Johnson liberating an unfortunate debtor
Welcome to this week's guest blogger - Philip Brewer.
There was a time when most people were self-sufficient. They acquired what they needed through some mix of hunting, gathering, fishing, farming, raising animals, and making things themselves. Not many people do that any more.
It's a hard way to live. It requires capital, because you need to own the land that will provide your bounty. It requires skills that you probably don't have. It requires a lot of hard work. And if you invest your capital that way and put in the hard work, you'll still live at a pretty low standard of living. You'll probably eat better than the guy working at a minimum wage job (because he's probably eating off what fast food joints used to call the dollar menu, before prices went up). But even at the bottom of the wage scale, someone who works at a job will be able to afford a much higher standard of living than a subsistence farmer, at least to the extent that you measure standard of living by how much stuff you have.
As a society, we've chosen to make this trade. Almost everyone works for wages. In return, they get a reasonably high standard of living. Miraculously high, really—the reason for the quaint old customs of hope chests and bridal showers is that it used to take two families saving diligently for years to outfit a new household. And the reason that those are now quaint old customs is that now you can earn enough to outfit your kitchen and linen closet in a few days at minimum wage.
It's a pretty good deal. You get everything you need (and plenty of wants) and all you have to trade is your freedom.
Personally, I always wanted freedom.
Fortunately, although society has chosen to take this deal, you don't have to. Even better, you can pick and choose—you can take the parts of the deal that appeal to you and reject the rest.
The key is to avoid debt. That isn't easy. It wasn't easy when I went to school, and it's much harder now. But if you avoid debt (or get out of debt), you can choose freedom.
You can even have a job, if you want. (As I say, you'll have a much higher standard of living than someone who strives for self-sufficiency, although perhaps not as much as someone who runs their own small business.)
To make it work—to preserve your freedom—you need to live within your means (and by a good bit). That lets you put aside some savings as a cushion. More important, it means that if you lose your job you can take a lower-paying one and still support yourself.
Most people don't seem to care much about that sort of freedom. Most people take on commitments—leases, mortgages, debts of all sorts—that obligate them to come up with cash that would be totally beyond their means, unless they had a job. And not just any job—the highest paying job they can find.
In the past, when people were trapped in bondage, it usually required the use of force to catch them and force them to work: slavers, debtor's prisons, and the like.
Now we've come up with a system where the use of force is barely used at all. (That is, barely used at all to make people go to work. It's used plenty to "keep order.") We don't enslave people; we convince them to enslave themselves. And most of them do it for little more than a big house and a fast car.
I wanted the freedom to be a full-time writer. It's not an impossible sort of freedom to achieve, if you start by accepting that you'll probably be pretty poor.
Personally, I think it's a much better trade.