It’s going to happen one day, and many people think it will be sooner rather than later. All civilisations eventually experience some kind of collapse be it financial, territorial or caused by a natural disaster, collapse is eventually almost certain. This has been the case throughout history and there’s no reason to think that we are any different.
What will make this different from other collapses is the sheer size of it. The interconnectedness of the ‘Global Village’ means that once the house of cards starts to wobble the whole thing will go down and it will happen fast. Throughout history individual empires have collapsed, civilisations have vanished, but in history nations across the planet weren’t involved in the massive amount of trade that we have now. Stocks did not exist. What you had, as an individual, nation or empire was what you physically held in your hand, your home or your storehouses. There was no national debt, no international loans, no central banks, no international aid and no entitlements.
Today we have all these things, but break one link in the chain, take away all the food aid supplied by the United States for example and millions of people in countries most Americans have never visited, start going hungry. Call in debt repayments as happened with Greece and people start to go hungry, more people become homeless and government salaries go unpaid.
A collapse doesn’t happen overnight. It goes through stages and each of those stages requires us to think differently in order to weather it. As time goes on the pace accelerates and we have to think ever faster and ever clearer to ensure that we come out of it as intact as possible. We have to try and make sure that when everything we know and often have come to expect is gone, we can not only survive but thrive.
Maybe by having a close look at a possible sequence of events a collapse may follow we can gain insight into what appropriate actions we should take.
In the first world we expect the politicians and bankers to do their jobs and provide a stable and thriving economy. We expect to earn a decent salary that enables us to have a decent standard of living. We expect to be able to buy not only the items essential to life but items that make our lives easier and more pleasant. We expect to be able to run a car and afford holidays. to buy new clothes that we like but don’t actually need. We expect shops and stores to be stocked with everything we need and desire, from fresh food to a new fitted kitchen, it’s all there waiting for us.
On a different level we expect a solid working infrastructure. We expect on demand electricity and clean water supplies, decent roads and rail links, solid pavements under our feet, traffic lights that work and a state funded education for our children.
We embrace equality laws, that benefit entitlements should be given to all that need them…but we don’t like those same entitlements handed out to people who have never worked a day in their lives…but they are. What started as a safety net for those in need of help starts to cost the country dearly as an increasing number of people wonder why they should have to work when they can take money for nothing. The increase in benefit costs and feeding programs starts to weigh heavily on the economy. The money has to come from somewhere and the politicians know that tax hikes will cost them their jobs. Austerity and frugality, things practiced by past generations become the new norm and these words creep back into everyday language at the political level before making it in to personal, around the dinner table conversations.
The decline has begun.
The rise of those on government benefits continues and austerity programmes are stepped up to pay for the extra costs. Austerity means less money to spend on the high street and shops and stores close leading to higher unemployment and a still higher benefits bill. Government spending rises again, outside of the levels set in national budgets, government debt therefore increases and more austerity measures are introduced. Inflation creeps up, often from a starting point below projected government figures.
Precious metal prices start to increase as the wealthy see them as a save haven in turbulent financial times. You are not particularly wealthy but not knowing where the economy is heading you buy a few Troy ounces of silver and intend to buy a little more each month.
Your views have changed slightly, you are a little worried about what your financial future holds. You have, in effect, implemented a mini austerity programme of your own. You have decided that you will accumulate no more debt. You are considering replacing the car with one whose running costs are lower. You watch the news and buy silver after hearing about the happenings in Greece and the ‘bail-in’ where depositors lost cash in Cyprus. You look at your savings account and there’s not much in it as you have just paid for your annual holiday, you decide that may well be the last one for a while. You check on the amount of benefit you would be entitled to if you lost your job…and you know for sure it would not pay off your debts and mortgage let alone feed and clothe the family. You can’t do anything about the mortgage, which is high loan to value and it worries you.
The economy continues to decline and growth targets are missed. China, typically a high growth economy has slowed considerably. You seen the situation in Venezuela where basic foodstuffs and electricity is rationed and the citizens have to queue for hours to get basic necessities. You think back to the hyper inflation in Zimbabwe when it took a wheelbarrow full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. The news is full of statistics showing that people are going bankrupt at a higher rate than ever before and that homelessness is increasing. There have been rumours flying at your work place that the company will be laying off staff if the situation doesn’t improve within six months.
Concerned, you change your electricity supplier and go on a fixed term deal that will save you some money each year. You apply to government energy saving schemes and make sure your home is as efficient as you can make it and therefore cheaper to run. Someone at work mentions the Great Depression. You read up on it and start to stockpile canned and dried food. You are becoming afraid for the future.
The news isn’t good but doesn’t seem as bad as you’d expected. The economy is still limping along but doesn’t seem on the surface to be getting too much worse…or is that just normalcy bias kicking in? You have noticed far more empty houses than there used to be, and many smaller shops have closed, the premises boarded up waiting for a buyer. The neighbourhood is starting to look a little frayed around the edges as people are struggling to keep up with the maintenance on their properties. You realise that on a local level at least things are worse, mush worse than they were two years ago, but because the decline had been slow you didn’t notice until you really stopped and looked. You scout websites learning about preparing for a financial meltdown of the global system. You download lists and calculators to keep track of your food stores. You had already been using a crude but effective stock rotation system to avoid waste but now you make a full inventory of your holdings and see which gaps you need to plug. Your family think you are insane but not using the garage isn’t overly concerning so they let you get on with it.
