The Universal Notebook: Surviving the coming economic collapse

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Lately, rumors of a coming economic collapse, something far worse than 2008, have been creeping in around the edges of my life like the stench of something dead in the basement. And like the rotting corpse of something the cat dragged in, I’d like to be rid of it, but I don’t really want to go look for it.

The social pathology that’s out there on the Internet, in wild, remote corners of the radio bands and festering among the survivalists who are with us always goes something like this: We are going to wake up one morning soon to discover that the stock market has crashed, the banks are all bankrupt and closed, the country is broke, and the economy has ground to a halt. If you don’t have your life’s savings buried in the backyard, you’re suddenly broke, too. Your money and investments are all gone. Now what are you going to do?

Those rugged individualists who saw the end coming have converted all their wealth to gold, silver and cash, stockpiled at least a year’s worth of food and water, fortified their homes, installed supplemental oil tanks and back-up wood stoves, planned escape routes, and, oh yes, armed themselves heavily both for protection against desperate, starving neighbors and to hunt down the only meat anyone will be eating for the foreseeable future.

The rich and powerful have seen this collapse of capitalism coming for several years now. Some will no doubt manage to profit from it, somehow having found a hedge against the econ-apocalypse. Most will be hunkered down in gated communities protected by private security forces paid in cognac and coq au vin.

The rest of us, so the prevailing ill wind blows, will be rioting in the streets, penniless and fighting for survival. Mobs will storm the banks demanding their vanished fortunes. Supermarkets will all be looted within hours. We will be reduced to scavenging for wood to heat our cold, dark homes.

Soft old liberals like myself who possess no manual skills will be the first to go. To survive in the cash only post-crash world, you’ll need both wheelbarrows full of cash and a marketable skill. Auto mechanics, carpenters, farmers, hunters and fishermen will be able to barter their services for whatever they need. Doctors and witch doctors will get rich overnight. Insurance salesmen, investment bankers, attorneys and journalists will be (bleep) out of luck with no useful services to trade for food.

Hardcore right-wing militias will patrol the streets, keeping order and shooting looters. In the brave new world of the self-reliant, the well-armed will be in charge and Motor City Madman Ted Nugent will preside over the ruins of America as a self-appointed strongman. Welcome to Mogadishu, Maine.

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it. I, of course, have a different take on the coming catastrophe.

First, I don’t see it happening at all. (Sorry, Two Gun Ted.) Second, if it does happen, I believe a total economic collapse is as likely to bring out the best in people as the worst. Those Americans who place more value on cooperation than competition will find common survival solutions and begin knitting together a social fabric while the wild-eye weirdos in their fortified bunkers slowly go feral and funny in the head.

In a time of great economic crisis, selflessness, caring and sharing will triumph over selfishness, arming and hoarding. Forced to live hand to mouth like most of the people in this world, we may discover that what’s really important in life has little or nothing to do with material possessions. Yes, it’s actually possible to enjoy life without a car, cell phone, computer, cable television, credit card, country club membership or condo in Cabo.

While I certainly understand the present anxiety about the future and the ever-present instinct for self-preservation, I still believe those “preppers” busy preparing for the worst are missing both the sweetness and the point of life. They have already descended into the chaos they fear.

Beware: the world is what you think it is.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.