Follow the Trace

The interesting excerpt from Trace Mayer’s book made me smile ruefully because his solution to the problem is better than mine. He wrote the book first, so references to Chapter Six make it clear that this isn’t all he knows about the subject. He has the luxury of not attempting to explain everything in the time it takes the bar on the right to hit the bottom. “Silvery” laughter, because my system IS to start with an idea or facts and write until the ball drops in my version of Times Square. At that point I start guiltily, try to come up with a zingy one-liner, and quit.

I have been a “prepper” (a less loaded term than “survivalist,” which has picked up pejorative connotations of rednecks with missing teeth brandishing large firearms in open revolt against government) for three and a half years, now, and as Trace notes that can become a very resource-consuming operation if pursued to its logical conclusions. If there were a Preppers Anonymous, the meeting would start, “My name is Linda and I’m an addict. You think you can take tractors or leave them alone, then decide that just one more John Deere and another ton of rice won’t hurt, until mania has taken over your life.”

I applaud his suggestions for preparing for suburbanites, with the proviso that they are against two very different events. (I suggest reading the rest of his book because I am certain he makes that clear.) Just in case you have never considered “prepping,” let me see if I can eke out a hit to bring home at least one of the runners on base.

Three months’ food for family and pets is extremely sensible if what you are guarding yourself against is a comparatively short-term period when the “just in time” food distribution system breaks down BUT there is no loss of order in the area in which you live. It also saves money by keeping you out of grocery stores when you run short of just an item or two, which also encourages rotation of stock. A major mistake most make is far too frequent trips “to town,” instead of saving time, gasoline, and money by letting errands stack up until one of them is urgent.

The 72-hour kit is very wise IF what concerns you is the possibility of an emergency of short duration which will require fleeing your home before, during, or after a tornado, hurricane, flood, tsunami, or the loss of the local team in the Final Four.

“It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” is a splendid philosophy that is very hard on apartment dwellers. No, even a gated storage facility is not a safe place to put supplies likely to be the difference between at least comfort and misery and quite possibly between life and death. I know that most of you cannot retreat in good order to the country now and many of you would be horrified by the retirement lifestyle which we find deeply satisfying, with chickens scratching in the pastures and baby goat girls calling, “Maaaa! Daaaa! Want baaa milk NOW,” while we watch the pasture art (horses), admire glossy black cattle, and instruct the two and a half hands and their assorted delightful college friends who hang out here just for the fun of it.

The most simply I can put complex variables is that the US faces one of three futures, one of which (#2) cannot be prepared against. Those are:

  1. The Greater Depression, which might last as long as Japan’s, now rising two decades.
  2. Dictatorship.
  3. The complete breakdown of the economy and any sort of cohesiveness or order, which James Howard Kunstler refers to as The Long Emergency, Rawles covers in Patriot, and is the theme of similar works of semi-fiction such as The Day After and Lights Out.

If you want to make easy, relatively inexpensive, minimal preparations, I concur with Trace, with one addition: pick up an old, but serviceable, motor home which will probably run you a couple of thousand dollars, or an old travel trailer if you have a van or truck that will pull it. Use that to store your food supplies, your “Bug Out Bag” (BOB), and such luxuries as you can fit in, including clothing for both hot and cold weather. The reasoning is obvious: it makes no sense whatsoever to leave your emergency food supplies behind, and if time is critically short almost everything you need is already packed. We live in an increasingly violent world, and if you evacuate for what you think will be a short period, either you could be wrong about the duration or you could return to find your home had been raided, trashed, or even destroyed by those who hadn’t bothered to prepare and helped themselves to your possessions. A Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) may be the last coach out of Dodge, and if you have a place to store it on your property without raising the ire of your Home Owners’ Association I wouldn’t even license or insure it. It is portable storage, and if you ever need it no one is going to be fussing about current registration. If I lived in the suburbs I would buy such a motor home/travel trailer FIRST and stock it bit by bit. If you ever need it you will REALLY need it, and your safety will depend upon being out of the city/suburbs before the area is cordoned off or the roads are no longer safe. “If” the worst occurs, those who are most likely to survive are those who have prepared and those who get away from “civilization” as quickly as possible. If you were homeless due to riots or “civil unrest” you would be far more comfortable with your own turtle shell rather than in a shelter, internment camp, or wandering the byways begging for food. The purpose of insurance is to guard us against the unlikely but possible.