Your silver stash has increased and you have a variety of weights from 1/8 of a troy ounce up to a full ounce. The online calculators tell you that you could feed your family for 15 weeks on what you have stockpiled…you need to increase your supplies.
You have managed to save quite a bit by insisting everyone takes lunches from home instead of buying food during the day, your morning coffee stopped months ago and the cash saved stands in a jar in the bottom of your wardrobe. You are amazed at how much this simple act has saved. Your bank account is healthier to but you are worried about leaving it all in the bank. You decide to withdraw some each day and in future resolve to leave only the money for bills in the account. With the family going away for a weekend at your sisters you decide it’s time to spend some of the cash you have worked so hard to save. You spend the evening compiling a list of what you need…it’s a long one.
All day Saturday is spent shopping and you had to return home three times to unload before returning to complete the list. The oxygen absorbers and mylar bags arrived from Amazon the day before and you work well into the night bagging and stowing dried foods into food grade buckets that you brought in last month. Toilet paper is packed into rodent proof plastic storage boxes with lids. The phone wakes you Sunday morning, you have arranged for a friend with a trailer to take you to a house a few miles away that has a couple of tons of wood they want to get rid of. You have a wood burner and it will come in handy even though it will take up a huge amount of space and stacking it is going to be a total bitch of a job.
Two weeks and many arguments after your solo weekend, you hear the end of a report on the national news that the energy companies are saying there is not enough leeway in the system to guarantee that the lights will stay on during the rapidly approaching winter. You search for information but there’s little to be found.
An announcement is made that there will be another round of quantitive easing, where a government prints money and pushes it out into the system to prop up the economy. The sums are staggering.
Inflation starts to rise more quickly than the government anticipated and every day brings new economic woes. prices are rising massively and people are going hungry as they are no longer able to put food on the table.
Some foodstuffs seem to be in short supply and the reasons soon become apparent. Announcements are made two major importers have gone into administration, one an importer of fruit and the other of general grocery.
People start queuing to buy essential goods fearing they may not be available for much longer. Reports of shops and stores being broken into and the shelves stripped increase. Shortages become more widespread and the government implements price controls to try and halt the massive price rises. Reports spread of prices going up before people have made it out of the supermarket. Inflation is in double figures and rising by a couple of points a day.
Unions call strikes, protest marches occur in every major city, many turning into near riots as citizens clash with the police. Resentment simmers and civil disturbances become commonplace.
Unpaid workers stop turning up for their shifts and private enterprise as well the infrastructure suffers. Maintenance on essential services is not carried out, train companies stop most of their services and airports are running at dangerously low staffing levels. Rubbish piles up in the streets as garbage collections cease, the unions calling for their workers to be paid before resuming work. Rats become a big problem as they feast on the decaying matter that is no longer carted away.
Typhus cases soar as maintaining good hygiene becomes more of a problem for tens of thousands of people who for whatever reason can no longer do their laundry or take a shower.
It has been barely two months since your shopping trip.
Those last two months have been pivotal for you and your family. Finally they saw what was happening and jumped on board. The kids savings were pooled to buy extra supplies and the older ones trawled garage and drive sales picking up a good amount of decent manual tools. Garage sales has increased in number exponentially as people try to raise cash selling off their belongings.
The garden is prepared for spring planting…winter is approaching fast so there is no time to plant anything except crops that will do okay in cold weather, luckily parsnips, rutabaga (swede) and sprouts are enjoyed by all the family.
More wood has been collected, mostly paid for as people try to raise cash but it’s still far cheaper than buying from a firewood supplier.
Small maintenance jobs around the house are completed and large bolts fitted top and bottom to all external doors. The up and over garage door is disabled, short of taking a bulldozer to it nobody is getting in that way.
Decent cold weather clothes have been purchased, mostly from thrift shops as were the sleeping bags, enough for the entire family. The warnings of power outages are increasing alarmingly so all household chores are done properly and in a timely fashion in the hope that when the power does fail there will be clean clothes to wear, clean beds to sleep in and enough order that everyone can function.
The six foot chest freezer in the garage is full to capacity with pre-cooked meals that can be reheated on the wood stove should the need arise, and the kitchen freezer is packed to capacity with quality protein foods, both will remain closed in an outage but packing them full keeps the food colder…you would have preferred a generator but a generator is no comfort if you’re starving. Your eldest boy has rigged up a good sized solar panel brought at a garage sale and is charging up two golf buggy batteries, from a closing down sale, to run the freezers in a prolonged outage. A small inverter hooked into the system should give them a few extra days of safe, cold food storage. Sunny weather should recharge the batteries…but winter is coming.
That night you watch the news. There are widespread riots in cities across the country, law enforcement is thin on the ground as police officers take care of their own families. Fires burn as fire crews batten down the hatches at home and victims of violence lie where they fall in the streets.
You look at each other in stunned silence.