> I'd like to pose a question about people's ideas of what it means to live simply: why is it always assumed that living simply and self-reliance mean that an individual ought to live alone and without help? Doesn't cooperation and community make life simpler and more economical? What is wrong with people helping each other out? And what about living in cooperation with little or no money involved?
Oh, I don’t think it is necessarily meant that a simple life and self-reliance equate to living alone. IMO, people need to live together and benefit from society. And I believe that cooperation and community do make life simpler and more economical.
Regarding “helping each other out,” is where I find difficulty. If it is expected to help each other out, then those who cannot or are not willing to be self-reliant, often become a burden on the society. And those who are able to be self-reliant are expected to take care of the first group; that would boil down to “to each according to their need, and from each according to their ability.” I think there is a name for this, and to me it is evil.
Now if someone has great ability, but lacks the capital or resources to succeed, I may be willing to invest in that person’s endeavor. My investment would expect a return on that investment. That is how companies should work. They sell stock in the company, and the stockowners expect dividends from the profits that are generated.
“Living in cooperation with little or no money.” Money is just a tool to make it easy to trade goods or services. Lets say that you produce a piece or artwork that I would like to own. And I produce pencils. Lets say the value of your artwork is 2 million of my pencils, and you do not need any pencils at all, then we cannot trade directly. As a matter of fact, most people will never need more than 5 pencils at one time, and the value of 5 of my pencils is less than any single item the community has to offer in terms of goods and services, then I cannot make a living at all. But if I can sell each pencil for 5 cents, and everyone has money to purchase my pencils, then I can buy your artwork for $100,000 after I sell 2 million pencils. Now this were Thoreau does play an important part… Less Government. Our example government can print money, but it needs to be back by something… gold is often used (I really do not want to get into that debate). We cannot print more money than we can back it up with. Now going back to “helping each other out” – if I am expected to help others who cannot or will take care of themselves, I am going to have to sell 3 million pencils which will give me $150,000. $100,000 for your artwork; and $50,000 that the government has stolen from me to redistribute for the common good. They have taken it from me by force without my consent. Now if I WANT to give away $50,000 and choose to do so, that is fine.
If a person in our group wants to live simply and generate only enough money to meet their most basic needs that is fine. That person may only have to work 16 hours a week and spend the rest of their time pursuing other interests. If another person wants to amass millions of dollars and build a skyscraper and live in the penthouse, that is fine too. It woks if neither person expects or demands anything from the other. Of course we would want both of them to be able to trade goods and services with each other, if they choose to do so. Neither would benefit from the other unless they both agree to engage in some sort of commerce. And they could trade goods and services without direct contact with each other, using the tool called money.