Our current version of capitalism sucks! It’s an unfair and rigged economic system that’s leaving behind so many people and even many of those managing to keep up with its relentless demands are working longer hours, feeling increasingly lonely, and are overall far less satisfied with life. We regularly personally experience or find our headlines and social media filled with content about burnout, loneliness, depression, climate anxiety, rising costs, lack of affordable housing, and the list goes on…. In the face of such a dismal reality I want to offer a few suggestions to help you survive late stage capitalism.
Before jumping into these strategies I want to preface all of this by acknowledging that we live in an extremely unjust, unequitable, complex, even contradictory, and not at all black and white world. Major political and societal level changes are needed. These ideas I’m sharing for us to apply at the individual and even community levels are by no means intended to replace any of that. In fact, it’s my hope that by applying some of these levers you’ll create more time, space, and motivation in your own life to be part of that effort to create change on a larger scale.
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I also want to acknowledge that all of you finding this blog post out there on the internet are walking different paths and have established varying levels of financial stability. Some of these strategies will feel more accessible and useful than others depending on what your life’s journey has entailed, but my hope is that everyone will find at least one or two useful takeaways. So whether you are struggling to pay the bills, experiencing an existential crisis, or are tired of always feeling like you are compromising your ethics by taking part in the insatiable and destructive infinite growth economy, here are seven ways you can navigate and potentially thrive in this complex situation. And if enough of us pursue these strategies we can simultaneously weaken the underpinnings of this neo-liberalism madness and evolve the world we want to live in.
- 1) “There is No Wealth Like Knowledge…”
- 2) Use Your Time and Attention Capital Wisely
- 3) Recognize the Lifestyle That's Already Been Designed for You
- 4) Prioritize Social Capital
- 5) Redefine Wealth
- 6) Engage Less in our Harmful Capitalist Economy
- 7) Participate in Ways that Bring about a New Economic Model
- Where Do We Go From Here?
1) “There is No Wealth Like Knowledge…”
The second part of that quote attributed to Buddha is “and no poverty like ignorance.” The word ignorant doesn’t mean not smart. It implies a lack of awareness or knowledge. With free public libraries and the world wide web at our fingertips knowledge and information are more accessible than ever (for better and worse!).
Having worked in non-profits for a number of years I sense that people sometimes don’t know about all of the resources available to them through these and other organizations, including local, state, and federal government agencies. If you are having trouble finding a comprehensive list of helpful entities in your area check out Find Help. Their website can direct you to assistance with housing, food, transit, employment, education, healthcare, and more. Moneyless.org is also full of useful articles for those struggling to make ends meet.
As a side note, I’d like to encourage anyone who may be feeling too ashamed to procure food from food banks to please consider doing so if you are in need. As a frequent dumpster diver, I see how much still good food ends up in the waste stream. For a while my boyfriend and I were also collecting food scraps at the end of the day from a food mission in our community to compost. We quickly discovered that there was also plenty of still good food this mission was about to throw away because more food would be arriving the next day. You can be part of the solution by making sure that food that gets donated to food banks gets eaten and appreciated instead of being dumped into our waste stream where it will likely end up releasing methane gas into the atmosphere.
And while this piece of advice may feel out of place in a post lamenting the woes of late stage capitalism, I encourage you to learn about money and get more confident handling it. The more you understand how it works and how you can wisely steward it, the more you can do to earn, spend, manage, and invest it as a force for good. You’ll likely find that the more intentional you get with money the less you’ll leak of it out into the entities and elements of capitalism that make you cringe.
Speaking of knowledge, my new book Growing FREE is a one of a kind book that will teach you how to reclaim your life, achieve financial security, thwart capitalism, and create a better world. In it my co-author and I show you how to start designing a rich, amazing, and financially viable life doing things that address our major social and environmental challenges instead of perpetuating them.
2) Use Your Time and Attention Capital Wisely
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook (now Meta) have earned billions of dollars from our collective time and attention. While we don’t generally think of time and attention as forms of capital, they very much are. Anyone mindlessly gaming or scrolling through social media posts is frittering away their precious time and attention capital and turning it into someone else’s financial capital. As I was recently reminded – if a product is free, YOU are the product.
When you put yourself in the role of consumer you deny yourself the opportunity to step into the role of producer from where you can express your creativity, have the satisfaction of meeting your own needs, and save money (and maybe even make some $$). I’m not suggesting that you give up online pursuits, just to be more mindful about it. At the very least if you are going to be spending lots of time on TikTok, Instagram, or another social media platform find content you enjoy that increases your knowledge, helps you build useful skills, or provides tools to help you cope with your angst.
