Economy and "Economics"

This web site is now being managed from Central Maine, about forty miles southwest of Bangor -- culturally, at least, quite a ways from our headquarters in the wilds of Manhattan. Our earning power in this economy has dropped precipitously, but -- thank goodness -- pretty much in proportion to our cost of living. Ways and means, tools and techniques for making a living are frequent topics of conversation around the mid-morning coffee-break table. And a good bit of this talk -- especially among folks like us who are not native Mainers but are referred to as "in-migrants" -- concern economic activities that are decidedly out of the mainstream.

Why mow and rake a field of hay with horse-drawn tools, when tractors are available? Why raise organic vegetables for a market that guarantees you a wage of less than a dollar an hour? Examples abound. Wooded acreage is relatively plentiful in central Maine, where winters are long and energy expensive -- so most people heat their homes with wood. Here you find professional people who would never, in any quasi-urban economy, trade an hour of their toil for less than fifteen dollars, putting in, say, sixteen person-hours of toil to bring in a cord of wood, cut, split and seasoned. The current market rate for that cord is $125, which yields an opportunity cost of $7.19 per hour for doing it yourself, not to mention the higher cost of health insurance caused by all those woodlot injuries! Clearly something more than mere economics is at work.

These tensions between economics and economy lead us naturally to Henry David Thoreau and his Walden, that bible of making an art out of making a living. Thoreau, admonishing us to "beware of any activity that requires new clothes" (an admirable sentiment!) went into the woods in a deliberate endeavor to strip away all layers and veneers of style and learn the minimum natural requirements for a worthwhile life. He has many kindred spirits. Thoreau never tallied the opportunity cost of the hours he spent raising his house, did he? Nor could he ever have factored in the cash value of his delight in a job well done. Economists might not like to admit it, but there is (or there can be, let's say) an area in every life where work (economic labor) blends into personal satisfaction or leisure. We could even coin a neo-Marxian term and say that growing numbers of people are seeking a more fulfilling, less alienating way of using their labor power -- a "disalienation," which is worth money to them.

A big part of the disalienating lifestyles that many people seek is a desire for eco-friendliness, a search for environmentally sustainable living -- which often comes, again, at the expense of quite a bit of toil. The farmer who plows and hays with his horse admits a sacrifice in absolute efficiency but, "hey, he runs on renewable fuel." (When pressed, the farmer might also admit that he simply likes his horse and finds a kind of compensation in their working relationship.) Eco-friendliness for its own sake is expensive in our throwaway society, and therefore people have no choice but to devote some of their leisure time to it.

The rewards are considerable, yes, but the challenges to making a living -- anywhere -- are strong. Though the folks in Maine may feign disbelief, it's not hard to see why more people aren't going for the eco-friendly, disalienated lifestyle. It just costs too much for most people, and not just in terms of dollars per hour. We also function within an overall economy that penalizes nonconformity: yet another opportunity cost of not being bothered. For years and years I have avoided getting a credit card -- for an entirely personal, stubborn, noneconomic reason. The credit card, you see, provides the seller with absolute certainty of payment. There is no mistake, no need for judgement calls, no dependence on knowing the people you're dealing with -- in short there are none of those fuzzy human factors that introduce profit-lowering risks: no muss, no fuss. What could be more alienating?

But you see: alienation is profitable. Time is money, and stopping to pat your hardworking horse is hay that goes unmowed! For every hundred customers that you treat like trustworthy human beings, there will be one deadbeat. Give up seven possible dollars an hour cutting your own firewood, when you've got a mortgage to pay!? Get real, friends, and join the mainstream. It's rough there, true -- but it's rougher still out on your own.

The economic analysis you'll find on this web site is out of the mainstream, too. As a matter of fact, one of our prime concerns is the enhancement of non-mainstream opportunity. If we can go into business for ourselves and be happy and prosperous, then the throwaway culture will be forced, by the ineluctable magic of the marketplace, to offer us more.
Lindy Davies, July 18, 1997

Here's what folks have been saying:

I am allergic to hay. I drive an Acura Integra. I own a nice brownstone. I LIKE the mainstream.
Max Schmoo <[email protected]>
Brooklyn, NY USA - Tuesday, July 22, 1997 at 14:49:50 (EDT)
i started the henry george course and got your letter. thanks. I sent in a couple of courses and then got bogged down with other matters though i have continued to read extensively the works of this wonderful and profound man, little read and greatly misunderstood. i will continue the course by web unless this continues to take the time that it does. It is driving me up the wall. you love maine, i went to school there at bates in lewiston, and love the state and the individuals that populate it. great down to earth people those maniacs. you do not like the credit card but like the computer? hello? where do i stand with the program? where did i stop sending in the answers. george and thoreay and paine! wow, what minds, what strength.
anthony w. orlandella m.d. <[email protected]>
dana point, ca usa - Tuesday, July 29, 1997 at 20:43:10 (EDT)
the mainstream like everything else in creation is a mixture of good and evil...the law henry george rediscovered is the way to hasten the evolution of goodness and eliminate ignorance
- Friday, August 01, 1997 at 17:08:03 (EDT)
you said it, *

- Monday, August 04, 1997 at 18:33:21 (EDT)

does this make sense...lvt will let everyone enjoy the mainstream without destroying the planet
- Tuesday, August 19, 1997 at 15:32:07 (EDT)
I think so...Hmmm: Seattle. A clue!

But for that to be so, we must remember that the "l" in lvt includes all natural opportunities, including such valuable things as breathable air, natural diversity, and the protection of resources for generations to come. That is a proper definition of land in my book, and if we see it that way, then "LVT" will truly have these revolutionary good effects. Y'know?
Lindy in Maine
- Wednesday, August 20, 1997 at 11:38:35 (EDT)

Please have a peak at the IWW Discussion board.We're at I've set a posting concerning the Henry George Institute.
Over the Hills and Faraway, - Tuesday, September 02, 1997 at 18:47:31 (EDT)