Summer has arrived in Hubbard, Wisconsin. The June daytime high temperatures have been in the eighties with night temperatures in the fifties. This is the kind of weather that Dave likes, cool at night for sleeping, yet warm and comfortable during the day. For the last couple of days Dave has been cleaning up leaves that fell after the fall raking. He’s also had to pick up sticks on the lawn that winter wind and snow have claimed from maple and hackberry trees. By the time Dave finishes gathering up all of this natural debris his pickup is full.
Dave’s most practical choice for dumping his “compost” is to drive out to the farm of Tieg Rasmussen, known around Hubbard as “The Self Sufficient Man”. Dave has dumped his compost at Tieg’s for over 30 years, and the men enjoy each other’s company. Like Dave, Tieg is in his mid 50’s and while the two men are both non-conformists and mechanically inclined, they are on opposite ends of the “economic dependence” spectrum. Dave’s a free trader who relies entirely on specialization and exchange. As a result, Dave’s economic well being is inexorably tied to the fact that he receives money by selling goods and services, thereby exchanging that money for products and services he receives from others. Tieg stakes his mental and physical well being on the concept of self-sufficiency. His farm contains virtually everything he needs to live, including goats and cows for milk and meat, chickens for eggs, vegetable crops that can be canned for winter use, manure recycling for heat and cooking gas, solar panels, and wind-generated electricity with full battery backup. Tieg describes his farm as a “closed cycle” of complete economic independence.
As Dave shovels the sticks and leaves out of his truck into Tieg’s compost pile, Tieg breaks into his favorite topic of conversation; satisfaction with his own self-sufficiency. Tieg reminds Dave that he is vulnerable to the “rotting underpinnings of the capitalist economy.” Tieg says to Dave, “While I am self-sufficient and depend on nobody for my survival, you, my friend, will be in bad shape when the economy collapses. You must buy your food from the grocer, your gasoline from a corrupt oil oligopoly, and your clothing and consumer products from the Chinese and Bangladeshi’s. This whole false globalization economy of yours is going to collapse very soon and things are going to get real bad.” Yeah, says Dave, “It’s going to be bad for sure, I’m really going to be sucking gravel when the end comes.”
Dave knows better than to argue with Tieg about the economy and self-sufficiency. He distinctly remembers Tieg telling him thirty years ago that “the economy is going to collapse soon.” Thirty years later, Tieg is still talking about “the end of the capitalist economy” and the suffering it will bring. During those thirty years Tieg’s life has changed little. He has no luxuries and works seven days a week to make ends meet. There is no question that Tieg is self-sufficient while Dave is not. There is no question that if and when the “end of the capitalist economy” occurs, Tieg will be able to survive. But even Tieg depends on the capitalist economy. The batteries he buys for his electrical backup, the pump for his well, his tractor, his wagons; all of these are the products of others. While he doesn’t like to admit it, even Tieg must trade with others to survive.
While Dave’s income and standard of living have grown steadily over the past thirty years, Tieg annually reminds Dave about the pending economic calamity. What bugs Dave is that Tieg seems to be actually looking forward to a collapse of the U.S. economy! After all, such a collapse would vindicate Tieg’s reason for his self-sufficient existence and philosophy. It’s occurred to Dave that if Tieg goes to his grave without having witnessed an economic collapse, he’ll be dreadfully disappointed! What a legacy!
Dave sees things differently than Tieg. In Dave’s view the move from self-sufficiency toward specialization and exchange has been a primary tool in liberating the average American from backbreaking labor and poverty. With the dairy farmer specializing in milk production, the electrician specializing in wiring buildings, and the professor specializing in educating students, the farmer can send his daughter to college for a better education than he could provide if he tried to educate her himself. With the tuition income from the dairy farmer, the professor can hire the electrician to wire his home at a lower cost and with more safety than if he did it himself. The electrician can take his wages and buy milk that the farmer has produced without ever concerning himself with all of the technicalities of milk production. The entire society, by specializing and trading, has a greater variety of products and services, enjoys higher quality products and services, and pays a lower price for those goods and services than would be the case if everyone tried to be self sufficient.
While Tieg is a “live and let live” reasonable kind of guy who has a healthy respect for clever capitalists, Dave wonders about the motives and affiliations of those who truly despise capitalism and free markets. As Dave sees it, if people who support emissions regulations on U.S. business are doing this for the sake of reducing greenhouse gasses, that is fine with him. Dave is in agreement with anyone who is working to achieve new, cost efficient methods of producing energy and products with as little negative environmental impact as possible. However, many of the people who have rallied behind emissions regulations are affiliated with groups whose primary goal is to undermine capitalism and free markets. Dave thinks that most of these are resentful non-producer, non-achievers who envy people who dream dreams, accomplish their goals, and serve as the font of human progress. These non-producers will climb on any bandwagon (including the global warming bandwagon) primarily to destroy the economy and it’s productive participants, both of which they despise. Motivated by jealousy and feeding upon myths and ignorance, they are, according to Dave, the economic terrorists from within.