Jacking-down the economy

When I say the economy is jacked-up, I mean that it’s becoming harder and harder for people at the bottom income rungs to even get their most basic needs met. Food, housing, health care, transportation and so on. While in the middle rungs, people are scrambling to have more more more. More money, more house, bigger retirement fund growing by a bigger percentage. It’s motivated by fear and insecurity. Like, it feels dangerous and precarious to not earn more, and stockpile more money. Because something might happen — what if the car breaks down, what if you get sick etc., and you don’t have enough money saved? The problem is, it’s never enough. It’s a moving target. Trying to talk people out of this pattern is probably not going to work.

What might possibly work is getting a few people interested in jacking down the economy. This is not the same as crashing the economy; there’s no intent to precipitate collapse, destroy anyone’s livelihood, etc. Rather, it’s a voluntary deceleration, which slows the treadmill down so people at all levels can have a good level of comfort for less money and less work.

As I see it, jacking-down the economy would be a bottom-up movement started by people who are at the bottom income rungs and yet are somewhat privileged in certain ways (education, for example; and being brought up to think outside the box) and have an attitude that there is little or nothing to lose. Creativity and risk-tolerance are definitely good attributes. It’s probably a good fit for artists and revolutionaries.

Some things that jack-up the economy: Inflation from a rise in energy prices. Out-of-town money coming into your community buying up houses and land. The “retirement” obsession (people being driven to try to save up “enough” money to take them through decades of later life without working). Income inequality, which has gotten more and more extreme, definitely jacks-up the economy.

Well, how would a person jack-down the economy? One way would be to pare one’s expenses to the bare minimum. Don’t live alone; share housing. Do without a car or share a car. And, work as little as you can get away with. When I say “work,” I mean the stuff we have to do to get our bills paid. I’m not talking about limiting the work we do for love of people and planet. Art, activism, and so on.

Rather than strive to amass “enough” money to cover emergencies, finance decades of retirement, etc., think in terms of being able to meet expenses as they come. Like, being able to pick up gigs to pay for a certain expense that’s right now, as opposed to amassing money before the fact for every possible hypothetical future expense. I know it takes a lot of faith (something I’m still working on).

Other than “just in time” gigs, I also think of GoFundMe and other mutual aid mechanisms, particularly for community members dealing with medical crises, funerals, evictions and other emergencies.

Not everyone will feel drawn to this idea. And even among those drawn to it, many will not feel that they have the luxury of being able to risk it. For those of us who feel we can, though, it is worth a try.

Basically, it’s creating a pocket of the economy where a different reality prevails. One where we don’t need anywhere near as much money; one where we can get by on working much much less.

Some of us artsy craftsy folks might find ourselves able to get by just on our artwork, writing, eco gardening, etc. The income disparity that’s causing so many problems in society could end up being to our advantage. As a friend of mine once put it, “Rich people make the best customers.” (Actually not always true but I agreed with how he meant it.) People who are long on money and short on time often develop a yearning for art and beauty. This is a healthy yearning. We can help people while earning a good livelihood that doesn’t break our backs.

Or, another approach if one prefers to have a boss and paycheck (without being drained) is to try to arrange things so you only need a part-time job. 10 or 15 hours a week.

Is jacking-down the economy a synonym for degrowth? Maybe. There’s definitely a good deal of overlap.

My personal version of degrowth or jacking-down includes what I might describe as “joyfully embracing the bottom rungs of the economy, and applying my surplus time, labor, & creativity to building resilience into my community.”

On a related note, @housepuritty on TikTok proposes Universal Basic Income as a solution to climate change. Basically, it reduces the stress and labor that capitalism places on people and the planet. As she points out, we saw shades of this pressure-reduction during the pandemic, when people had a bit of the pressure taken off of them by having more time and a bit less financial pressure.