And remember the economic powers that be (that you loathe so much) LOVE that you are directing so much of your attention to mindless social media and gaming. Not only are they making lots of money from it, they also welcome it because they recognize that your use of it all fuels social isolation, low self-esteem, and a host of other negatives that can create a perpetual cycle of consumption and misery that continually increases their insatiable bottom line. In today’s society where government is more and more by the wealthy to help keep the wealthy wealthy, it’s not in government or corporate interest for you to think for yourself, learn to meet more of your own needs, or build strong social ties.
3) Recognize the Lifestyle That’s Already Been Designed for You
Several core elements of our lives that many simply accept and never question or ponder were actually designed to benefit others more than us – and those others have often been the wealthy elite.
A look into the history of our modern day education system is quite illuminating. A primary goal of schooling in the 19th century was to prepare kids to transition from working on the family farm to working in somebody else’s factory. Therefore the school experience modeled the factories in which most students would eventually work. Emphasis has been placed on factors like conforming, following instructions, and not questioning authority to achieve the end goal of efficiency and order in the work place.
As your relatives were pushed off the farm away from their formerly self-sufficient lives into schools and later factories, business owners’ bottom lines benefited from the supply of an educated labor pool. They also profited off the fact that the long working days left workers tired, drained, and inclined to spend their income on the easy modern conveniences all of the new factories were producing instead of cooking, farming, or maintaining things for themselves.
This has now morphed into many of us becoming very disgruntled employees and pawns in this horrible system. Corporations have much to gain from us as dissatisfied employees because many of us attempt to assuage our dissatisfaction through spending money. David from Raptitude noted in his extremely popular blog post Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (which I highly recommend reading) –
“The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.”
Learning about these and other examples of societal shifts and regulations that have lessened our self-sufficiency throughout history added a great deal of fuel to my own fire and desire to fight back against all this as much as possible. I share these here in case they do the same for you increasing your resolve to take back more of your power. Unschooling ourselves can be a useful strategy in our efforts to survive late stage capitalism.
4) Prioritize Social Capital
The more I learn about how leaders and colonizers throughout history have tried to divide and conquer people as a means of achieving their agendas, the more I’ve come to view connecting with others and building community as an important act of resistance.
We humans are genetically and socially wired to be social creatures. We thrive amidst positive social interactions. Yet right now we feel lonelier and more isolated than ever and rates of depression and anxiety are soaring. On top of that spending money to meet our needs turns exchanges into transactions and further distances us from each other. So how fortunate for us that social capital is such a valuable tool for sticking it to the man, so to speak.
As I noted in this blog post, in the realm of social capital one’s interpersonal connections become the currency. The richer and stronger your social network the wealthier you are because it’s through those networks you can collaboratively secure benefits and innovate solutions to problems. You can cultivate social capital in the groups and social circles you frequent be it your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, groups you belong to, institutions you are affiliated with, etc.
Social capital is important on so many levels – it can save us money, strengthen our connection to others, build community, help us reduce our negative impact on the planet (when we borrow instead of buying things), and make us more resilient in the face of challenges. Plus, when it stops you from running to Lowe’s, Walgreen’s, of Safeway to buy something new it keeps money out of the extractive economy.
One of my favorite ways to tap my social capital is by participating in my local time bank, Not everyone though, lives in an area with a time bank that facilitates moneyless exchanges and interactions. For those who don’t Simbi is an online option that provides a platform for people around the world to exchange with each other fostering mutual aid, volunteerism, and community development.
5) Redefine Wealth
Our society’s singular focus on money as a measure of achievement is harmful and misguided in so many ways. Where do I even start???? Over and over again research shows that what truly brings satisfaction, meaning, and joy to our lives is NOT $$$$ or the material things we can buy with it.
Of course we benefit from a certain base amount of financial security in our lives, but once that’s established what we really want is the sense of control money can give us over our own lives and how we choose to spend our time. As Morgan Housel noted in The Psychology of Money, “More than your salary. More than the size of your house. More than the prestige of your job, control over doing what you want, when you want to, with the people you want to, is the broadest lifestyle variable that makes people happy.“
I personally feel particularly wealthy and grateful when I spend time with friends and family in an outdoor setting sharing food we’ve all grown and/or prepared ourselves. That may not be your ideal day, but I have to imagine if you are reading this you likely don’t define someone’s success and value by their bank balance and career trajectory.
For me yachts, mansions, and fast, expensive, fuel INefficient cars aren’t indicators of wealth and luxury. Instead when I look at them I see excessive resource consumption on a finite planet, separation from nature and other people, and a need for external validation, among other things.
