|Issue #155 • September/October, 2015|
Fifteen years ago (in Issue No. 65) I wrote an article in this space titled, “Can America Be Saved from Stupid People?” It was widely read and stirred up a fairly serious conversation among readers who feared America was in danger of collapsing into a welfare and totalitarian state. Then, eight years ago, I published a book of the same title that stirred up an even bigger conversation about America’s fate. The initial 10,000-copy printing of the book sold out, so three years ago I revised and expanded it into its present form, which continues to stoke the debate.
So for 15 years now, and as recently as the last preparedness expo I attended between issues of this magazine, I have been asked by readers the question: Can America be saved from stupid people? I always give the same little joke as my answer:
“The sequel to the book will be out soon, and it has only one word. Can you guess what that word is?”
Almost everybody guesses, “No!” and we all have a nervous laugh about it. You see, I too have harbored deep fears that America was in an irreversible downward spiral, with the country in debt up to its ears, basic freedoms on the decline, and too many freeloaders sucking the productive people dry.
Well, I’ve reconsidered my answer and this article explains my more hopeful reply.
Why the question?
Most of us would agree that America is the greatest idea ever conceived by mankind. With its ample freedoms and opportunities to succeed, we have prospered both as a country and as a people. We have especially prospered if we were individuals with an idea and a willingness to work hard.
America is the culmination of mankind’s efforts over many millennia to achieve happiness and prosperity for the majority of its people. During most of history, the bulk of humanity was relatively impoverished. Only a tiny fraction of elites, typically consisting of aristocrats and clergy, possessed power and wealth, and they lorded it over the rest of us.
The great leap forward that prepared the way for America began with the European Renaissance in the 17th and 18th centuries. There, during what many historians refer to as the “Age of Enlightenment,” European discoveries in science and engineering led to advances in standards of living and the emergence of a middle class. As living standards rose, more power shifted to the middle class and the iron grip of institutions such as monarchies, the aristocracy, and the Church was broken.
When America finally arrived in 1776, it took mass empowerment to a whole new level. If you were willing to work, even if you were born into poverty, your life improved— often dramatically.
People from all over the world flocked to our shores to participate in our mass experiment in freedom and a seemingly unlimited opportunity to succeed. As a result, and despite a few mistakes such as black slavery, prosperity visited America in ever increasing volume during our first 240 years, and everybody, not just the upper echelons of society, benefitted.
A willingness to work
The key ingredients for America were individual freedom and a willingness to work. Even the labor guilds and bureaucracies that arose in Europe were largely absent from America. We were individual freedom on steroids, and the natural human desire to work in order to thrive drove innovation and prosperity.
There were naysayers to America’s success. The most notable was the rise of communism, with the ultimate embodiment of that anti-capitalist philosophy in the now defunct Soviet Union. That 70-year experiment ended in 1989 with the impoverishment of its captive peoples and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire. The abandonment of communism compared starkly against the continued success of America’s capitalism. Even China, that other monolithic communist system, has partially adopted American capitalism, although the Chinese Communist Party hangs on to political power as an entrenched elite similar to the aristocracy of the Old World, and its interference in free markets is beginning to erode China’s newfound prosperity.
Cracks in our ship’s hull
So here we are today in America, an unrivaled success of a country and political philosophy.
During the last few decades, politicians learned they could “buy” their way into elected office by promising various constituencies free stuff, such as favorable treatment for “well-connected” companies and welfare for those who did not want to work. Government bureaucracies grew large to administer all the free handouts, and, of course, the free stuff had to come from somewhere, so politicians either took it from people who worked hard or, increasingly, borrowed it. Our national debt is an estimated $18 trillion, which is about the size of our economy. We make the debt that recently brought down Greece look like a poorly-run Monopoly game. When our debt comes due, it may resemble the Great Depression of the 1930s and bring down the entire world economy.
The politicians took care of their own, of course. And by “their own” I mean the vast bureaucracies— federal and state employees’ unions, teachers’ unions, police forces, and prison systems— that grew up to support the politicians’ goals of transferring the wealth of those who worked to those who kept them in office.
