In this chapter:
Embracing the Role of Household Economist
Living the Good Life
Who is the New Conserver?
Who is a New Conserver? In short, a New Conserver is someone who feels compelled to carefully examine and structure the household economic model governing his or her finances, instead of taking ‘common sense’ notions of the household economy for granted. Charles Long originally introduced the concept of the ‘Conserver’ in his book entitled How to Survive Without a Salary: Learning How to Live the Conserver Lifestyle. As defined by Long, the Conserver seeks to reduce the human imprint through smart lifestyle choices. I consider Long’s book an important work and want to continue to explore and build on his insights.
Is there a difference between the original concept of the Conserver versus the New Conserver? Maybe just a slight one. I think of yesterday’s Conserver as someone who had the foresight to build an off-the-track kind of life, while the New Conserver may feel compelled to take a drastic look at household economics, in recognition of systemic failures now occurring with capitalism as it operates in the U.S. political environment. Or to put that more simply – many of us need to rationalize our management of household finances, whether it is due to debt, high expense of even basic necessities, or for self-determined ethical reasons – or for all of these.
The economic system that we participate in appears to have forgotten how to take care of the average Jane or Joe, and ignores many of transaction externalities derived from market exchanges, leaving these to be dealt with by the public sphere. Without giving much thought to basic needs, the political-economic system caters to owners, shareholders, and high-level executives as the general fiscal situation of the labor force continues to erode into a vague afterthought. This current political economic environment in the United States is aptly described as ‘Corporate Feudalism.’ It is feudalistic in the sense that large swathes of the population are indebted to large corporations, or other large organizations, including the U.S. government. Some of us find that we are tied to this economic system through credit card debt, health care bills, student loan debt or whatever it is that requires large chunks of our pay each month – often for the most basic services that have implications on the public good – like healthcare and education. Another interesting impact is that many keep fulltime jobs they don’t want simply because of the health insurance. Our system is rife with a subtle form of economic slavery – that is debt, especially that related to basic necessities – that skews the system in favor of the largest businesses.
In part I felt compelled to write this book just needing to vent (i.e. rant) after feeling helpless from watching a talk show and a woman was discussing – actually crying uncontrollably on national T.V. – over her debt. As a single mother of one, she was weighted down by $30,000 in debt for unpaid medical bills and education loans only, no short-term credit card debt even. These are things we generally consider necessities. Even the education was necessary as an investment to help her earn enough to care for her children in the future. Yet, this debt was completely stressing her out and ruining her life in that moment since she could barely keep up with her bills each month.
Due to long-standing capitalist economic dogma, we now have a system of government here in the United States that caters to the needs of big business. Small pools of wealthy hoard large sums, while many, many people cannot even afford health insurance. Yes, we have great heart surgeons here in the U.S. – but we have millions who are going without basic healthcare. Under the regime of Corporate Feudalism, basic needs like healthcare and education fall by the wayside. Economic dogma puts forth the notion that the private sector is better able to produce these services. Meanwhile, the actual people of this country are suffering under gross debt burdens due to the fact that they can’t afford the surges in expenses related to these basic needs. When viewed internationally, these debt loads appear to be nonsensical and place an unnecessary strain on the average person for the benefit of corporate shareholders – the profit incentive run amok. We accept that this is the way it is, and even buy into the propaganda that our U.S. way is the best way. We are expected to believe that we deserve no better from our government or from corporate ethics. We are taught to fear that if we request such basics, it will corrupt free market capitalism, and in that process we will somehow forfeit our own ability to make it big as a capitalist, win the lottery so to speak.
At the same time, we are expected to be ‘patriotic’ consumers. Why? Who is really benefiting when we over-consume? It is really not our duty to endlessly consume products. It is our duty to diligently manage our household budgets; to make sure there is excess at the end of day in terms of dollar savings. To make sure that when we buy something, we actually need it and that we have thought through the externalities associated with that purchase.
There is, in fact, something inherently insane about capitalism gone unchecked; we now take this insanity for granted and that is why it is not always obvious – we are culturally soaking in it.
We have largely as a populace grown up submerged in ‘Patriotic’ Consumerism, with an ever-increasing dose of the new kind of feudalism – Corporate Feudalism. However, people are starting to question this lifestyle insanity more and more (albeit largely due to the surge in oil prices – an extreme economic issue for an oil-dependent population).
For instance, in a recent New York Times article, author M. P. Dunleavey questions the wisdom of both her and her spouse working at the same time, acknowledging the costs that are often associated with the job itself. This is a wise question to examine from a cost perspective – Ms. Dunleavey questions the common wisdom that the household will be better off with two people working fulltime and puts it to the test by assessing the actual numbers associated with the situational specifics.
What is considered ‘normal’ is differently ordered in the New Conserver’s world. The New Conserver is someone who does not do things for the sake of doing them, simply because they are told it is the best way. The New Conserver seeks to recognize the false truths put forth to us by Patriotic Capitalism and Corporate Feudalism. The New Conserver examines every economic assertion or principal from the perspective of his or her own household economic plan. The New Conserver may not even seek a new lifestyle for ideological reasons. The New Conserver sees the economic benefit of creating a system of measurement for their household, based on the primary reality of actual household need and budget constraints.
Others may just be coming to terms with the idea that jobs themselves cost money. A key driver may be the need to reduce oil dependency as a way of life for economic reasons. Today, oil dependency is the loaded gun that many of us carry around. It will continue to wreak havoc on our budgetary efforts as long as we have lifestyles build around technology that requires it and largely live in communities that are physically separated from our work locations. Why is the issue of oil dependency so critical? For many of us, it completely shapes the way we live – where we live, what we do with our time, what and how we may choose to consume food.
In short, a New Conserver is anyone who wants to take back control of his or her economic life. The New Conserver is someone who is tired of working for share price increases that they will never see, tired of living with the specter of inevitable health cost burdens that limit what they can do with their productive time, anyone who is tired of consuming for the sake of lining shareholders’ wallets, and anyone who feels culpable that their oil consumption habits may be contributing to various U.S.-global hostilities, or simply wreaking havoc on their household budget, and the environment.
So what are the solutions then? How do we check out of the nonsense of capitalism, while still benefiting from the principles of capitalism that do work?
These are the issues explored further in this book. How can we alter our lives in order to opt out of the facets of corporate capitalism that have run amok?
New York Times
Green Tomato Cake Recipe on About.com
Leave Google Behind
Lisa's Kitchen - Healthy Vegetarian Recipes and Cooking Hints
Paula Burch's All About Hand Dyeing
WHFoods: The World's Healthiest Foods
The self-published book by Dolores Hark entitled, "Living Frugally with Purpose and Style: the New Conserver," is now available for download.
Dolores has a Master's Degree in Economics and in Sociology from a reknowned U.S. based university. She provides a serious look at how to better manage Household Economics.
View the book outline here