Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Motivations for homesteading: economic woe

Why do we homestead?

There are multiple reasons, which we're touched on before, and will return to.  The specter of peak oil, the useful pleasure of learning practical skills, the aesthetics of homegrown food and wood-burning fires: yes, these and more fed into our decision to build an outpost of the 19th century in the 21st.

Here's another one: fear of the economic future.  As John Robb starkly warns in a WELL discussion,
I think most of the folks reading this are missing the elephant in the room on resilience.  Simply:  we are in the first stage of a global economic depression.  That's the event that is going to frame your life for the next couple of decades.
Now, economic forecasting is famously tricky, and even dubious in light of the 2008 crash (largely unanticipated by academic macroeconomists and the lords of finance).  So we cope by opting for continuous research and speculative scenario analysis.

Research: we've been reading and reflecting like mad.  Books, podcasts, Web sites, blogs; economists and analysts: just about everything except tv news.  We aim to attend to multiple perspectives, left and right, divergent economic schools, quantitative and qualitative methods.  And, social media style, we push out our thoughts to the world in order to learn more, via Facebook, in email, Twitter, Google+.

Scenarios: it's traditional to generate three futures across a spectrum of desireability, one happier than the present, one unpleasant, and one which looks like more of the same.  So the third option for the near-to-medium-term future looks like Japan's lost decade, a grinding, ongoing recession.  What about the first option, the better outcome story?  We can imagine a minor recovery ahead, maybe driven by health care's steady growth, or a surprising technology boom (say, nanotech).

The negative scenario tactic we see is one where things keeping getting worse, which would mean that the present Great Recession deepens into depression, as Robb lays out.  Depressed employment and consumer spending keeps businesses from expanding, which leads to shrinkage over time.  Financial crises continue to shock the world, such as the one unfolding now in Europe.  America's population continues to grow, as do federal and state budget woes.  Oil shocks recur.  Unemployment rises, depressing spending, weakening business, which then sheds more jobs, as the economy spirals downwards.

That worst case scenario has enough likelihood to merit further consideration, based on all of our research and discussions.  It's not a Black Swan rarity, but a seriously possible future. Like any seriously possible worst case, this depressive scenario therefore merits present planning, along with action:
Within that context, resilience is about bootstrapping an economy that works for you, your family, and your community.  About taking control and being in charge of your future.
Our homestead practice is precisely that.  On Pagan Lane, we have been steadily building towards sustainability, from food raising to off-the-grid infrastructure.  It's incomplete, hence our parallel practice of working closely with Ripton's community.

And it's a strange way of life.  Most folks regard us genially, but quizzically.  The more people buy into credit- and oil-fueled consumerism, the likelier they are to not see the point.  Politically, partisans of sitting governments - both parties - tend not to share our thoughts (nowadays it's easier to get into conversations with Republicans).  Simply talking about economic worries can alienate listeners/readers into silence.  Again, Robb:
Granted, it's a big shift in thinking.  We live in a culture that's based on complete and utter dependence (I don't buy into the fantasy that just having a big savings account or a pile of gold makes you free).
It's taken years of our lives to get to this place, both physically and mentally (especially Bryan).  Somedays it feels like we've seceded from the world of malls, credit cards, and tv.  In another post we could deal with the criticism we've received.  But for now let's establish this one link out of many, between homesteading in the Green Mountains and our fears for the global economy worsening.

More on Robb: his blog is content-rich.  This wiki looks like a fine resource for disaster preparation, homesteading, resilience, and sheer practical knowledge.


Iggy O said...

Bryan, my only concern with many of us homesteaders is that we may not be building good community where we choose to live.

The lone homesteader can be easy prey to corrupt local officials, roaming criminals, and even greedy neighbors as social order becomes more localized and the rule of law weaker.

I'm not thinking of a "World Made By Hand" collapse. Just a return to 1930s conditions would do: my parents lived through that Depression, and loners were easy prey.

For our part, we are getting friendly with the neighbors now, before stresses accumulate in the Long Emergency we both know is coming. It wont' be foolproof, but it's better than being the "city folks who never stopped to chat."

I've got a neighbor who hunts some of our land and will be helping me gate it (he gets a key). That sort of favor will repay itself 100x over if another neighbor acts up. I happened to have chosen just the right man to be my "neighbor friend."

Ceredwyn said...

This is 100% correct, Iggy. We try to be active in our community for just this reason. One obvious place for me is that I (Ceredwyn) am on the local Volunteer Fire Department and am also the Town Service Officer. Bryan serves on a bunch of different committees.

We're still newcomers (we weren't born in VT) but our involvement does give us street cred here. When I was taken to the ER by ambulance last summer, neighbors that we don't speak to much, stopped us on the street to ask how we were.

Small things like having someone to ask when your corn is not growing so well, or what's the best way to kill a chicken is huge. You don't have to be BFF with the neighbors, you just have to be, well, neighborly.

On the flip side, I have seen lots of people come and go in this town who couldn't adapt to the place. The woodchucks (local nomenclature for rednecks) click their tongues and mutter about "flatlanders" and "Californians" wanting to change Vermont.

These are the people who complain because the roads are dirt and class 4 roads are only plowed if you pay somebody. And these are the people who are screwed if they don't make some friends around here.

mythago said...

Why do they move there if they're just gonna whine about the dirt roads?

I'm kind of stunned that even on the WELL, people had to have it pointed out to them that we're in a global economic recession. Did it not occur to them there was a reason the price of their soy mocha whip latte at Starbucks went up?