Three Views of TEOTWAWKI

The most fundamental decision factor when making investments is each individual’s belief of what the future holds — that being what Technical Analysis was designed to read, and it worked very well until we got to enormous funds skewing the true input of what Joe and Susie Invester are thinking.

The “just another bump in the road” contingent holds that the USA has always recovered from adverse economic situations before and will triumph again. Justice Litle, in Taipan Daily, speculated on possible causes for a sudden surge in purchases of long-term treasuries, today. Those who see “green shoots” have a knack for seeing hope everywhere and would probably buy kerosene futures if confirmation of an impending EMP attack were available.

Those of us on the Doom & Gloom side vary primarily in how fast we think things are going to fall apart, how painful the bumps on the way down will be, and how long it will take to recover if we ever do. We’re a jolly bunch, and our prognostications range from the most sanguine (the Greater Depression dragged out to Japanese lengths), to violent upheaval following the collapse of either government or the dollar, to dicatorship, and we make our bets accordingly. I certainly hope for the best (the dismal prospect of the Greater Depression), but I hold with preparing for the worst.

Today I’m going to give you the basics of the three major proponents of D&G. In order to prepare for this I gulped down James Howard Kunstler’s World Made By Hand and The Long Emergency, James Wesley (sic) Rawles’ massive Patriots and far more useful and readable How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It (or, How to Survive TEOTWAWKI), and William Forstchen’s brilliant (and devastating) One Second After dealing with his predictions of how a nation-wide EMP strike would affect life in a small town in North Carolina — such as the one he lives in. In my spare time I read at least a dozen lesser-known authorities, one of whom devastated me with the advice, “Never be a refugee.” Yikes. He’s right: if the worst happens, be prepared to hole up wherever you are rather than hitting the roads when/if this becomes the new Balkans. If you haven’t got a destination in mind, stay put.

Mr. Kunstler, well known to readers of W&G from his weekly appearances, set his World Made By Hand in a small town in upper state New York similar to the one he lives in, Mr. Rawles centered his views on preparations made deliberately ahead of time to build a survivalist/”prepper” community in the West, where he lives, while Mr. Fortschen’s saga is set in a locality similar to the one he has chosen as an abode.

JHK is an urban architect — and a romantic, an analysis that might startle his many fans and probably the fiery Mr. Kunstler himself. His ideal appears to be Rothenburg am der Tauber at least forty years ago, a tiny, entirely self-sufficient town with quaint cobblestoned streets, beautiful wrought iron (frequently gilded) signs, and jolly villagers going their way doing their (literally) daily shopping and putting their purchases in string bags they carried home on foot. The hills around were dotted with vineyards, farms, and fat cattle, with the occasional whiff of human waste collected for fertilizer. Commerce was limited to the local grocer, pharmacy, gasthaus, restaurants, and the shop that sold beautiful etchings by Professer Geisler and his student, Herr Geisendorfer. The only local industry other than wein was tourism, which provided the few extras the inhabitants — living in multi-generational families in houses they had owned for centuries — wanted, the few things they did not produce themselves, and some contact with the outer world. Rothenburg had all the charm of Brigadoon and I visited it frequently during the decade I lived on the Continent. It would be interesting to know what has become of Rothenburg following the influx of Turks and Muslims.

JHK envisions a similar future for America, small “walkable” towns with most of the population living and working in the country, but since I’m not an urban architect I don’t see how to get around the fact that our small towns are also already completely balanced and neither want nor can incorporate doubled populations in order to shut down the suburbs — and there aren’t enough of them, either, to empty Houston, Dallas, Chicago, LA, NYC, etc., even if the inhabitants wanted to go, which they don’t. Suburbia was our attempt to recreate the agrarian lifestyle of our forebears. It didn’t work.

All the services the locals in small towns want enough to pay for them are already provided, and — just as in Colonial days — youngsters move out to search for employment and return only when they inherit a family farm or one of the few businesses in town. I admit freely that I dote on the “ideal” town, one which has two grocery stores, two feed stores, a beauty parlor (only city folks have “hair dressers”), a drug store, two banks, two vets, a couple of doctors, one of those new-fangled dollar stores, a small hardware store (such as Ace), a used book store open three afternoons a week, and assorted eateries: a burger joint, Mexican, a fried chicken place, and a “real” restaurant that serves chicken-fried steak. Mel Tappan, referenced later, advised moving to a town of 2,000, preferably, but no more than 5,000. If we had enough land there Charles and I would return to our place in Hamilton immediately.

