In the first year of the 21st century, a man standing by a highway in the middle of America pulled from his pocket his life savings – $30 – laid it inside a phone booth, and walked away. He was 39 years old, came from a good family, and had been to college. He was not mentally ill, nor an addict. His decision appears to have been an act of free will by a competent adult.
In the 12 years since, as the Dow Jones skyrocketed to its all-time high, Daniel Suelo has not earned, received, or spent a single dollar. In an era when anyone who could sign his name qualified for a mortgage, Suelo did not apply for loans or write IOUs. He didn’t even barter. As the public debt soared, he did not pay taxes, or accept any form of government handout.
Instead he set up house in caves in the Utah canyonlands, where he forages mulberries and wild onions, scavenges road-kill raccoons and squirrels, pulls expired groceries from dumpsters, and is often fed by friends and strangers. “My philosophy is to use only what is freely given or discarded & what is already present & already running,” he writes. While the rest of us grapple with tax deductions and mortgages, Suelo no longer holds so much as an ID card.
Yet the man who sleeps under bridges and prospects in trash cans is not a typical hobo. He does not panhandle, and he often works – declining payment for his efforts. While he is driven by spiritual beliefs and longings, he is not associated with any church. And although he lives in a cave, he is not a hermit: He is relentlessly social, remains close with friends and family, and engages in discussions with strangers via the website he maintains from the public library. He has crisscrossed the West by bicycle, hopped freight trains, hitched through nearly every state in the union, hauled nets on a Bering Sea trawler and spear-fished salmon in Alaska streams.
“I know it is possible to live with zero money,” Suelo declares.