New Internationalist

Doing the wrong thing

I’ve now lived on my Dutch barge near Bristol for four years.

Four years ago I was prompted to do this because I was about to retire. Because the pension system in Britain is the principal prop of our financial system, and both have failed us so spectacularly, retirement meant finding a way to live off less.

This has been a moderate success. I’ve survived. Indeed, I’m happier now than ever. Apparently, this is common to most people my age, though in my case I’m quite sure it has nothing at all to do with not being compelled (or possibly allowed) to work for a living.

Rather, it must be because I consume less. A lot of my energy comes from solar panels, and I’m much more vigilant about using less of it. I grow a fair bit of my own food. I repair clothes I would once have thrown away. I use less water. I cycle and recycle more. I feel no pressing need to fly anywhere else.

When I first came here consumption was still booming, so the move looked a little perplexing, even to the more sympathetic observer. Now boom has turned to bust. A lot more of us are having to live off a lot less, and more will be joining us shortly.

According to orthodox economics we are, however, to blame. By consuming less we damage the prospects for economic growth - a bit rich, I reckon, since it was orthodox economics that put us here in the first place. That’s economic orthodoxy for you.

Whatever I do, however - even giving up my pipe - I’m unlikely to get healthier, stronger, more agile, less forgetful, more independent. So I’m likely to rely public services. And here too I’m in error, since economic orthodoxy is cutting them to ribbons.

As you may have guessed, I’m no fan of economic orthodoxy. For my money, it destroys more than it creates, including human well-being.

But I am a big fan of my little community here. Lots of new babies. They’re learning to live, if not wild, then with something I doubt they’ll ever quite forget. Leb, the flame-thrower, has painted his boat brilliant blue and named it Party Animal. A giant bonfire lit a game of cricket in the sodden gloom of May Day evening.

A fine summer’s day is, however, hard to welcome at weekends, when semi-conscious white males descend on the two pubs across the river, sometimes accompanied by heavy metal bands and - as now, during the soccer World Cup - brandishing the flag of St George, as if to mark the piratical ancestry of the English. My young Dutch neighbour, Jazz, has orange clogs.

I defiantly fly a Wiphala, the flag of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, which gives my barge its name and some distant inspiration to the way I now prefer to live.

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About the author

David Ransom a New Internationalist contributor

David Ransom joined New Internationalist in 1989 and wrote on a range of issues, from green justice to the current financial crisis, before retiring in 2009. He was a close friend of Blair Peach, once worked as a banker in Uruguay and continued to contribute to New Internationalist as a freelancer until shortly before his death in February 2016. He lived on a barge on the waterways of England’s West Country.

His publications include License to Kill on the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and The No Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade. He also co-edited, with Vanessa Baird, People First Economics.

Read more by David Ransom

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