J. Brad Hicks (bradhicks) wrote,
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Recommendation: Don't Hoard Food or Guns

I was, by request and by personal inclination, going to jump into the (by comparison) sunny news of my list of things that I think you should be doing now to prepare, now that we can be pretty nearly 100% certain that prices are going to go up much faster than wages for the next 5 years or more and now that we know that unemployment will hit at least 25% before leveling of, and may well get worse than that. I don't think America will tear itself apart the way Wiemar Germany did during their Great Inflation, but I do see enough parallels with history that (to my deep and unsettling rage, the pent-up anger that people have been falsely accusing me of carrying my whole life that I only now feel) we can no longer rule out the possibility.

But ... I knew that if I went into that list, people will fill up the comments with questions about, and arguments for, the things that I do not think you're being smart if you stock up on while goods can still be had with American money. I do not think that you should be stockpiling food. And I do not think that you should be stockpiling guns and ammunition. I may be wrong about both of these things. In fact, for both of those things, I can think of limited exceptions, and I'll include them. But I do not think that they apply to the vast majority of you. (I should also say: I am far more familiar with how Americans react to crisis and what resources America has for surviving the economic collapse that has now begun. I do not have any reason to think that my advice, in this journal entry or in the next, is of any use to the rest of you except as brief entertainment.)

Why Not Stockpile Food? First of all, it's not a given that a collapse of money means a collapse of agriculture in America. It may well not be food that we run out of. Remember that the source of America's greatest strength has not been in our Puritan culture, or our educational system, let alone an economic system that has changed every generation or two since the first white people came in here to stay in the late 1500s, nor even the insane good luck we got in our choice of revolutionary and post-revolutionary leaders. As good as some of those things have been, our single greatest source of strength has been our geography. No other nation on Earth has so many acres of arable land per capita. Now, some back and forth on that, because I'm really not sure how this will shake out, but: America is still only just barely a net importer on food. (Although how we screwed up this country so bad that we became a net importer at all, it still pains me to think about.) But American agriculture is heavily oil dependent. On the other hand, we still have the knowledge, and the vast numbers of unemployed former farmers, to go back to less oil dependent farming, and we didn't turn all or even most of our best farmland into suburbs, and it's not as if we don't have any oil of our own, nor is it 100% certain that oil will be what we run out of ability to import. (Likely, but not certain.) It is bad news that massively chemical-driven agriculture has stripped all of our existing farmland of any vestige of native soil fertility, but there may be good news. Climate change may move the longer growing seasons and/or nourishing rains to places with plenty of fertile soil that we could never farm before, and even if not, buried in our agricultural college system are the textbooks on how to take Dust-Bowl land and turn it back into farmland. We do still have the know-how. So while I'm absolutely certain that the percentage of your budget that goes to food will continue to go up and up, I think it at least somewhat unlikely that you will miss very many meals.

Besides, if you think you can stockpile enough food to last your way through another Great Depression, let alone a Great Inflation, you are either way, way too unreasonably optimistic about when this thing will end or you cannot do simple math. This is going to go on for at least another four or five years, well into the next administration. Who knows, maybe President Whitman will get as scared as her ideological predecessor, FDR, was and will actually break up the mega banks, restore the American financial system to sanity, and put the tens of millions of us that would rather burn this country down than be starved to death back to work. But even that may be optimistic; remember that recovering from their real estate bubble and resulting bank collapse and runaway unemployment has already taken the Japanese over a decade, and they had a thriving global economy elsewhere to work with. You just plain flatly can not, can not, stockpile enough food to get through this without help from others.

And remember what I told you before. If nearly everybody is going to have a problem, it is very much to your disadvantage to be either the first with the problem, or the last. The first people to have a problem don't get any help, because society either doesn't care, or hasn't figured out yet how it wants to help them. The last people to have a problem don't get any help, because everybody else has used it all up before they themselves got into trouble. If a problem is going to be society-wide, generally the safest place to be is with the rest of the herd. And nowhere is that more true than when we're talking about food. You do not want to be one of the first families to go hungry; ask them how bad that is. Nor do you want to run out of food and go hungry after acquiring a reputation for being a food hoarder, and even more so if you last so long that aid has run out and there won't be any more until the economy recovers.

