Yesterday I mentioned that I feel it is important that we all add more elements of self reliance and self sufficiency to our lives. When I tell this to people I am usually met first with a blank stare and then the question "Why?" Or "What do you mean by self sufficiency?"
Let’s start with why. The short answer is because we live in interesting times. After several generations of North America being the dominant force in world politics, we are witness to a shift in power. As Asia becomes the rising economic power we, as North Americans, are starting to suffer the economic effects of our quest for the lowest price for our consumer driven society.
As we demanded lower and lower prices for manufactured goods and higher returns on our corporate investments, corporations began shipping manufacturing jobs to areas with cheaper labour rates. We have now outsourced, most of our manufacturing capability.
Global economy was seen as the way of the future. Cheap oil meant we could ship raw materials overseas, have someone else do the manufacturing, ship finished goods back and they were still cheaper that if we had produced them here! It seemed to be the American dream was a reality for all. Corporations made record profits, our mutual fund investments soared as the stock markets saw seemingly endless growth, housing values rose, an entire generation could send their kids to college or university our kids could be professionals. We had found the recipe for affluent upper middle class living.
Well, if it worked for manufacturing why not other sectors as well? We set to work transforming our entire culture. Economy of scale. Why have small farms producing a little of everything for a tiny market? We could consolidate; integrated supply chains. Let the big companies control the production. If they produce the feed, supply the stock and just ‘employ’ the farmers to raise the animals on a piecework basis, and then process the animals at our own meat processing plants, we can provide cheap food to the masses. A chicken in every pot.
The scary thing is ... it worked, sort of. North Americans have the cheapest food costs. We spend less of our take home income, as a percentage, than anywhere else. Unfortunately the true cost of this has never been factored into the equation. Food quality suffered, food safety suffered, the environment suffered and farm families suffered.
Well now it seems the good times are over. Cheap oil is no longer so cheap, the workers we out-sourced manufacturing to are no longer willing to work for slave wages. The emerging middle classes of these countries are demanding better wages and benefits and they want the North American lifestyle. The gadgets, the cars, the diet. This is causing exponential demands on limited resources; forcing the price of these commodities through the roof. Unfortunately, as money is tighter and tighter in North America, we can no longer afford our goodies the way we once could. As the economy here struggles, we consume less. This leads to reduced profits, companies lay off more employees, these people can afford less... it’s a vicious cycle; and in this cycle we see the shifting of power to the East.
This is the problem with measuring the success of a country on G.D.P.. Gross Domestic Product. Money flowing through peoples hands. It encourages spending, not saving. It doesn’t reflect a negative or positive event; in fact many negative events tend to do more for the GDP than positive ones. For instance, if you plan a wedding that’s good for the economy. You spend money on the wedding, renting a venue, buying or renting the clothes, feeding the guests etc. However, getting divorced? That’s great for the economy! Now two entirely separate households have to be established, and then there are the lawyers, and now there is an opportunity for two more weddings! The GDP just loves illness too. If you are sick you spend money! The more ill you are the more money it costs!
In North America we have managed to quantify everything in terms of cash. Everything has a price. It has eroded community structure, morals and values of our society and we have managed to sabotage the future of our children all in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
So what does this rant have to do with self sufficiency? Everything. We need to take back some control of our lives and our communities and the best way to do this is through self sufficiency.