The people in these public unions are often guaranteed pensions at ages and amounts that far exceed the private sector, and they are the main reason states like California and New York, and cities like Chicago and Detroit are in financial trouble. Millions of public employee pensioners now live off taxpayer-provided pensions for 20, 30, and more years to the point where many cities and states must curtail public services to pay for them. You have only to look across the sea at the imploding economy of Greece, which generated similar extravagant pensions, to see where that can lead. Or you can simply visit our own city of Detroit. In the meantime, other European nations like Portugal and Spain are teetering because they too were going down the Greek road, but austerity measures they’ve had imposed on them may save them.
And, of course, the political class and the bureaucracies have succeeded in getting large swaths of Americans dependent on their handouts. Generations of America’s poor have succumbed to the toxic notion that going on welfare is a better idea than getting a job.
Politicians also played on our fears about crime and, lately, terrorism, so they talked us into giving up many of our freedoms. We now have asset seizures without due process or proof of a crime, no-knock SWAT team raids where police “accidentally” kill citizens over misdemeanor crimes, warrantless “sneak and peak” searches, unconstitutional road checkpoints, wholesale phone eavesdropping on the American people, detention for “suspected” terrorists without a writ of habeas corpus, and restrictions on free speech with the creations of the ambiguous concepts of “hate speech” and “terrorist threats.”
And in the name of saving the poor, the environment, the discriminated against, the underserved, and a whole bunch of other things government and its various special interests felt needed to be saved, we as a people gave up even more of our freedoms to government bureaucrats and agencies who now lead us through a maze of regulations from cradle to grave.
So it seems we have come full circle. Out of the success of the Enlightenment that led directly to the wondrous achievements of America, we have gone round the circle to encounter new political masters, with nearly half of our population not even participating in the labor market and much of the rest working for the government. We have unsustainable debt and an increasingly oppressive state system that rewards the stupid and corrupt and punishes the productive.
And so the 15-year-old question remains: “Can America be saved from stupid people?”
A rephrased question
So I’ve decided the question is wrong. The question should be: “Can you save yourself and your family from stupid people?” If enough of us do that, we will save America in the process. If not enough of us do that, we will at least save ourselves, and that is what really matters.
The message of this magazine for its 26 years of existence has been self-reliance, which is that age-old term for taking care of yourself and your family. Many today use the terms “prepping” or “preparedness” or “survivalism.” They all mean the same thing: If you take care of yourself, things will be fine, even if the world around you sinks into the abyss.
My now deceased friend, Olga Robertson, lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s on a small farm in Canada. She told me several times, “David, we hardly knew that the Depression was going on because we were self sufficient in most areas.”
That’s what you have to be today in an America loaded down with unsustainable debt and too many people actively seeking the free handout— be self sufficient in most areas and shield yourself from the regular economy as much as possible. You don’t have to literally live on a farm, but you can have a big pantry, a backyard garden, some ready cash, no debt, and do the necessary preparations so you can be ready to take care of your family in any scenario.
The Greek Tragedy
The recent economic implosion of Greece should serve as an example to us all. Not all Greeks are suffering. Many have lived outside the grasp of the corrupt state for years in the underground economy, and as Greece disintegrates, those in the underground economy continue to do relatively well. Those government workers and pensioners who bought into the myth that they could retire early on fat government pensions paid for by someone else are not doing well. They all seemed so surprised when the money just ran out one day.
Here’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal as the Greek economic meltdown began:
“How can something like this happen without prior warning?” asked Angeliki Psarianou, a 67-year-old retired public servant, who stood in the drizzle after arriving too late at one empty ATM in the Greek capital. “I want Tsipras (the socialist Greek Prime Minister) to tell me how I am going to make it through the week with 10 euros (about $11) in my bag with rent coming up. It has never been as bad as this.”
Government-dominated societies are always the same old story: Things seem fine for those dependent on it, until one day everything just stops. The ATMs run dry while grocery store shelves empty. For those not dependent on Government, things are still fine, though there are a few bumps. They have cash in their wallets and under their mattresses. They have food in the pantry, and they are prepared in other ways that have been the topics of numerous articles in this magazine.
