Even the supposedly self-sufficient seem to be trading

A quite lovely little piece about that trend for people trying to be self-sufficient in the 60s and 70s. Quite why people thought they should do this we think we know. Nostalgia really, coupled with very rose tinted glasses. The people who actually had, properly, lived as peasants fled for the cities as soon as they could scrape up the three groats to do so. One of us has seen the same in Russia: villagers crying out for blocks of concrete flats instead of their charming wooden huts. Because, you know, running water, hot water, heating. But a generation or two later some will start to decide that society made a wrong turn and pine for the old, not quite understanding what that old was:

The group lived in an Edwardian mansion, which had 12 acres of land. Although full of enthusiasm they lacked the necessary knowledge to create a sustainable community.

"Our first potato crop turned brown - we were surprised because none of us knew about blight.

"There have been many challenges living here from working out the ancient plumbing to keeping the tractor going. We've had to learn everything we've had to do."


"We built our first goat pens using Seymour's books," Patrick says.

"We soon learned goats were cunning and agile. One time they got out and ate the rhododendrons, which are poisonous. I had to make them ill with warm oil and stay up with them all night."

Well, yes, that's an important lesson to learn. Peasantry is a technology and it's a complex one too. That it's a technology which doesn't use many machines is all that's different about it conceptually: and thus it's a technology that requires much more human time, or as we might also put it, more labour to reach a particular standard of living. Which is,. of course, why all of those with three groats fled it a century back.

But it's also, as Young Molesworth might put it, something of a swizz:

John Seymour's book, The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency, provided welcome advice. Published in 1976, it covered everything from how to plough a field to how to kill a pig and sold more than a million copies.

We regard that, as should everyone else, as trading with one million people. Which is a very odd indeed definition of self-sufficiency.

We would not, of course, want to stop anyone at all pursuing such a lifestyle. But we do regard it as being of the utmost importance that those billions out there who do not wish to live like this get not to. Which is why, of course, we are so vehement about the benefits of trade. As Madsen Pirie puts it, buy things made by poor people in poor countries. The point being not that we should or should not disrupt some happy peasant paradise, but that those who find it not so happy get to get out of it. What anyone does with the choice is up to them but the choice must be there.