But that brings up the one caveat, the one circumstance under which you might want to stockpile unusual amounts of food, but only if you're the right kind of person to benefit from it. One absolute inescapable rule of economic and/or social collapse is that solitary individuals don't make it. Period. Your odds of surviving and maybe even thriving through this are almost entirely correlated with how many people care if you live or die. If (and only if!) you are short of such people now, and if you can learn to like cooking for and feeding not just your family but your friends, and not just your friends but your neighbors? And if it turns out that I'm wrong and we do all start having to miss meals? If you burn through that food serving your friends and neighbors who are starving the same meals that you serve yourself and your family, if you use that stockpile of food to establish a reputation for hospitality (at the last possible second for doing so, frankly, if it isn't already too late), then it might make sense to stockpile large quantities of food. Otherwise? Maybe shop smarter than you do, but there's no point in buying any more than you already do.

Why Not Stockpile Weapons and Ammo? The first and single biggest reason: basic laws of physics. People who think that they are likely to have to shoot it out with hostile strangers for the stuff they need to feed their families have many problems, but the most important problem they have is that they don't know anything about real gun fights. When a real gun fight starts, there are two things you can be. You can be the person who knows that there will be a gun fight right now, this time, between you and the other person. Or you can be the person who doesn't know that. If the other person is inclined to shoot you to get what you have, not only will they have their gun in an easier place to get to than you probably will, not only will they be able to draw their gun more quickly than you? They will, even more importantly, be able to do so before you even know that this is a gunfight. You can not possibly spot a gunfight coming in less than about a third of a second, the human optical cortex just cannot process information any faster than that. And if you so much as twitch towards a gun at the end of that 300 or so milliseconds, there will already be a gun pointed at your center mass, and it will go off before you clear yours from wherever it is. Your gun can not possibly save your life. Unless ...

Your gun can not save your life from another person who is bringing a gunfight to you unless you greet every person with a drawn gun. You cannot save your life from a gun-slinging robber unless you always answer your door with a gun leveled. You could, of course, do that. What history shows, though, is that during really hard times, that kills you just as dead as the first choice would have, the choice to have a gun but not draw it until you know you need it. And just as with that mistake, this one will probably also kill you without the gun going off, and if you do use that gun, it will probably be to end your own life. Why? Because nobody wants to help that person who always answers the door with a gun. They're scared of them. How many of your harmless, innocent friends, neighbors, and even family members will you have pointed a gun at for certain before the first hypothetical armed robber shows up? So when the food runs out, or the fuel runs out, or whatever else runs out, and you're "safe" from enemies and alone in your house ... you will die alone, whether of deprivation or of self-inflicted gunshot. Now, maybe you are so mis-wired in the head that you would rather quintuple your odds of not making it through the Great Depression by waving around a gun than risk being helpless in the far less likely chance that somebody robs you. Maybe not having to chance feeling helpless or foolish is worth dying for, to you. If so? I think you're a fool, and I'm sure you think the same about me, and I'm sure my advice is useless to you. I'm talking to everybody else.

What's the one caveat this time? How do you feel about "roof rabbit?" More importantly, no matter how you feel about it now, how will you feel about it if your kids are starving? My own father told me he's pretty sure he only survived the earliest part of the Great Depression, before he started doing favors for whatever criminal gang it was that was paying him, because of his father's willingness to take a .22 caliber rifle out and hunt feral cats, feral dogs, pigeons, and squirrels. If you have no squeamishness about that, or if you think that if you (and your family) get hungry enough you can conquer that squeamishness while you're still fit enough to shoot straight? And you can learn to shoot a fast-moving small target in the dark while maintaining good weapon discipline, so that you never lose sight of who or what else is down-range while you're hunting, so you don't kill or even scare your neighbors with the rounds that miss? And if you think that you're more likely to use your weapons for that than you are to lose them to someone hostile, or to have you or one of your family members use them on each other out of despair? Then maybe. I wouldn't, but maybe you should have a small caliber firearm and some ammunition for it. Maybe. Otherwise? Don't stockpile weapons and ammunition.

So much for the don'ts. Next up: There are things that you ought be spending your money on while your money is still worth something. I have several suggestions. But this has been enough to talk about for one journal entry. Save your thoughts about the should-buys for tomorrow, please; in the comments on this entry, stick to either arguing with me about how useful stockpiled food and guns would be during a Great Depression or a Great Inflation, or talk about other widespread bad ideas.
Tags: economy
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