Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Put It On Plastic? Gambling with Survival

How close are we to a catastrophic economic event?
In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra: "Predicting is difficult; particularly about the future." Just because you believe the end is near doesn't mean you should stock up on green bananas. Better to stock up on the foods that you normally eat with long term storage potential and rotate your stock. Most canned goods nowadays have the "best if sold by" date printed right on the can. . It's not unusual for canned goods to have expiration dates of more than a year out and, if stored in a cool dry place, they can be safely consumed even after many years.

Also, honey is a nutritious food source and (sealed) honey stores virtually forever.In addition to its antiseptic and antibacterial properties locally produced honey tends to immunize against local allergies.

As an added bonus most micro-organisms do not grow in honey making it an impromptu topical antibacterial agent as long as water is kept away from the wound which makes it a good ointment for rashes and burns. Honey can also be used to help soothe sore throats.

Is there anything we individuals can do to prevent the coming crisis?
Look, you're in the same position as a passenger on the bow of the Titanic on that fateful night just before it struck the iceberg. You are not a member of the crew and therefore are not qualified to see the iceberg. The helmsman will not heed your advice and the officer of the watch won't wake the captain with your warning. You'd best begin thinking about an alternative mode of transportation.

You've probably noticed there aren't enough lifeboats so depending on the authorities for salvation will be problematical. A wooden stateroom door doesn't provide the comforts of a lifeboat, but it floats.

Have you selected your door? The water's cold so you'll need something to tie yourself to the door with. Got rope?

Getting away from the seafaring analogies, when things go to hell in a hand basket there'll be a shortage of hand baskets. Having your own hand basket will mean you not only don't have to stand in line to get one, but you'll be helping the team effort by not being in that line and thus putting that much less strain on the over stretched and stressed hand basket providers.

Whether you shelter in place (most likely for most people) or make a run for it you'll need water, food and medicine which brings us to the next question: How ya' gunn'a get all this stuff?

Getting back to the hand basket analogy; given a crisis developing over a period of days there'll most likely be a rush to buy food and camping supplies. We've seen it all before; the weather bureau forecasts a blizzard or hurricane and the nightly news shows video of empty store shelves and people lined up at cash registers with carts full of bottled water, food, tools and supplies. You don't want to be in that line unless you're just topping off.

Why not? Since nobody knows when the tipping point will arrive why not wait till the last minute and then max out the credit cards and sit safe and secure in your chosen hideaway as the world unravels around you smug in the knowledge that the credit card bills will never come?

What makes you so sure the stores will be accepting credit cards or even open for business? Hurricanes and blizzards are local events for which merchants are happy to put survival supplies on plastic because the merchants know that when the storm is over the credit card company will still be around to pay them. But what if they aren't? Or what if the merchants fear they may not be?

Perception is reality at least insofar as we react to it and a radioactive hole in midtown Manhattan or even just a dirty bomb in the Bronx would likely cause the banks who sponsor credit card companies and the merchants who get paid by them to put the kibosh on credit until things get sorted out. But there are physical reasons you don't want to base your survival plans on plastic.

It wouldn't take a mountain sized meteor melting Montreal to put plastic survival plans in the potty. When we ran our store something as trivial as a lightning strike on a power pole would take whole sections of the city (and our credit card machines) down. The Northeast and New York City Blackouts in 1965, 1977 and 2003 made cash king for the durations.

And then there's the prospect of sabotage of our national electrical grid, Internet or banking industry infrastructure to worry about.

No, I'll stock up on food and forgo the opportunity to join the desperate mobs of looters left holding a wallet full of useless plastic when the pantry is empty.

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