The ongoing collapse of our global, “official” economy means that increasing numbers of us are going to be cut off from our present livelihood, just as many of us have already been cut off. According to a recent Washington Post article, some economists are saying that the U.S. economy shrank by 6 percent during the last quarter of 2008. (Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/29/AR2009012902248.html) Those of us who still have jobs and rely on them should have a plan for restructuring our lives so that we can survive without a job (or at least the jobs we now have). Now I can hear some readers saying “Duh! You should have started thinking about such things long before now!” Let me assure such people that I have indeed been thinking about such things for the last several months, though I am nowhere near as prepared as I'd like to be.
But I've also been reading blogs and other writings from others who are thinking of how to survive and thrive without a job. It's natural for many minds to gravitate toward this subject, when one considers that most workers are debt slaves, which leads to becoming wage slaves of corporations. Because these corporate masters put the profit motive above all else, most employees find themselves under some form of constant daily stress from antagonistic or uncomfortable elements of their day-to-day work environment. This stress gives rise to the oft-expressed wish to break away from corporate slave-drivers, yet the debt load carried by many workers prevents them from doing so, and indeed keeps them in a constant state of terror over the prospect of losing their jobs.
As I just said, the stress and fear of debt/wage slavery is fertile ground for thoughts of escape. These thoughts are sometimes expressed in songs, like “Big Boss Man,” “Maggie's Farm,” “Five O'Clock World,” and “A Hard Day's Night,” from the 1960's, or Paul McCartney's “I've Had Enough!” from a later time. But they are also expressed in plans, and the plans all seem to run along one particular track, as follows: One day an employee faces the implications of the fact that most of his “possessions” are only his to enjoy on credit, and that his employer knows that he “needs the money,” and is therefore likely to submit to any conditions imposed on him. The employee naturally does not like this, and longs for escape. To him, escape means “financial security,” which in turn means having all that he could ever need or want without ever again having to worry about how to pay for it.
Those who advise such an employee regarding financial security tell him that the road to that security consists of getting as much money as he can, maximizing his claim on the official economy as much as possible, in order to claim as much as possible of the resources produced by that economy. So our employee may embark on strategies suggested by the media, who hold up examples of people who got rich quick by doing nothing more than showing up on a TV game show, or who struck it rich as singers, cartoonists (like Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert), or freelance writers. Or he may go out every week and buy Lotto or Powerball tickets from 7-11 or Plaid Pantry or Circle K. Or he might try to generate secondary income streams by trying to make money from the Internet, as in starting a “financial planning” website and marketing his own advice. Goodness gracious, he might even take up “frugality,” with the goal of putting aside a little money every week for the purpose of “reinvesting” it in some supposedly wealth-producing part of the economy.
But if the global, official economy is in fact collapsing, and if this collapse is due to the appearance of fundamental, structural ecologic, environmental and resource limits to growth, then such a strategy is profoundly wrong. If the economy is collapsing for the reasons I just stated, then trying to achieve “financial security” by maximizing one's claim on that economy through getting lots of money is as misguided as trying to buy a penthouse office in a skyscraper that is crashing to the ground.
Therefore when I think about learning to live without a job, I am not thinking about trying to become “independently wealthy” in the usual sense. This isn't about money. But it is about readjusting one's life so that one no longer depends on a breaking system. One thing that a person discovers in that readjustment is that a man can't really escape the need to work. As the Good Book says, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat,” and, “...that you make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands...” There is also this: “Let our people also learn to maintain good works (more literally, “honest occupations”) for necessary uses, that they may not be unfruitful.” (Titus 3:14 and other Scriptures, World English Bible.) Work has formative and redemptive value, as long as it's not carried out under conditions of enslavement. But living without a job, as many jobs are currently defined, means being able to find your own work and reap the fruits of your own labor without having to rely on some huge corporate employer for these things.
If we are going to find our own work, many of us will need to develop entirely different skills – skills that are essential to life, rather than merely optional. In a deindustrializing, shrinking economy, most of us will find that we can live without personal life coaches, yoga teachers, baristas, auto detailers, financial consultants, plasma-screen TV salesmen and cable service providers, time management experts, and so forth. But if you can set broken bones, fix infected teeth, create a business that makes bicycle parts, build a rammed-earth house, design a safe (and it had better be safe!) sewage-recycling/composting system, teach basic academic subjects, make secondhand machinery from recycled parts, or do other vital or extremely useful things, you'll have a very large amount of work to do.