The Counterculture Everyone Forgot

Rather than mocking the Counterculture, we would benefit from re-acquiring its values that favored frugality and the ownership of skills, work, enterprise and land.


Mention the Counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and the memory stored in popular culture is of drug-dazed, half-naked hippies dancing to rock music. There was a slice of that, to be sure, but there was much more that’s largely been forgotten:

The Counterculture was primarily a response to the meaningless debt-dependent consumerism that had already taken hold of our society and economy. The core values of the Counterculture Everyone Forgot were:

1. Learning how to make and repair things oneself

2. Frugality

3. Rejection of debt

I submit that the value of these life precepts will become increasingly visible and necessary. As I’ve explained before, reliance on debt incentivizes the most destructive and unsustainable traits of human nature: choosing the painless, sacrifice-free option of pushing costs into the future, the removal of any incentive to become more productive and efficient, and the optimization of the illusion that the future will painlessly be able to not just service the current mountain of debt but an entire mountain range of debt that will pile up as our borrowing increases.

The emptiness and meaningless of consumerism has reached levels which are now actively destroying our health, as I laid out in gory detail in The Profitable Destruction of Americans’ Health. The optimization of maximizing profit via monopoly/cartel profiteering, planned obsolescence and shrinflation (getting less while paying more) has stripped products and services of durability, so everything we buy is on a conveyor belt to the Landfill–the perfection of our Waste Is Growth Landfill Economy.

This conveyor belt of squandered wealth looks sustainable as long as debt can skyrocket at near-zero rates of interest. But those days are gone, never to return. Borrowing more money now costs money, and so long after the unrepairable, low-quality gew-gaw is rotting away in the landfill, the debt used to purchase it lives on, eating the borrower alive.

The secular bible of the Counterculture was the Whole Earth Catalog, a collection of quality American-manufactured tools and products designed for durability and productive use. In other words, things that aren’t consumed, they’re used to generate value. This concept has largely been lost: human beings are not productive beings, we’re consumers, whose very identity anf existence flows from buying more of everything: I shop, therefore I am.

The depravity of borrowing money to squander on things of questionable or temporary value was visible 60 years ago, and the depravity will soon consume all those who believe this system is sustainable. What’s the opposite of a depraved dependence on debt to buy stuff of questionable or temporary value? Buying tools with cash and learning how to use them to create value for oneself, one’s household and one’s community, and consume / share / sell what one produces.

The Counterculture questioned the value of debt and consumerism, and sought to return to the bedrock skills and values of the pre-debt/consumerism era. These included frugality–waste not, want not–in service of saving up and paying cash for everything rather than borrowing money, and in reducing dependence on the exploitive system of labor, where one sells their time (i.e. their life) for the dubious benefits of a wage.

The favored Counterculture alternative was to own your own work, own your own tools and own your own land. And by “own” we mean “own free and clear,” i.e. zero debt.

One of the more popular books of the Counterculture era was How to Live on Nothing (1/1/71), an exaggeration of course, but nonetheless it offered a practical guide to spending as little as possible, for it was understood that frugality equals freedom and debt equals servitude.

In my own work, I’ve strived to offer alternatives to piling up debt / servitude. My book Get a Job, Build a Real Career describes an alternative to accepting a lifetime of debt /servitude for a university degree of questionable value–learn how to accredit yourself.

My book Self-Reliance in the 21st Century lays out a framework for increasing self-reliance by reducing exposure to systemic fragilities and vulnerabilities, and assembling real-world skills and assets rather than pile up more debt or depending on a government funded by debt.

Our first house was a micro-house constructed with hand tools as there was no electrical service onsite. Those who know how can do quite a bit with a sharp handsaw and other basic tools. A few years later, when we were 26 years of age, we built a “real house” ourselves, subcontracting the electrical and plumbing asd required by local building codes. We took out a local bank loan for $5,000 to finish the house and paid it off in less than two years. (In today’s money, that’s $17,500.) Then the house was ours, free and clear.

Frugality in service of saving and paying cash for durable value really is freedom. So is knowing how to do things so you don’t have to pay others to do what you could have done yourself.

Rather than mocking the Counterculture, we would benefit from re-acquiring its values that favored frugality and self-reliance, the ownership of skills, work, enterprise and land, sharing knowledge with others and a rejection of debt as needless servitude.

These values don’t disappear with financial success, for they are the bedrock of financial success. Here are my work slippers and my dress slippers, for going out into the world looking my best:


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