Kindred spirit Shannon Hayes recently published Redefining Rich. In it she shares how her family crafted a Quality of Life Statement that has guided their decision making. That document emphasizes things like daily naps, time with family, and morning coffees outdoors. Like Shannon I’m focused on tabulating a much more holistic balance sheet for myself. In addition to social capital, I’m cultivating an entire repertoire of non-monetary forms of capital that enrich my life in so many ways.
6) Engage Less in our Harmful Capitalist Economy
There are numerous ways you can participate less in the destructive extractive elements of our current system. One of the most obvious is by embracing degrowth and reducing your consumption of stuff as well as resources like electricity, water, and oil/gasoline. Many people in more affluent nations view consuming less as a form of deprivation or not getting to have things they want. Yet, there is tremendous joy, satisfaction, and liberation to be found by freeing up your mind and life for what’s really meaningful to you.
Plus, the less you consume the less likely you’ll be to take on credit card debt. Those high interest rates you encounter paying off credit cards or any other more predatory form of credit perpetuate and feed this hideous economic engine. Even something as small as not paying off your full credit card balance monthly enriches the beast a little more and further depletes your resources. I always encourage people carrying debt (other than a mortgage) to learn more about debt payoff strategies.
Another sad irony of our current situation is that the heightened fear, stress, or sadness you are experiencing as a result of all of this may be prompting you to buy stuff you don’t really need as a coping mechanism. Do you find yourself addressing the difficult emotions you are experiencing by buying things to ease those emotions? If the answer is yes, read up on emotional spending to find ways to begin addressing this.
As I highlighted in this post, an aversion to capitalism has spurred some people to explore moneyless living. I personally find a great deal of resilience, resourcefulness, and pride in being able to meet some of my needs without money. Those multiple forms of capital I mentioned above, particularly social capital, are fundamental to my efforts to bypass money and our harmful economy all together and go straight to weaving a more beautiful and less extractive alternative.
7) Participate in Ways that Bring about a New Economic Model
Become a financial activist!!! We may not be able to use the master’s tools to dismantle his house, but in the case of capitalism we can certainly use them to weaken its foundation. Of course we’ve all heard that when we are going to spend money whenever feasible we can prioiritize supporting a locally, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or women owned business. And there are so many other ways we can wield the power of our money as well.
One of the easiest and most impactful things you can do is move your money to an ethical bank. Your money doesn’t just sleep at a bank. In fact, the major banks in the U.S. (Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi) are all funding new fossil fuel projects. Five or ten individuals each closing out their bank accounts won’t negatively effect a large bank, but you better believe if even 3 to 4 percent of their depositors started closing their accounts and telling them why these banks would pay attention. Check out my blog post on Impact Banking to find more socially responsible banking options.
If you are invested in the stock market educate yourself about shareholder advocacy and push the companies you are invested in to pursue environmental, social, and governance reforms. Even those of you invested in mutual funds can reach out to those fund managers and express your concerns over their voting record.
Things get especially interesting and much more meaningful when you start looking beyond the conventional economic mechanisms available to you. Whether that’s by pursuing right livelihood, getting involved in the solidarity economy, or moving your money off of Wall Street and onto Main Street through local investing, there are many ways you likely aren’t aware of that you can steward wealth to weaken our harmful economic model. Get my pay what you want regenerative investing guide to learn more about how to invest in the solutions instead of the causes of our social and environmental problems.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Life and wealth are not zero sum games. If you win, it doesn’t mean I have to lose. Rather, a rising tide lifts all boats. Free yourself from the limiting beliefs that our current society has shaped for you. I’m by no means saying this is easy or ignoring the fact that systemic realities burden some of us with significant challenges, but if we just give up and resign ourselves to mindlessly participating then capitalism wins.
We need to recognize that scarcity is a myth, a societal construct. Indigenous populations have long grasped how wealth and abundance are inherent in our natural systems. We too can look to the earth worm or a forest to find examples based on synergies, mutual giving and receiving, and ever growing levels of abundance.
Even though capitalism is broken and causing misery for many people, we are NOT powerless. This blog post is meant to be a rallying cry for all you beautiful souls reading it. The more we can find ways to thrive in community, the more we destabilize the current state of affairs. It may well be that the healthier, happier, and more satisfied and self sufficient you are the less you do to uphold capitalism. Embrace that and show your resistance by building skills, connecting with neighbors, consuming less, and investing in the life-serving (instead of the life-depleting) economy. Together we can survive late stage capitalism.
If you would like help designing a life for yourself that increases your personal and financial resilience while also fighting back against unchecked capitalism then schedule a coaching session with me today! Let’s get to work setting you free…
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Share your own Strategies for Surviving Late Stage Capitalism in the comments below.
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