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Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life
Economic hardship can promote better lifestyle choices.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 29, 2008

"Daddy, can you carry me?"

"Rosie, I think you're big enough to walk the whole way. It's only a few blocks."

It was a beautiful morning, and as they strolled through the neighborhood they waved to several people working on their front-lawn gardens.

"I wish Gramma didn't live so far away!" Rose complained.

Dad laughed. "You're lucky Gramma only lives a few blocks away. When I was your age my grandparents lived 2000 miles away!"

"2000 miles!" Milton, Rose's big brother, gasped. "Did you ever get to see them?"

"Oh, once, maybe twice a year. We flew, and sometimes they flew to visit us. But then flying got too expensive, and there were horrible experiences with flight delays, which is no fun for kids or their parents. And so we tried driving, but it was hard for my parents to both get the vacation days from their jobs at the same time. It would take four days to get there and four to get back just to see Gramma and Grampa for five days. And anyway, the price of gas got so high that even driving got to be too expensive. So, then we saw them once every year-and-a-half to two years."

"But why would they live so far away from you?"

"Because of my grampa's job, and also my Mom's job."

"Why didn't they live closer and have different jobs?'

"Good question. They had to stay with the companies they worked for because that's who paid for their health care."

"Were they slaves, Daddy?"

Dad laughed, "No! No, that's not what . . . nah." But he thought to himself, "Maybe they were, in a way."

Milton asked, "Why did it get so expensive to fly?"

Dad said, "Well, that's when everything got so expensive. Not just fuel, but food. It started when the Federal Reserve bank printed up more and more money to finance the government's deficit spending. Deficit spending is what the government does when it spends more than it receives in taxes, and the government was spending huge amounts. And they were also spending the money poorly, on foolish wars, and this made the cost of everything go up - beginning with fuel and food."

Milton said, "That sounds terrible! What did you do?"

Dad replied, "People stopped what they were doing and asked themselves why they were living the way they were. They asked why they were treated like livestock on airplanes. Why they were gouged at the pump and at the supermarket. Many people wanted the government to do something to help them, because they didn't realize that the government was the cause of their problems to begin with. But other people, like your grandma, took action."

"What did she do?" Milton asked.

"Well, you see all these people working on their gardens? They used to not be here. People had grass lawns, and would compete with each other for having the greenest, nicest grass. But your gramma came home from the supermarket one day, sat down, and said, 'That's it. We're going to grow our own food.'And the next spring, she planted a vegetable garden where the grass used to be."

"And boy, were some of the neighbors mad. The Homeowners Association sued her. They said the garden was unsightly. They said that property values would fall. But then, the next year, more people started planting their own gardens.

"And not just their lawns. People started making improvements on their homes, to make them more energy-efficient. They didn't do it to help the environment, but to save money. People in the neighborhood started sharing ideas and working together, when before they barely ever spoke to each other.

"At the same time, people just started other things differently. People used to drive everywhere and take elevators and escalators, but then pay a membership fee to work out at a gym. But the need to save money led people to quit the gym.  They started to drive less and walk and bike more, and take the stairs for exercise. Some families even gave up their cars and instead shared a van and car-pooled as much as they could. There were lots of labor-saving devices invented in the 20th century, but people realized that if they start doing things manually again, they could burn more calories and save money on energy bills. There used to be lots of fat people, but they got thinner. And not because they were going hungry, but because they were changing their lifestyle.

"And people also started buying from farmer's markets, buying milk, meat, eggs and produce straight from nearby farmers. This was fresher and healthier than processed food. They realized they were better off if the profits stayed within the community than if they went to big corporations far away.

"This is when your gramma, my Mom, quit her job and opened started a bakery from home. It was actually in violation of the zoning laws, but the people sided with gramma against the government. When the government realized it was powerless to crack down on this new way of life, and the people realized they didn't have to fear the government, they became free. And so more and more people started working from home. Mommies and Daddies used to have different jobs in different places, but now more and more of them are in business together in their own home, where they're close to their children instead of putting them in day care."

"And extended families became committed to stick together. No more pointless traveling over long distances to see each other. When I was young, lots of families were separated by long distances, but there's less of that now."

Milton said, "Dad, it sounds like things were a lot worse back then. But some people say that the country is in decline, that we're not as wealthy as we used to be. They say we must restore our national greatness. Is that true?"

Dad said, "It depends on what you mean by wealth. No, people aren't making as much money as they used to. But they don't need to. If you make the things that money used to buy, you don't need the money. If your friends and family and work are close by, you don't need the cars and plane tickets. The people who want to define standard of living in terms of dollar value are missing the point. It's the quality of life that's important, and it's much better now than it's ever been. The people who want to restore "national greatness" don't even know what makes a nation great. For them it's military uniforms and political speeches and big businesses employing lots of people to build tanks and prisons and rockets. They talk about 'freedom,' but what they really want is for the government to be as powerful as it used to be, which is the opposite of freedom. We didn't really become free, and this nation didn't really become great, until the government went bankrupt and fell apart. And here we are, at Gramma's house. God bless America!"

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country and writes for Views expressed here do not represent the views of

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