Living off the grid, on a remote and at times isolated island, is certainly a lifestyle (choice) which many seem to be in some form or another dreaming of. Imagining a life in harmony with nature, where ecological sustainability is a top priority, where one seeks not only financial security or independence but also independence from what I will just call ‘the system’ for the remainder.
Not likely the most adequate term for what I am thinking of, thus let me describe the reference. Well, in simple terms, I believe that there is this generic idea, which is taught repeatedly, of establishing financial independence, thus aiming at a comfortable lifestyle.
While there is nothing wrong in my opinion with such a motivation, at the end of the day, we all enjoy outsourcing jobs that we often depend on to others. For instance, when your car breaks down, you bring it to the mechanic, it is pleasurable to be able to buy lunch when you are at work, rather than having to cook it. When you want the best education for your kids, you send them to reputed private education-institutions, and as a last example, when you are seeking a home for yourself or your family, it would be nice, if you had the funds to pay for architects, landscapers, builders, interior designers etc.
Realistically, this is what money is there for. Having money equals to a great extent to the fact that someone will do the jobs for you, which you don’t want to do, which you might not be able to do, which you don’t have the time for. Of course it is easy to convince oneself of any of this.
In a capitalistic society, this makes perfect sense. A lawyer with great computer, communication, organisation and writing skills will earn more money focusing solely on the job as a lawyer and hiring a secretary or personal assistant, than trying to do both jobs. In analogy, even when you can fix a mechanical problem with your car, it will be more time and money-efficient if you leave the job to the mechanic.
The housing market in New Zealand is as contaminated and inflated as in many other developed countries. It is like buying perfume. Such a product has only little financial value in terms of ingredients, but we are still willing to spend a 100 dollars and more on a few centilitres of product. Yes, there is marketing, research, design, a supply-chain and so forth which are all part of the compounding price tag, but let’s be frank, the perfume will smell the same independent of how it is marketed and contained.
I believe the same holds for the housing market. A million-dollar home can be in terms of what it is made of and how it was made worth 60 thousand dollars. This could be termed a physical value, the additional 99% are a theoretical – perhaps practical – value.
The same is true for the land where the dwelling sits on. You just can’t convince me that 600 square meters of land, of which you only – if at all – own the surface is nearly worth what it has been sold for. In most cases the rates (housing/land tax) per annum exceed the physical value of the land.
Yes, location, location, location. 600 square meters in the right location can mean that you have a good view, that you are amongst a well-reputed schooling zone, that your neighbours will be similarly affluent as you are and so on.
I hope that, by now, you have a better understanding of what I refer to by ‘the system’. This system motivates you as a form of challenge and competition, to spend your time earning lots of money, so you can buy goods and services which are enormously over-priced. But the price is mostly irrelevant; the system is thus built that when you are done with whatever you purchased, you sell it for even more money.
Back in school, my economics teacher used to say that: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”
A price of a service or good is extremely relative, you can spend half a million dollars or more on 600 square meters of land in the Ponsonby area of Auckland – with the site being ridiculously advertised with its close proximity to shops and cafés – but you can purchase a physically identical piece of land somewhere else in Auckland for significantly less.
By the way, I paid for my property on the Barrier less than a dollar per square meter of land and there is even a small dwelling on it.
The line of thought here is that even if something is ridiculously overpriced, people will buy it, if there is a (generated) demand. Such a demand is therefore not necessarily existent, it is created. Schooling zones are an example of arbitrarily introducing demand.
While I am not stating anything new here, I feel the need to re-establish the fact with you, that working towards obtaining more and more money, so one can afford goods and services at dramatically exaggerated prices doesn’t appear to be the most worth-while goal in a lifetime. Especially when the individual looks at this retrospectively.
As great as I imagine it would be to be rich, to having a lot of expendable money, I sincerely doubt that this equates to a realistic form of independence. Money means that you can relax (if you are mentally still able to after making it all), while others do the jobs that are necessary for your life. Yes, you can afford to sit back, and this is to a great extent independence, but only as long as ‘the system’ lives, as long as the generated demand exists, as long as the value of your money stays the same.
Let me tell you that I am taking pleasure of a form of independence which can be rare in modern societies. I enjoy being able, mentally and physically, to perform tasks and work on my own. I don’t need an electrician so I can have power in my home, I don’t need an architect or builder to build a modest, but comfortable home.
Due to my academic background, it strikes me as even more bizarre when people claim that seeking knowledge and distributing such information – this can be in any field of work or research – is their main motivation for pursuing and following a career, when they literally have no understanding of the most mundane and most evident procedures, mechanisms and technologies etc. in their life.
A professor of physics who has no practical and usable knowledge of cars, or for that matter engines, simply cannot convince me that seeking knowledge in the subject field of physics is his/her main professional desire. It is actually a statement of utter indifference and arrogance towards science or technology as a whole.
In conclusion, allow me to raise this argument that one of the greatest benefits of an off-grid lifestyle, without great financial means, is the fact that one finds the time and justification to learn about all those things that are vital to modern living, and which are so easily taken granted for.
For a moment, imagine not working for money, but for the people around you. Members of your close community come to help you build a family house. The monetary value of such a home will be equal to the price tag of the ‘ingredients’ it is made of. Suddenly any one can afford a house! In turn you help the community with your services.
How big does a community need to be, to be fully self-sustainable and are our needs really that versatile?
Arguably, there are three core needs. Not necessarily in this order:
Education, Health Services, Energy and Food sustainability.
A month ago, I heard a woman talk about a Barrier Dollar. A local and amount-wise fixed currency, not susceptible to inflation, for that matter also not to tax. Wouldn’t it be astounding to realise the actual, physical value of those goods and services we rely on?