Monday, June 6, 2016

A Reprise of Thoughts on Financial Collapse

I wrote and originally posted this post on 10/22/2013. Judging from the number of recent visits to it, it has found new relevance. I am reprising it here.
What is behind this door ?  Is it a basement, a coat closet, or a pantry ? We won't know until we open it.

 My interest in general preparedness began in 1979 when I was a college student.  I thought it made sense to be reasonably prepared for short term weather situations which could be downright dangerous for those who hadn't given thought to ice storms or snowdrifts.  I also commuted great distances to clinical affiliations all over the New York, Northern NJ area, and once, I had to stay in a hotel because I couldn't get back home in Winter.   That year I also read a book called "Crisis Investing" by Douglas Casey and it broadened my horizons.  For the first time I read that many people thought that both the culture and the government of the United States spent money unwisely and that eventually a financial collapse which would likely be worse than The Great Depression.   My parents, like most parents of the day, believed in reasonable preparations.  My father kept extra oil filters, extra oil, and tools for emergency repairs.  My mother kept basement shelves with canned goods on them and a couple of times she met with women from the nearby church and they all learned to can whatever they had each year in abundance.   When I graduated from nursing school and moved into one of my first jobs, a patient who was being discharged from the hospital was required to have a disaster plan on their chart as part of discharge planning.  Most nurses hated doing this, but I didn't.  The idea that we could do everything correctly, and then discharge the patient with specialized equipment, and then have all our work go down the drain when the power went out, bothered me. I took discharge planning and post discharge disaster planning very seriously for my patients. Sometimes this meant that they needed to stay ahead on medication. Other times it meant that a second device was kept in their home in the event that the first one malfunctioned or a power surge blew its logic board. Sometimes it meant that extra oxygen tanks were delivered to the home.  As time passed, the care many people receive in the hospital has deteriorated probably secondary to staffing far fewer numbers of licensed nurses, and the over-reliance on those in scrubs who aren't really nurses, and weren't really educated or trained as such. .  Many times patient and family teaching has suffered, and the preparedness plan for the medically fragile has become less common despite its continued great importance.

              When I married and had children part of being a good parent was to be prepared. I was prepared for high fevers following routine immunizations. I was prepared for vomiting and diarrheal illnesses.  Once again, I heard concerns about a financial collapse in the US.

               My kids are mostly grown now, and although it has taken all those years to get here, most Americans know about the very real possibility of an American financial collapse. They might not have believed in in early 2008, but by the end of that year a great recession began that either cost the family a retirement account, a job, a particular career, their homes, their pets, and sometimes their spouse and family. Very few families have been unscathed by this recession, and very few people believe the propaganda that it's on its way out the door.

                I think I liked it much better when mentions of an American financial collapse were simply an intellectual exercise, and an economic what-if.  We have always had a back up plan as to what we would do or where we would go, and of course, we never expected to need to use it. In the past year we have seen the loss of funds people had on deposit with banks in Greece. We have seen their government take over pensions. We have seen Portugal, Italy, Spain,  and other nations struggle with austerity measures. We have seen riots in the United Kingdom and France as austerity measures began to be implemented.  We have seen the Middle East on fire and our ally, or perhaps more accurately our former ally, Egypt fall into a bitter civil war in which Christians and Muslims have been tortured and murdered for having been the wrong religion in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have watched as Al Qaeda has made great inroads in North Africa, and as China locks up the rare Earth metals and mining business around the world.  Russia has paid down it's nations debts and enjoys a shining transformation from the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  Capitalism, hard work, and the energy business has transformed Russia into a shining star of business and of culture. I do not begrudge them this success.  I do however sit in awe of my nation having elected an unqualified individual who has strong armed and implemented radical ideas, while Congress doesn't seem to be able to put the breaks on the runaway train of fundamental transformation of this nation into a Third World country.

             Now, as I spend time out in the world I see people planning for "the great collapse" and for "hyperinflation".  One woman told me today that she was stocking OTC medication for the day when the doctors quit and none of us could get one.  The Great Collapse was something I gave a little bit of thought to in my twenties. I believed that some of my assets should be spent in preparation for reasonable possibilities like floods, Winter storms, ice, earthquakes, and even domestic terrorism.  I honestly didn't think there would be a genuine collapse in my lifetime.  However, now people in stores tell me that the US debt, which is only conservatively assessed at 17 trillion using federal imaginative mathematics, is too large for spent America to pay back. Ordinary people now believe that the World's Reserve Currency will no longer be the US dollar, and that collapse, poverty, violence, attempted secession, and even civil war are coming.   I liked it much better when this was an intellectual exercise we all thought might never happen.

            I would love to have a "Pull-up-the-ladder-Jack, I'm-alright" attitude about a financial collapse, but I can't.  Even if by some magical circumstance my preparations were enough to help carry my family through a short term interruption in supplies, what about our friends ?   What about the people who helped build this farm ?  What about the men and women where my husband works, and their families ?  What about all the people who have been so good to my daughter in her challenging new job ?  I am not okay with being alright while "Rome burns".