What is Economic Self-sufficiency?

First, let's be really clear on what we mean by self-sufficiency, particularly economic self-sufficiency. The term self-sufficiency is often associated with back-to-the-land communal living , survivalism/preparedness/off-grid living, and green/sustainability/homesteading. This is what you might call material self-sufficiency, the ability to obtain or create anything you need to survive and prosper entirely from local resources. This is not what is meant on this site by economic self-sufficiency. Galt's Gulch is a fictional example of this. The ultimate goal of the Seasteading Institute is to create completely autonomous, physically self-sustaining ocean communities. The working definition for self-sufficiency for this site is the capacity to manage one's own affairs, make one's own judgments, and provide for oneself without the help of others. If you can do this all yourself via local resources, you are materially, or physically self-sufficient. If you do it mostly via trade, you are economically self-sufficient. You do not need to be proficient in everything from wilderness survival and homesteading to high-energy physics and quantitative finance to be economically self-sufficient. The plain fact is that becoming off-grid materially self-sufficient in modern society requires that you be economically self-sufficient first.

Most people lack the means to be physically self-sufficient and must acquire the economic means to get there. Furthermore, what if you don't want to get all the way to physical self-sufficiency? It is not the most efficient way to live. Think about what you'd have to do to be physically self-sufficient just for the primitive survival basics of food, water, shelter, and energy(fire). The first thing you'd need would be a patch of land near a source of fresh water with enough acreage and the right kind of plant life to support basic nutritional needs. If you wanted meat, which in the wilderness is a huge plus, there would need to be sufficient game on that land to hunt. That takes care of food and water, assuming you know how to purify the water to make it safe to drink, how to hunt, kill, skin, and clean the animals you kill to prepare them for eating, and how to sow, cultivate, and harvest crops. By the way, do you know what seeds to plant and when during the year to plant them, or what parts of the plants are not poisonous? One doesn't just toss a bunch of seeds on the ground and harvest meals.

As to shelter, assuming you are OK with a debris shelter or a sod shanty as a starter home, and your idea of central heating, air conditioning, and plumbing are, respectively, a fire pit, a good breeze, and a nearby hole in the ground(preferably downwind), you're covered there. Do you know how to build a basic debris shelter, make fire without a lighter or a match, nap flint to make the stone knives and axes you'll need for hunting, slaughtering animals, cutting hides for clothing, and for chopping and carving wood to make the shelter and weapons? Any more advanced than stone knives and wooden tools and you'll need a source of metal ore nearby and the knowledge of how to mine, smelt, and forge it into something useful. Clearly, this isn't just any old patch of ground and the person inhabiting it would need a fairly miraculous set of skills to make use of it all, to say nothing of the need to work from dawn to dusk to accomplish all of this. As to the more modern stuff, ever try to make your own solar cells, build your own cell phone from scratch, or make your own CPU chips? Complete, autonomous, material self-sufficiency at anything close to the standard of living most of us would like to remain accustomed to is neither possible nor even really desirable.

Let's face facts, everyone trying to do a Walden, going off-grid and turning their house into an urban homestead, producing its own power, manufacturing its own industrial goods and growing its own food, would be a modle of inefficient use of resources and highly polluting. Things like municipal water treatment plants, and industrial glass and steel production exisit for a reason, and it isn't so "The Man" can keep "the common folk" down.

Finally, there is the simple fact that I currently live in San Diego on minimum wage. Doing even a fraction of the things above would take serious money. Most people simply can't afford this kind of self-sufficiency, and I would need to spend more money to learn a lot of the skills mentioned. It is simply not realistic for the overwhelming majority of people.

Fortunately, you need not do any of this to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Worker-capitalists do not reject the modern world, they embrace it. That is the solution.