Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homesteading and Progress

If we have to learn to slow down, Vermont is a pretty good place to do it.
Are we homesteading against the end of progress?

That's one thought underpinning our practice here.  Ceredwyn and I are both Generation X kids, raised with the thought that our parents' generation could well represent a high-water mark for American social/material achievement.  As adults, we perceive several specters: peak resources (water and especially oil), climate change, and financial crisis.  Against the enormous stressors our homesteading is a tiny bulwark, or a small lifeboat to sail rising, turbulent seas.

This Vermont Digger post recently brought the end-of-progress idea before our eyes. Will Patten (where's your Web presence, man?) summarizes the grim big picture, then focuses in on how Vermont can cope.

The new localism is important, but it's not an unmitigated good:
Local economies will be strengthened by this development; local manufacturing will make a comeback. However, both manufacturing and retail will be hampered by reduced buying power and product selection.
I wonder how our family will rethink having access to fewer goods and services over the next decade.  We're used to variety, but mostly cultural, often digital.  Will having a smaller menu for non-digital items irk, down the road?  We've taken steps to disengage from hyperconsumerism: no tv, not living in a city, making few shopping trips, not celebrating consumerism.  I hope that's enough to train our expectations.

Patten moves on to regulations:
We “leak” billions of dollars out of state every year for food and energy that will be needed more urgently than ever to sustain the new economy. New state regulations will be needed to encourage “main street” investors to fund local generation of food and energy. The return on these investments will become more attractive as the market value of both food and energy increase.
I don't know if Vermont is ready for this.  At the state level, we have a mixed record: pro-civil rights (gay marriage) and health care, but weak on connectivity and tech.  For our little town and homestead I'd love to see some regulatory support for our local efforts.

Here's another very Vermont issue:
Employment will no longer serve as the prime distributor of social services such as health care and retirement plans. Self employment will increase and micro finance will be available for micro businesses. More importantly, quality of life will replace career as the definition of success.
On the one hand, this is bad news.  It means less health care, probably less insurance in general, reduced purchasing power, and smaller nest eggs.  On the other, quality of life is something Vermont has in abundance.
...unless one has to work feverishly to stay afloat, knitting together multiple microjobs.  Then one might find oneself commuting in beauty, falling asleep from exhaustion amid lovely forests.

Put another way, homesteading in Vermont is the creation of a parallel life, a world in opposition to the other world:
Fresh water, lush farm land and healthy forests are much more attractive assets today than credit default swaps and securitized mortgages. 
We have two of those three good things here, fine water and trees.  Our farmland isn't lush yet, but we learned how to amend it, and are building the soil back.

What practical responses can we make, if Patten's right?
One good avenue for us is education.  "Workforce training will become the focus of secondary schools and continue in online, technical and community colleges."  That's my area of expertise, so perhaps it will keep on being so.

Another is microeconomics: "Labor and purchasing cooperatives will flourish and bartering will gain new acceptance."  Our town-based networking is vital for this future.

Perhaps we and Patten are incorrect.  Our forecasts of grim times will be disproven by a blossoming economy, powered by a force we can't see right now.  The financialists will solve their problems, or a new technology save the day.  That's a fine subject for another post.

For now?  Raising animals, growing crops, hewing wood, drawing well water, learning woodcraft, building with stone: this is all an assertion of possibility amid beauty and danger.  Our homesteading is a hedge against the hedge fund world's decline.

1 comment:

Iggy O said...

Wealth based in land and tangible goods: the future.

Wealth based on traded illusions: the past.

What is this not at the top of Econ 101 syllabi, Bryan?