You’ve probably heard people extolling the virtues of self-sufficiency, how if we work hard and pull ourselves up from the bootstraps, we can care for ourselves and mitigate the risk of unforeseen circumstances.
However, I don’t think self-sufficiency is a reasonable expectation for most people. Sure, some people will be able to create a life for themselves that allows them to live comfortably for years. But I think that is unattainable for the majority of society.
Providing our own food is nearly impossible. Sure, you might be able to grow a garden in your backyard or even have a couple of planters on your apartment balcony. But providing all the food you need will be difficult. Some estimates I’ve seen say that people need 4,000 sq ft per person to grow enough produce to feed oneself all year long. In my house, that’s nearly 30,000 sq ft!
My entire residential lot is 4,833 sq ft. My house is 798 sq ft. I’d have to basically use every inch of my lot outside of my house to grow food. Get rid of the garage, the tool shed, the patio, the sidewalk, the garbage cart, the recycling cart, the playground, the fence, the steps, and so on. And that’s just for me. I’d need another 6 lots to feed the rest of my family. Then I’d have to find somewhere to store everything I preserve for outside the growing season. And that’s just for produce.
If you eat eggs, meat, or dairy, you’d need even more space. I’ve heard that people could raise a cow on an acre of land, but that’s 10 times the size of my lot. Now, I’m up to over 15 lots. I’d have to buy up all my neighbours’ lots.
Producing your own clothes is just as impossible. You need space to grow cotton or flax, or to raise sheep for wool or other animals for leather. And given that more than 80% of Canada’s population lives in a city, it’s impractical for everyone to live on the kind of land we’d need to grow our own food and the raw materials to make our own clothing. And again, I’m not even talking about the land needs for a self-sufficient family.
Because of the impracticality of producing the goods we need to feed, clothe, and house ourselves, we exchange our labour for currency, which we then can use to purchase food, clothing, and housing. In essence, we trade our labour for those things, using currency as sort of an intermediary, a representation of our labour.
Instead of growing all of our food in the summer, then storing most of it, we just buy it from the store as we need it. Which seems easy enough. And it would be if all we needed to buy was food.
Canadians cannot take care of their basic needs. They’re in debt, and their wages are too low.
For every dollar a Canadian earns, they owe $1.77. In 97% of the country, Canadians can’t even afford a one-bedroom apartment on minimum wage. In fact, the average wage in Canada is $21.63 an hour, but the average wage needed to afford a 2-bedroom apartment is $22. 4 in 10 Canadians can’t afford to follow the newest Canada Food Guide. In Alberta, the average household spends over $100,000 a year, but the median family income in Lethbridge is only $90,000 a year.
The average cost of living is higher than the average wage. It’s too expensive to cover everyday living expenses. And if you bring in additional expenses—such as appliance replacement, roof repair, car repair, birthday and Christmas gifts, and so on—the gap between debt and income just gets bigger.
Self sufficiency is impossible for most people. Not everyone can be a surgeon or a partner at a law firm, or a millionaire. Someone needs to flip the burgers, and dig the ditches, and trim the trees, and mow the parks, and drive the buses, and put out the fires.
For capitalism to succeed, it needs low-wage labour, and for people to survive, they need jobs, even if it’s low-wage labour.
Self-sufficiency is a myth.