses.

In addition, there are many benefits for those with families. Most children are left to be raised by public schools, babysitters, and TV. A V.S. lifestyle allows the parents and kids to be together if the parents work at home and the kids are homeschooled.

The V.S. back-to-the-land life is definitely not for everyone, but it is just one of many possible choices for getting out of the job trap. I have not taken the plunge yet, but I'm thinking about starting down that road sometime next year. I'm sick of 'working for the man' and want to have my work reflect my values. I'd much prefer to spend four hours a day working in my garden or building furniture than the 10 hours a day I have spent staring at spreadsheets and circuit boards the last few years.

September 08, 2005 7:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

P.M. Lawrence,

The fallacy of composition point is a good one. On the other hand, an equal number of people would be selling off their middle class houses in built-up areas, perhaps having an opposite effect on the suburban real estate market.


That's a fair criticism. There's a lot about communal living I wouldn't like, either. But what Pollard describes is just one economically feasible alternative for those who are into that sort of thing, and another example of building counter-institutions.

September 08, 2005 8:02 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Speaking of artists and barter (two things brought up in Presto's comment), I noticed this intriquing article at Yahoo news of all places earlier today. A barter exchange involving artists and performers volunteering time to share their talents with hospital patients in exchange for health care coverage at that hospital!

September 08, 2005 9:57 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

The best way to understand the fallacy of composition is to realise that the money numbers only reflect the marginal cost of releasing existing housing and buying new housing. Putting aside the money numbers you see that there aren't at any instant enough cottages available to adapt. There is enough land, so what is needed is to mobilise resources for new appropriate construction. Ultimately, old urban housing stock would hardly help at all - in most cases it would have to be torn down before conversion. The building society model at least keeps any profit from the conversions in people's own hands, and enforces a slow enough transition to avoid distortions - say, losing out on manufacturing. You need new, not diverted investment.

September 09, 2005 12:37 AM  

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