Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Am I building a Tractor, or is it a metaphor?

I discovered today that one of my readers didn't realize that I was actually building a tractor. So let me be clear. I am building a real tractor that does real things and produces real value. This is not a metaphor. This is a machine that does work. This is the most subversive economic action that I've ever taken. This has the chance to move me from a knowledge economy where I work 40+ hours a week, to material economy where I work 15+ hours a week.

It is no guarantee. This isn't a sure thing. It's a gamble where I risk some money, time and effort. In exchange I will get a tractor, mechanical facility, and material skills (welding, machining, practical design). I might get economic autonomy for significantly reduced effort. Is it worth it? If it all falls apart, I walk away with my 'will gets'. If it works, thenI walk away with freedom from a deeply compromised economic system.

Our economy channels money from the masses to the super-rich. These people work primarily in the knowledge economy where their money, luck, and situation allow them to reap enormous material well being for negligible material effort. Many of them have resigned from work and continue to reap the benefits of past work (stocks, bonds, investments, patents, copyrights...) Then there are the vast majority of Americans who working day in and day out to support the super-rich. They make the cloths, electronics and shoes that situate the rich so comfortably.

These people work long hard hours in the material economy and pay most of the profits of their labor to those in the knowledge economy. Doesn't it seem strange that a clever idea about what to produce and sell (knowledge) can satisfy the material needs of an individual for their entire life while backbreaking labor for 40+ years barely satisfies the material needs of a different individual from day to day?

The problem is size. America rewards individuals for finding ways to convince others to work on their behalf. It's a hierarchy and being at the top is best-- you get the most. This works in a big community when the top dog has other top dog friends. In a smaller community, the top dog sees the hardship they cause and the bottom dogs see who causes their suffering. In a big community, change is hard and slow. In a small community, hardship is a recipe for fast change.

So what about my tractor and my freedom? How do these relate? Well, small communities can't be globalized. They have to live locally. Building a small community based on locally available materials is only possible in two situations. Either the participants accept the need for a lifestyle of barely surviving, or they depend on technology to multiply their effort.

Agricultural technology like the tractor is responsible for the trend toward higher density human population that has been prevalent in all recorded human history. This is because it allowed one farmer to do the work of 10 farmers. The other 9 would-be-farmers end up doing other tasks like business and hedge fund management. Without technology like tractors, there isn't enough surplus time in a community to allow for surplus production like comfortable beds and clothing.

So, to start a small community that is free of many of the boils of American Capitalism, one starts by producing tools. These tools allow high productivity individuals and therefore a comfortable community. And so, I build a tractor.

(I'll be in the shop again for the first time in more than a month tomorrow. Expect a progress update soon.)