Discovering True Wealth
Many people, including me, have been wrestling since 2008 with the question of ‘what’s going to happen in the future?’ in regards to our economy. In the four years since, the economies of the world have grown at a snails pace. In the meantime, damage from the effects of global warming have steadily taken out more and more GDP in damage, threatening to nullify the small gains in growth.
To find answers to this question, I have read widely over the years. It was ultimately the economic collapse of 2008 that lead me to boating and the inspiration for living on the boat. I started by reading widely on the subject of living on a boat. All in the Same Boat and Living Aboard a Boat were huge inspirations to me.
Evenatually, my search for knowledge regarding life on a boat lead me to Teresa Carey’s Sailing Simplicity site. Reading her blog introduced me to the concept of Voluntary Simplicity. I began reading further on the subject, including the ‘original’ book Voluntary Simplicity and Linda Breen Pierce’s inspiring work Choosing Simplicity.
Following these concepts further, I discovered fascinating new books combining voluntary simplicity with economics such as Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics, which I highly recommend.
Through all this reading, I began to construct a personal way of living (a personal economy) that was right for me. This included my plans to live on a boat, quit my job, and pursue writing about the San Juan Islands and work with open source projects. This is work that I am passionate about. Writing about the San Juan Islands draws more attention to the irreplaceable asset we have in the Puget Sound and Islands. My work with the Free Charge Controller allows me to directly participate in the discovery of new green technologies to help society.
Discovering PlenitudeI recently purchased and read a copy of the Moneyless Manifesto. While this book is fascinating in its own right, I believe it to be too radical for most people. However, a footnote lead me to Plenitude (released in paperback as True Wealth) by Juliet B. Shor, a professor of sociology and economics.
The pillars of Plenitude are:
- A new allocation of time
- Self provisioning
- True Materialism
- Social Capital
A New Allocation of Time
A major concept of the book is that the focus by modern economics on money and GDP is too narrow. The book advocates that the natural environment around us as well as our social connections with other people are parallel and ‘hidden’ economies that add value to our life. In terms of well-being, quality-of-life, or even just putting food on the table, these alternative economies are just as important to our lives as GDP.
With this concept in mind, the author advocates a new allocation of our time in the future. She champions a reduction in working hours. At the personal level, this would give people more time to develop these alternative economies, which I’ll cover in more detail in the sections below. At the business level, it would help businesses cope with the inevitable reduction in growth by lowering their overhead without cutting jobs, or alternatively, they could hire more people at reduced hours, thereby ‘spreading the wealth’ and reducing the threat of widespread unemployment.
The concept of self provisioning can be summarized in one sentence:
The less one has to buy, the less one is required to earn.
This goes beyond simply growing a garden to supplement food costs, although that is a great first step. It also includes the entire Maker and DIY mentality of learning how to fix the things you have. It includes learning to forage, hunt, fish, and respect the limits and bounty of your local ecology.
In economic terms, self provisioning is the opposite of specialization. Take myself as an example. As an electrical engineer, I have spent years learning a specialized field. The economic model is that by being a specialist, I can command a greater income in order to pay for other specialists to service my other needs, such as plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics. In the future, everyone’s purchasing power will be decreased. In this scenario, it will be much more valuable for me to learn to fix the plumbing in my house, how to service the engine in my car, and how to wire a house, rather than paying someone else to do it.
True Materialism is closely related to the concepts of time allocation and self provisioning. It means moving away from the throw-away society and purchasing products that can be repaired. This requires one to have the time to make wise purchasing decisions as well having the time for learning to fix the device. This mentality is being championed by the DIY community through events such as Maker Faire and open source products such as those sold through Seeed Studio, Etsy, and many other outlets.
This concept also covers the rising popularity of buying local and adopting sustainability. It means choosing consumable products wisely: buying locally produced food, sustainably produced clothing, adopting low-impact modes of travel, etc.
Finally, the book advocates the fostering of your social network – both online and offline. I first read about this concept in Sacred Economics. The author of that book pointed out that the monetization of the world has the unintended consequence of killing community.
In our grandparents time, people needed community. Day care wasn’t a service you could or would want to pay for. If you needed a special tool, it was more economical to borrow it from a neighbor than purchase it. An unspoken economy of reciprocity dictated that if your neighbor helped you, then you would be there to help them in the future. This is known in economics as social capital.
Social capital is literally the value that you extract (and give) to your local community. By monetizing day care, selling cheap foreign tools, and hiring specialized labor, we no longer depend on our community and as a result our social capital atrophies.
This was a huge “Awe ha!” moment for me when I realized this. This was something that I had never been taught as a child. It was a completely new concept to me.
Focusing On A Life of True Wealth
Going forward, I plan to actively foster these four concepts in my life. In fact, it’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last few years without even realizing it. But now, thanks to True Wealth, I have a structured economic justification for what I know in my heart is the right thing to do.
Restoring the Rock ‘n Row has allowed me to practice Self Provisioning and True Materialism. Growing a garden, learning to forage and fish, and learning the skills of food preservation like canning, freezing, jamming, and drying is my way of Self Provisioning. Sharing my food, knowledge, and time with friends allows me to grow my Social Capital. Finally, by quitting my job in May, I am taking steps to reallocate my time and focus on True Wealth, not just monetary income. I will no longer have to sacrifice my life for money. I can instead live my life while reducing the need for money in my life.