As the sign in the general store said long ago, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.” There is always a Walmart within twenty-five or thirty miles to cover rare other needs. There are few jobs other than at the two or three convenience/gas stations, there is little housing available, and the infrastructure is quite sufficient for a stable population but no more. The problem is that with the explosion of the population the locals lose far more than the newcomers gain. Local merchants lose when the immigrants import their suburban lifestyles and taxes soar to pay for larger schools, more “social” services, and an increase in electricity and water availability.

World Made By Hand disappointed me greatly because I had expected a volume full of the triumph of man in the face of adversity — in other words, a world full of things made by hand. JHK’s population is really very lucky since the worst it has suffered is several epidemics and having the local biker gang (which comes to a bad end) sequester the local garbage dump to mine for glass, wood, nails, and so forth. In general violence is encountered only when the natives travel beyond their Brigadoon. I (note the emphasis) found them a feckless, dismal lot given to moaning over the loss of relatives and television. The book opens with the Narrator (no hero, he) and his best friend (a minister who loses his faith following severe physical abuse) discussing the minister’s idea of building a better central hand-laundry facility. It ends with the Narrator considering the idea.

Kunstler shows us a world without hope.

A “sect” of about 75 comes to town and buys the local crumbling high school for a “compound.” Brother Jobe arouses every suspician that he and his followers are genuine nuts of the sort that will remind you of ever-sleazy televangelist you ever saw by mistake. The one successful resident is the local cattle baron shunned by the populace. HE has the skills and materials to produce electricity and uses it for his own selfish purposes! HE has the ability to barter for wheat, which will not grow locally due to a rust infection. (The locals complain a lot about cornbread.) He throws a terrific party for the whole town, which pigs out on genuine hotdogs, hamburgers, and real rolls…but the Narrator still won’t work for him. The city water supply (which the Baron does not use) is in danger, and who comes to the rescue? The Baron has the ability to cast concrete pipe, which he donates. His men and the Brothers do all the work, including clearing a blockage of a massive tortoise shell and a large, decomposing coyote. Yech. And do they get a parade or universal thanks? Nope. Funniest thing…whenever there is a problem, Brother Jobe sends horses, wagons, and strong young men with useful military skills. You all know me: if we must have TEOT-WAWKI along these lines, I want to be the local Baroness. The rest of them — other than the semi-Amish group — weren’t having any fun.

The cream of the jest is that the Narrator’s golden dream is…to own a horse! Thus proving that peak oil may remove the luxury of private transportation, but nothing will ever persuade Americans that this isn’t a necessity. (Me? Not only do I already own horses, but my plan is to develop external combustion engines. If I ever need them I don’t think anyone will be inclined to listen to the Greenies.) Being eccentric is a lot of fun; my neighbors didn’t even blink when we bought a refurbished doctor’s buggy, although the local city council won’t let me drive it to town. Horrors, the horsie might potty on the streets.

The Long Emergency covers JHK’s views of the ultimate evil, abundant, relatively inexpensive fossil fuels. Since he is James Howard Kunstler and I’m Mrs. Nobody Much in Particular, let it suffice that my candidate for the worst thing ever to happen to the world was the Industrial Revolution, which lead to increased food production and moving the bulk of the exploding population into cities where many of them became drones. He is, of course, correct, but a good point can be made that the situation was moderately containable until whale oil was replaced by crude oil.

I have already covered the basics of Patriots, wherein a large group of college students decides (in 2000) that a “retreat” is necessary, as proves the case in 2009. Their focus is almost exclusively on being able to defend themselves against raiding gangs, and they are very good at it. The second half of the book involves their triumph over UN forces which I find unlikely. Mr. Rawles’ survivalblog makes clear that he is in favor of growing gardens and raising crops, neither of which The Group does. If the price of survival is softened wheatberries for breakfast day after day, a pot of yummy rice (period) for lunch daily, and the venison or elk du jour other than a rare MRE for dinner, I may have to rethink the issue in terms of Petronius, Arbiter Elegantarium. Rather than leading a life that bleak — which isn’t necessary—opening one’s veins looks like a fairly reasonable alternative. Three years after “the change,” and at least six or eight after people have been living on their secluded forty acres, The Group has yet to grow anything more complicated than herbs and a little fruit and owns no livestock at all. Mr. Rawles makes me feel very inadequate (since I don’t own so much as a stick of dynamite and doubt my competence to construct a modern Molotov cocktail even if I had empty champagne bottles, hunks of plastique, and spare gasoline, which I don’t), but I still think The Group would have done better to buy a little less razor wire and get a couple of goats and a few chickens. Mind, nobody has a higher opinion of razor wire than I do (at least in theory; I don’t own any), but omelets and fresh milk would have improved their outlook and nutrition quite a bit.

