Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Opting Out

So... Been down on the farm recently? Well, neither have I. And that just may be part of the problem with our current economy.

No, I'm not one of those "No Farms, No Food" types who'll tell anyone who'll listen about how agriculture is getting the shaft. My point is a little different. Back in the days when most Americans were farmers, craftsmen, et cetera, if you went to the Big City to find work, you were looking for a better living than the one you could make for yourself to start with. And if it didn't work out, you had a fallback - you could always return to the farm. It may have been hard on one's pride, but you had a skill set that you could use to support yourself without needing to be consistently employed by someone else (and thus effectively dependent on a paycheck from that person). You had a way to Opt Out, and that created a level of balance.

So I've been wondering. How do we create another Opt Out economy today? How do we give people the option of walking away, without forcing them to risk starvation if they do so? A return to large-scale subsistence agriculture could work, but I suspect that it would take at least a couple of generations to get the needed skills out into the general population, and that still leaves city dwellers, who may have little or no land to work, at a severe disadvantage. Of course, there would be other problems as well.

But one of the things that we need to do, I believe, is replace some of the elasticity of the labor market. And the only way to do that is to give people more options than either working for the man every night and day or sleeping out on the streets.

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