Ensuring Personal Independence

Last week Charles D. left a short but challenging comment stating:

I will be interested to read what steps you believe one can take to insure personal independence in the event of an economic collapse.

Today I will attempt to specifically describe what we can and must do to ensure that we are not utterly dependent on society. As I said before, I am not advocating that people should become hermits or dissociate themselves from society – in fact I advocate the cultivation of connections within society. On the other hand, when push comes to shove I am ultimately responsible to provide the necessities of life for me and my family and it is up to me to make sure that I do not fail due to a failure by someone else.

Since feeling the challenge of accurately addressing Charles’ question I ran into a reference to the book How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew. I think the title alone is descriptive of what I had in mind – being able to do for yourself or do without in as many things as possible. Basically, you should go through the following flowchart for everything you use and find a way to end up on the right side of the chart.

This gets down to some very basic things, like electricity and the foods you eat. If you are dependent on electricity you should be figuring out how much you need and looking for ways to produce it. For food production you need to have the skills and the resources necessary to produce a minimum supply for your needs

Thankfully you don’t have to be entirely alone. One of the things that you can do is cultivate a community of people you know who are willing to pool their skills and resources to produce their combined needs. For the most basic things you should find ways to produce, or actively contribute to the production of the things you are dependent on. For other things that you could live without but would prefer not to, it might be acceptable to be dependent on a member of your personal community to produce that particular thing, but you must be prepared to offer something of value in return for their production.

4 comments for “Ensuring Personal Independence

  1. Charles D
    January 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    Ideally (as in the Founding Fathers), one of the reasons we form governments is to pool our skills and resources to produce those goods and services we cannot provide as individuals. Like any organized community of people, a government is prone over time to forget its original intent or fall under the control of the more powerful members of the community. That has been the case with our own governments and perhaps it is time to restructure them to regain control and render them capable and willing of meeting our combined needs.

    Given that our economy is under the control of Wall Street interests, our oil supply is diminishing, and our water and other key resources are becoming more scarce and expensive, it does make sense to examine ways to live more simply and to limit our dependence on large amoral corporations. The goal of independence as shown in the chart is simply not possible for millions of Americans, but some can get closer by shifting their purchases toward small local suppliers where there might in future be the possibility of barter.

    Unfortunately most Americans who still have jobs work for large corporate employers and have no job or income security whatever. No doubt most do not possess sufficient arable land to grow a significant amount of food. Most do not actually own their homes free and clear. The stagnation in wages for the majority of the populace over the last 30 years and the volatility of the stock market has decimated the savings that might otherwise tide people over through a period of unemployment. As admirable as personal independence may be as a goal, it is simply not achievable for most of our citizens, particularly if conditions thrust millions of us into financial ruin in a short period of time.

    In addition, our current economic malaise is not the result of natural forces, it is the result of criminal behavior. Those who destroyed the livelihoods and life savings of millions are luxuriating on the yachts bought with their ill-gotten gains. Until they are brought to justice and forced to repay the billions they have stolen, it is unthinkable to demand more sacrifice from the innocent.

    • January 19, 2010 at 8:30 am

      You might be surprised at how little arable land is necessary to grow a significant amount of food I have seen a garden plan for 1/4 acre, with a house on it, that included space for fruit trees, vegetables, poultry, honey, spices, and grain. Remove the grain and 1/10 acre can still give significant production. Even people with no land can learn to grow some food indoors. The point is that anyone interested in being independent in any degree needs to start looking and thinking about what that means and then learning or practicing as necessary.

      Second, I don’t meant o appear soft on crime, nor do I excuse any criminal behavior, but we need to accept the fact that no matter how many criminals we bring to justice there is no way that they can ever repay more than a small fraction of the economic destruction they left in their wake – that’s the nature of crime, it leaves less than it started with – the opposite of honest labor that leaves more than it started with. In the case of large scale crime the destruction is always more than the criminal can make repay in restitution.

      Lastly, I am curious what “sacrifice from the innocent” you are referring to.

  2. Charles D
    January 19, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Well David, if you live in an apartment or the bank forecloses on your property then growing food is at best a symbolic gesture. Frankly a small garden started under less than ideal conditions by someone with no experience growing things is likely to reap few benefits. It’s not really a cost-justified action under those circumstances.

    As for sacrifices from the innocent, I consider that most Americans had nothing whatever to do with the financial collapse. They were reasonably prudent in their purchases, diligent in their jobs, and attempted to prepare for rainy days and retirement. However the financial collapse caused by the criminals on Wall Street with the active participation of the corporate government in Washington is causing them a great deal of harm. They are being laid off, foreclosed upon, and watching their savings evaporate through no fault of their own. Perhaps sacrifice is not the standard term since it implies volition, but we are being told there’s really nothing we can do and that we need to accept our plight and learn to live without. I reject that.

    • January 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

      Frankly a small garden started under less than ideal conditions by someone with no experience growing things is likely to reap few benefits.

      It’s true that a small garden started by someone with no real experience growing things is likely to reap few crops, but I know of no other way to gain experience in growing things. That is one benefit that is virtually always worth the cost. Best to start growing a small garden even under less than ideal circumstances before it ever becomes necessary to depend on that as a primary source of food than to find yourself depending on a complete lack of knowledge or practice and a total inability to even purchase the seeds to do that little bit to support yourself.

      I understand better what you are talking about regarding sacrifices of the innocent. I’m not sure if there is a better term than sacrifice for what you are describing. However, I think you may be underestimating the culpability of the average person. Too many of us were willing to live on credit when it was easily available and do so for things that were not remotely necessary (or in some cases even truly beneficial). True, there are those who are truly innocent who are nevertheless reaping the results of the economic foolishness that has been rampant in society for a long time, but like all crime, the damage to innocent people exists whether we like it or not and looking back to punish the most culpable perpetrators will only provide a partial solution at best.

      As for being told that there is nothing we can do, nothing could be further from the truth. There is always something we can do. However, holding on to the illusion that got us into this hole in the first place is not something we can afford to do. Learning to be more self-sufficient and more financially prudent was good advice even when times appeared good, and they are the best long term advice we could heed today.

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