Alternative Economy

   A radical a departure from standard practices of energy and housing facilitates an economic healing. As the cost of living is reduced to a fraction of that to which we are accustomed, we are free to escape the rest of economic maelstrom as well. None-the-less, a money-based economy is a transitional reality that needs to be addressed at at least a token level.
   The ideas suggested here are for people who have fallen out of this system or are about to, and any dollar they have is carefully managed. Beyond immediate provision, they also target commodities and services upon which mainstream society will increasingly depend. They are building blocks for a society that is more sustainable and secure.
New Rules For Prosperity
   Historically the best businesses pioneered new niches in a changing culture. Blockbuster video stores arose as video tape players became available to the public, and now their stores are closing as service has become faster, cheaper and better over the internet.
   OK, so I'm old, and I've seen a lot of changes in this world. The disconcerting thing is that the rate of change is increasing. Things we may not have imagined a few years ago are commonly making news today. The good news for the visionary and the bad news for the insecure is that the passing of some segments of our economy comes opportunity for new ones. It's difficult to get started in the oil well business right now, but many new solar energy companies are doing well.
   It is the challenge of the visionary to not only see what's ahead, but to discern its timing as well. The increasing populations and decreasing fossil resources can only translate into less for everybody (increasing poverty) for those who depend upon them. Less money means decreased access to commodities that have been expensively mined, expensively refined, expensively taxed and regulated, and expensively transported long distances.
   The ramifications of this are two-fold: 1. Lifestyles based upon a global economy are going to change (decrease, obviously). 2. Lifestyles based upon that which can be produced at local levels will become more common. Herein is opportunity: Energy, structures, materials, and food that can be produced locally in small-scale business will become increasingly dominant. This does not imply that they will prosper in terms we commonly view as prosperity, only that they will be the best of what's available to increasing segments of the population.
   Timing is another matter: As mentioned above, the rate of change is increasing. Political and economic gyrations and increasing violence are accelerating factors of unpredictable scale. I'll leave the rest of this prognostication up to you.
Some form of self-employment is the ideal.
   We have all experienced the frustration of meaningless servitude to jobs where reward was not tied to performance. I have spent years in situations where my pay and benefits had far more to do with politics than performance. Whether I worked hard, or did as little as possible had little to do with advancement. In a socialist system, where you are deprived of benefit or consequence for your level performance, there is no reason to be productive. This is why state-mandated communism is history's most consistently proven economic failure. Don't be deceived by China's appearance of prosperity today; it exists only because of free-world markets, and concessions to free-enterprise within its own system.
Minimize non-productive expenses.
   The talons of control have created avenues of access to the prosperity of those who are willing to work.
Produce things people need.
   When the economy falters luxuries are the first to go. We live in a world of decreasing natural resources and increasing population that can only translate into a decline in resources available per person. Since there is no foreseeable end to these trends, planning for the future requires alternative solutions to provision of the basics. By producing the basics of food, shelter, and energy locally, you can control access to your basic needs regardless of surrounding economic and political conditions. In the long run, these will be the most important games in town.
   All need not be austere. Make opportunity to add life and art to all you do. As you consider antique versions of functional items you will often find elegant craftsmanship and decoration. The art nouvoeau movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries combined grace, beauty, and creativity with functionality. Remember that life it more than existence, and express it by adding love and creativity to whatever your do.
Network – Function within a community.
   Industrialized society has made it practical to live your life without knowing or caring about your next door neighbor. This is wrong. We need the power of relationships with people around us to prosper in a changing world. Within this context be willing to freely give, and receive with gratitude. We all go through cycles of life and prosperity so be a part of an organism, rather than a stand-alone god in yourself.
The object is not to rejoin society, but to become the envy of it.
   How would life and it's pressures change if you paid no mortgage, rent, vehicle expenses of any kind, income taxes, license fees or car maintenance? Work is an easy walk or five-minute bike ride and you get to decide how to spend what you earn. Remember that money is only a tool, and by meeting your needs through labor and creativity, living requires far less of it. Living expense saved is the same as tax-free income. This also frees you from the insult of having to pay people to teach your children twisted social concepts and philosophies in public schools. Focus upon doing things that are worthwhile and fulfilling, rather than paper with fickle imaginary value.
Income and Barter
   Picture a graph with line beginning at the upper left and making a gradual jagged descent as it move towards the right. This represents the standard of living in industrialized nations as natural resources decline and populations increase. Now picture a line beginning at the lower left corner and creeping upwards as it moves to the right. This is the off-grid underground economy. It is the homeless with no legal place to live, and the people in disaster-stricken areas working to reinvent a new way of living. At some point these two lines will cross, and when they do those who know how to live responsibly with locally sustainable resources will have an advantage. It makes sense therefore to accelerate the rate of the ascending line to make the point of intersection as high as possible.
   Reinventing the world on a sustainable basis would be well served by providing products and services compatible with a long-term economy. Ideas offered here are partially based primarily on alternative technologies of off-grid living – begin by considering opportunities at the homeless level.
   Many homeless have regular small checks from SSI of other government agencies, so even services to other homeless should be considered. For those who may not conceive such a thing, homeless people do indeed sell things to each other besides drugs and alcohol.
   Recycling has long been a mainstay of homeless and others with inadequate incomes – keep up the good work.
   Day labor is a common mode of employment, but perform exceptionally for every opportunity you have. By doing so, I was soon being requested by name when I was doing day labor. Go beyond waiting at employment agencies and personally market yourself to construction companies on a regular basis, and keep it up. Believe it or not, some people even get tired of always saying no. If you've no place to live or have transportation problems, you could offer the extra service of camping at a construction site to provide security
   A few simple hand tools can enable a broad spectrum of fabrication and repair capabilities – consider:
   Covert high-efficiency wood stoves can be made (see Fire under Energy for more details) This category also enables ceramic projects for art and function.
   If there is a person willing to let people camp on their property, significant dome frames can be fabricated form low-cost metal tubing. A couple weeks ago I spent less than a half day fabricating struts for a dome of over 200 square feet. The cost for this frame (counting tax) was $106.00. If you don't need it for yourself, you might consider collecting a third of that amount for monthly rent from someone who does. See Metal Frames under Structures for helpful information and instructions along these lines.
   Many years ago I built simple solar panels that could bring heated air in through a panel in a partially open window – something like a window-mounted air conditioner.
   There are many people doing yard work, but few creative artists. Design and market specific container gardens so people can have fresh vegetables or spices on their patios or balconies.
   Occasionally someone comes by asking if I'd like our address painted on the curb. Their so-called “highest quality” paint usually washes off within three or four months. Do a good job with good materials instead, and show up periodically to “check up” on your work, and to offer other services – like washing windows or installing specialty gardens (see Food).
   Additional ideas can be found under More Technique.