Like the old Soviet Union communists of a couple of decades ago, and like the California and New York retirees of the future, other people’s money does eventually run out. It’s not much different than an old-fashioned Ponzi scheme. The politicians you voted for to transfer that money to you will be long gone, no doubt enjoying their own “protected” nest eggs. The people you were forcing to pay your too-generous pensions— in Greece’s case they were the Germans, other Europeans, and hard working Greeks who fled into the underground economy or emigrated to other countries— will be gone too, into their own more sustainable world outside the reaches of a corrupt government and that deluded part of the population who thought the free ride would never end.
In these welfare states, including American cities like Detroit where not enough workers are left from which the state can confiscate money to give to the indolent, one of two things typically happens:
1) The checks stop being issued and then the riots begin.
2) The checks keep flowing in ever decreasing values while everything else in society falls into decay, with public services declining and stores closing so you can barely buy the basics of life.
In the case of Greece, we say they descend into a “third world” state with appalling poverty for most. In the case of a large American city like Detroit, the productive population emigrates to other parts of America and we bulldoze entire abandoned neighborhoods and try to confine the ensuing crime wave to the poorest areas.
Down to specifics
So how do you protect yourself and your family against these catastrophic economic events? I’ll give you the short list in this article, since it has taken Backwoods Home Magazine 26 years to compile the long list.
- Get out of debt. If you have no debt, no one can repossess your home.
- Set aside some cash (I also keep a little junk silver). Cash is king in an economic crunch. Just ask someone in Greece with cash.
- Diversify your assets. If you keep all your assets in one place, such as the bank, the stock market, or in property, you can be ruined if that part of the economy collapses.
- Have a large pantry. Go heavy on the protein, such as beans and canned meat. If you don’t can food, pick up cases of canned food on sale. A pantry will also save you bundles of money now during everyday grocery shopping. It’s your in-house store.
- Plant a garden for a regular supply of fresh vegetables now and a critical supply of food during a severe economic downturn.
- Keep chickens, which are as easy as keeping cats or a dog. They give you eggs and meat. If you have a few acres, keep goats too. They give you milk and lots of meat. With your own eggs, meat, and milk, you are golden, both for food and trade items in an economic crunch.
- Keep a dog and cats. A dog will protect your garden from deer, your chickens from predators and Avian flu, which is primarily transmitted by migrating fowl landing in your yard, and you from a burglar. Cats, of course, guard against disease-carrying rodents. And they taste just like chicken. (Just kidding!)
- Learn how to barter with your neighbors and your online community. This is part of today’s underground economy, which will become very important in an economic collapse. You want to get intimately acquainted with how it works now, before the collapse.
- Volunteer in your community. This may sound silly, but volunteers are typically the most knowledgeable and “connected” people in a community. You need to make their acquaintance now, while society is still fairly healthy.
- Get the entire set of Backwoods Home Magazine anthologies, either in paper or DVD form. It is a virtual “Preparedness Bible” with 24 years’ worth of research into what you need to survive a downturn in society, such as a medical kit, a few guns for security and harvesting game, skills in canning food, etc.
Your goal is to be in control of your life so you are able to come to your own rescue if you need to in the future, not have to wait and hope that someone else, like a government agency, comes to your rescue. That is the disaster in your future you must plan to avoid.
People who read this magazine are in a fortunate position because they tend to like the lifestyle that makes these suggestions palatable. If you prefer the sidewalks of NYC, you probably need a getaway vehicle. We’ve had articles on that too.
If you are young, you may not be inclined to take this advice too seriously. It’s just too far off, you think. Unfortunately, it may not be and it will take you by surprise one day unless you understand how dangerous it is not to be prepared. Just-in-time supply systems mean supermarket shelves, or any shelves, can empty in a few days.
Saving America from stupid people has not so much to do with voting stupid politicians out of office, although that is always a good idea, or changing our system of government, although the Constitution we are supposed to be living under has been badly corrupted in recent years. It has to do with you taking care of your own life, your own family, your own neighborhood. From there, everything else will fall into place.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir for all you long-time readers of Backwoods Home Magazine, and I am very confident that many of you are ready for the future. I hope we can convince enough of our neighbors to learn prepping skills now so they don’t have to rely on us when an economic catastrophe occurs.