[Dateline: 22 January 2008]
It occurred to me today that one of the nice things about not having much money is that I don’t have to worry about loosing it in the stock market.
But I realize full well that a falling stock market and an overall failing economy will take its toll on me and my family, just as it will on you and yours. If you don’t think so, you’re in for a rude awakening.
You don’t have to be a prophet or an economic expert to see that America is heading into a deep, dark decline. Just open your eyes. The handwriting has been on the wall for years. Ignorance won’t be bliss for much longer. I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. And, believe it or not, I’m actually optimistic about the future. But it is pretty certain that we are going to go through some very tough times in the years ahead.
I came to realize that the modern American economic system was fundamentally flawed, and destined to fail, back in the 1980’s when I read a book titled "Miracle on Main Street" by F. Tupper Suassy.
Another impressionable volume was a black & white picture book of the 1930’s depression era that my parents had. It was titled The Desperate Years I was in grade school when I first looked through and studied the pictures of sadness and misery in that book. I thought to myself that if it happened once, it could happen again.
Over the years, there were other books, and there were stories from people who had lived during The Great Depression. One of my uncles has been writing a book about his recollections of the depression era. Now in his eighties, he was just a small boy during the depression, but he remembers it in great detail. He let me read the manuscript to his book.
Prior to the crash, his family’s home was paid for. But his father took out an equity loan to do some remodeling. Then came the crash and his father lost his job. There was no money. They lost their home. The family moved something like 12 times in eight years. They lived with kin in West Virginia and Ohio. They lived in abandoned houses way out in the middle of nowhere. Times were hard. Real hard. Harder than most people alive today can imagine.
People think that sort of thing can’t happen again. Don’t bet on it.
I had to laugh a couple weeks ago when I heard an NPR radio program in which they were discussing whether or not we were in a recession. Of course we are in a recession! When it gets to the point where things are so bad that the talking heads are wondering if we are in a recession, then you know for sure we are, and we’ve probably been in one for several months now. Soon they will be talking depression. Are we in a depression? And then they will be talking about inflation. Are we experiencing inflation?
Now George Bush and the congress wants to give every American a tax rebate of $800 (or something like that). Then the Fed lowered the prime lending rate .75 percent. They know it’s a bad fix we’re in. They’re scared. Maybe they can plug enough holes in the sinking ship to sail on a few more years. I hope so. But the ship is going to eventually sink. The whole fractional reserve banking system with its fiat money is unsustainable.
That said, I would like to give you my thoughts and suggestions for agrarian-style economic self defense.
If you live in or near a city or high population center, get out. It was crystal clear to me as I looked through the old photos in “The Desperate Years” book that people in the cities were not in a good place.
Buy land or get to some land in a rural area where you can fend for yourself. You need to be able to plant a garden, raise a few chickens, hunt, fish, trap, and forage for wild edibles. I’ll take fields and forest over city dumpsters any day.
Eliminate debt if at all possible. I’ll take a humble little country home on a little piece of paid-off country land over a big, fancy, comfortable house with a mortgage any day. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what I’ve done.
Most modern Americans can’t bring themselves to downsize. Many have enough equity in their big mortgaged homes to sell and buy something far below their current standard of living, and have no mortgage debt. But they just can’t do it. I suspect many, in the years ahead, will wish that they did sell and downsize when they could. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (that's an old agrarian saying).
Acquire the basic tools of self sufficiency. What, you may wonder, are the basic tools of self sufficiency? Well number one would be some debt free land out in the country. Then there are the actual tools--- like garden tools. A shot gun with ammo is a tool too. A grain grinder is an excellent tool for self sufficiency. A woodstove to heat your debt-free home is another tool of self-sufficiency. How-to books are tools too. Start with Carla Emery’s "Encyclopedia of Country Living." It'll tell you how to do just about everything.
Stock up on some basic food items. You can buy things like oatmeal, beans, rice, wheat (for the grain grinder), and other staples through food co-ops for cheap. That’s what we do, in addition to freezing and canning and drying food from the garden. It’s a good feeling to have a well-stocked pantry.
Find community and get involved. Get yourself into a small rural church where folks care about and will help each other. Country people look out for and help each other. That’s always been the case. It’s not going to change when times get bad. But they won't be paying your mortgage for you.
I think you get the idea. What I’m suggesting here is that you simplify, downscale, and adopt a more self-reliant, self-responsible, lifestyle. It is going to be easier to do now than later. If nothing else, get a section of land in the country. Family members could pull together to buy land... debt-free land. It would be a place where you can go if it gets bad. With the land, you have the ability to provide, even if you have to live in a camper or a tent. Land and community are fundamental to surviving the worst of times. Land is fundamental to survival and personal freedom.
Does what I’ve just told you sound radical? Well maybe it is to you. But it isn’t radical to me. It’s the way I now live. It’s the way I decided I wanted to live years ago when I came to understand that the economic system was not sustainable. It’s not a bad way to live. I recommend it to you.
to read my other financial and economic essays.