My preparations are based upon the premise that the economy will collapse and that there will be a period of violence in the cities culminating in those who survive spreading out over the land like locusts. My plans are to be as self-sufficient as possible, to go to town as seldom as possible as frustration, fear, and envy becoming increasingly dangerous to those who can pay for filling shopping carts (at ever higher prices), and to evade the locusts by pulling out in assorted motor homes for the duration, having most of our dense supplies either with us or cached. Eventually, in scenario three, the population will have been reduced considerably and it will be relatively safe to return home, cry and rage about the senseless destruction, and start over.

I am at the opposite end of the spectrum from concern over the levee breaking or earthquakes, holding we need to prepare for anything other than dictatorship and Executive Order 11921, which allows the government to confiscate everything we have for “the general welfare.” I know how fortunate I am to have modest capital and the dearest man in the world at my side. If there is “only” a lengthy depression without looters and rioting on a large scale we can do quite well with what we grow and raise and with our pensions. However, giving the vast increase in population, the reduction in small farms and ranches, declining levels of civility, and some 40% of the population on the dole, I doubt that we can have a nice, quiet depression in modern day America.

If the emergency is reasonably short we should be fine, and in both events what we have built will support on-site caretakers after we are gone until the children are ready to live here, at least thirty years from now. Bill Bonner wrote yesterday, on The Daily Reckoning, that the preponderance of older people are spending what they have as though we were still living in the Eighties or even the Nineties, indulging themselves with vacations, new cars, and similar material luxuries. He said that few have more than $40,000 in savings and at least a quarter of those have less than ten thousand in the bank! (Not that I consider banks good places to have money.)

All of us have had “If only I had…” moments in our lives, and many will rue the day they decided that their pensions were adequate, refusing to consider rampant inflation, the destruction or devaluation of the dollar, or the possibility that pension funds will fail. SS just went in the red, six years before anticipated; that is a predictable consequence of tax revenues being down close to 20%. There is a hold for three years (at present) on COLA increases, Obamacare will probably hit us for about three thousand a year for fewer services, the age of eligibility continues to climb, and Congress is eying “means testing” lasciviously. If you never remember another thing I say, remember this advice: do NOT start drawing Social “Security” until you have no other choice. Refusing to accept SS when my husband died, when I was about 63 1/2, and holding out for a couple of years when I did not need the money made a difference of an additional third in what I receive now. Learn the rules and analyze your financial situation carefully. How long will it take to amortize the SS you forego? The traditional guideline few can reach is that you should leave your widow 80% of your income before retirement. And we all have spasms. Not at .25% interest, you aren’t likely to.

Your future is a very personal issue that only you can–and must–prepare for. My darling Charles and I have bet the ranch, literally, will be our salvation AND be able to sustain our children if options one or three come to be. It preserves their inheritance against all save dictatorship, ensures that there will be meat, eggs, milk, and vegetables at least in season on our table, and keeps us “young” and vibrant because we have so many exciting plans and projects. We’re amused every time we buy cattle or machinery from those who are retiring “from” ranching, our idea of bliss being to retire “to” ranching.

I was touched by a response Mr. Mayer got from a couple who had made preparations to live in a remote locale and realized they weren’t prepared to go it alone. A hundred years ago 85% of the population lived in rural areas. Today those proportions are reversed, and most Americans have no grasp of how different life in the country is. Her main point was more practical: a couple or a small family could find it difficult to defend their home, something which is also true in the cities and in suburbia. Even those who are able economically and concerned about the socioeconomic situation enough to do something about it would do well to consider the possibilities of finding others to share mutual defense, and those in the suburbs and even apartment buildings might be able to put together neighborhood watches. The best compromise for those nearing retirement age is probably moving to a small town, one of perhaps two thousand people. Most of those are far enough away to be safer from violence spilling over from the cities, but small enough so that peer pressure is conducive to better behavior. I think I put that once as, “Everybody knows whose son shouldn’t be allowed to date your daughter and who it is safe to lend your lawnmower to.” I hope my thoughts will make it easier for you to decide how thoroughly you need to prepare and where you hope to be if it all falls apart on us. Hope for the best, but prepare for the possibilities you see.

I will close by saying how much I appreciate the privilege of writing for you, and how very pleased and moved I am by the mail I receive. Please respond to my articles, and don’t think, “Oh, Linda must have so many e-mails she won’t want to take time to read mine.” My mail is a joy and I have accumulated more wonderful friends than I have had in the rest of my life through your letters. I’m tickled that you refer to James Howard Kunstler by his full name, but call me “Linda.” Y’all do that, because I take my research and analysis seriously, but not myself.

Linda Brady Traynham
Whiskey & Gunpowder

April 1, 2010

The Daily Reckoning