Rawles shows us a world where dog eats dog, the vile eat each other and dogs, and the good guys survive grimly.

I can certainly recommend How to Survive TEOTWAWKI. It isn’t as heavy on prayer and instructions on how to construct IED, but it is an excellent basic presentation. Even green-shooters ought to read something like it if only to consider hedging a few bets.

Mr. Forstchen is a well-known author who may not have come your way. He is known for superb Science Fiction and — frequently in collaboration with Newt Gingrich, who is a whale of a historian whatever you think of his politics and his barber — the author of “alternative” histories. You know…what if Stonewall Jackson had gotten medical attention promptly or Bobby Lee hadn’t tried one last assault on Seminary Ridge?

Mr. Forstchen depressed the living whey out of me working through what might happen in a population of about ten thousand in a defensible little town high up in the Carolina mountains. If you were only going to read one of the three authors, I advise William Forstchen, whose grasp of psychology, tactics, politics, and the full range of woes that sudden loss of power would cause are superb. The book ends a year after EMP are set off in three areas of the world, and our reluctant hero has managed to preserve about 20% of the townspeople, sometimes by means I much prefer not to discuss, although they fall short of cannibalism. According to the Colonel who shows up with the first supplies, only twenty-five million survived in the entire USA. I expect on the order of 40%, but Mr. Forstchen caused me considerable pause.

Forstchen shows us what would happen in hospitals and nursing homes, how very dangerous refugees would be — even polite ones — and the difficulties even good people would have in trying to maintain any sort of distinction between private property and public need/greed. His characters cope with very practical problems such as how and where to bury hundreds of bodies when the backhoe doesn’t work and calories are restricted to 900 and dealing with a nearby big city whose mayor demands they take in five thousand of their inhabitants.

Basically I’m a simple, merry, little soul and I don’t want to have to spend most of my time and resources on the theory that everything we know may disintegrate into life being nasty, brutish, and short and everything we have subject to confiscation by government and/or other rude, well-armed strangers. I am offended. That isn’t supposed to happen to special little me or to these United States of America.  We don’t want to have to turn away those in need or defend ourselves against looters…but if it comes to either Rawles’ or Forstchen’s worlds, that is what we will face.

Since the rest of you didn’t see fit to elect me Empress of the Universe, I must cope with what I think is and will come to be, and my view is that all three of the experts I have covered far more briefly than I would like to have done have at least a big hunk of the truth. The problem I pose for you is what might happen, and what could you do to ammeliorate the situation? What would you do in James Howard Kunstler’s world, other than be grateful that things were no worse? If you had a dozen like-minded friends and plenty of money would you retreat to your fortress, driving off bad guys and helping those you thought worthy? Could you band together and sacrifice together with your neighbors as Forstchen’s characters did?

It may be that I am wrong; Mel Tappan, who died nearly thirty years ago, thought that the symptoms we see now were at critical mass in 1980. Howard Ruff felt this way in 1980, too, and we are still staggering from disaster to disappointment. We got through Y2K without all the computerized records going down. My suggestion, as always, is that you make basic preparations for at least six months for your families, work out where you are going to hole up “if,” and consult Doug Casey, who had a terrific article in W&G yesterday. The best preparations are those we hope never have to be implemented. We don’t expect our houses to catch fire, but we buy insurance policies just in case. If there is even a possibility that your bank — or all banks — will fail, it makes excellent sense to buy silver and gold.

It would be easy to laugh at Mr. Tappan and Mr. Ruff because they were wrong prior to the election of Ronald Reagan — who certainly made his share of mistakes but averted disaster.  Would that he had done more than postpone it. A better lesson is that we may have survived another thirty years of increasing debt, taxation, and regulatory abuse but that the wheels are more likely than ever to come off. It could it be that we can survive another year of politics as usual with a serious change of faces and policies in the November elections that ushers in twenty years of dismantling the Nanny State but I doubt it.

Linda Brady Traynham

January 28, 2010

The Daily Reckoning