There’s no denying the fact that we live in an extremely cash-centric society. This can make for a notably unbalanced life experience, in which the socioeconomic status of your family, your geographical location, and your racial background can dictate your path in life. There are also cyclical systemic issues, where those born into poverty can find it harder to escape it. This is particularly concerning given the fact that, as a single person, working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job barely takes you over the U.S. guideline for poverty of $12,880.
But it’s also important to note that just because you are living in an intensely capitalist society, that doesn’t mean to say that you are powerless to find ways to navigate it on your terms. One of the things that have become clear of the past year or so of a pandemic, is that though the circumstances can be less than ideal, there are ways to adapt positively. That doesn’t mean to say that blind optimism will eventually see you through hardships, houselessness, or poverty. Rather, it’s about adopting behavior that allows you to make more informed decisions, thus giving you greater control in a system that is designed to control you.
So, let’s take a look at just a few of the ways you can survive in this world that is so focused on capitalism.
Understanding the Value of Your Labor
One of the frustrating dichotomies of a capitalist system is that it cannot function without a committed workforce, yet businesses are not always prepared to provide salaries that reflect workers’ true value. Indeed, the classical labor theory of value (LVT) posits that the true value of any good or service is the number of labor hours that go into producing or providing it. However, in a system that is not automatically geared toward worker prioritization, it is often something that you have to take the lead on.
This begins with frequently assessing your skillset. The more experiences you gain — professionally or otherwise — the more skills you acquire and the more valuable your labor becomes. Every few months, take time to make a list of all the abilities you have at your disposal, along with some examples of how you’ve used them. This gives you useful, quantifiable information that you can take into yearly reviews, and make a case for a salary that better reflects what you have to offer. If your employers are not responsive, it can also be a tool to use in job applications.
However, don’t overlook the fact that your expertise is valuable outside of your day job. Freelance consultancy can be a lucrative prospect — either full-time or as a side gig. A lot of newcomers, though, have difficulty understanding how to charge for something as seemingly intangible as their own time and knowledge. There are a few different avenues you can go down here: hourly rates might be the most practical when you’re first starting out. However, as you gain confidence and experience, you may find it more profitable to charge by project or be paid a retainer.
A world that is so focused upon activities that are driven by money can feel cold and impersonal. Indeed, when you are going through hardships, it is not uncommon to have a sense of isolation and lose social connections, which can negatively affect your ability to overcome difficult times. As such, one of the most vital tools to survive is your ability to engage practically and meaningfully with your community.
That doesn’t mean to say you have to be a constant social butterfly. However, making efforts to maintain regular ties with your friends, family, and neighbors can help build a mutual system of support and solidarity. This is one of the underlying concepts of mutual aid — where communities gather together voluntarily and agree to provide resources and support to one another on a reciprocal basis. Let’s face it: government systems are not always or often sufficient when hard times hit, so this can be a vital lifeline that isn’t dependent on an individual’s material wealth alone, but the shared resources of a community.
This is also a good solution not just for when the unexpected occurs. Whether this is an individual disaster like a job loss or a public emergency like COVID-19, strong communities can be essential. One of the more distressing factors that can come from unexpected circumstances is sudden financial distress. When such issues arise, it might be tempting to take out high-interest, short-term loans, but that is certainly unwise. With community support in place, there may be better access to alternatives such as family assistance, or informal lending circles with trusted neighbors or businesses. Though much of the value here is in information — communities can work together to exchange strategies on long-term preparation, and helping one another build a safety net should the unexpected occur.
Engage in Bartering
It is difficult to go through life today without engaging in financial transactions. However, one of the oldest forms of exchange is becoming more popular. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, where stores were without products, there was an uptick in bartering — people exchanging goods with neighbors for other items or skills. This doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, with groups forming in local communities and on social media platforms to empower people to get access to what they want or need without resorting to cash.
This isn’t just about swapping items, either. Your skills can be valuable bartering elements, too. If you’ve been to trade school, consider offering your expertise in plumbing or contracting time in exchange for equally valuable services. It not only avoids engaging in direct capitalism, it can also help forge positive bonds with other community members.
Our cash-focused society is not always ideal. It can present and perpetuate hardships, and too often dictates the direction of our lives. However, it can be possible to effectively navigate the system by gaining a quantifiable sense of the value of your skills and placing greater focus on community solutions. Through mutual support and bartering, in particular, there are opportunities to live richer lives that aren’t entirely dependent upon material wealth.