What is proposed in this article is not a new idea. Matter of fact, it is quite an old one. But the subject of this article is worth the reminding. How can we best weather very difficult economic times? As I mentioned in my article, The Economic Challenge, we don’t really know when the next major economic correction will come, but we do know with a high degree of certainty that it will come. The dishonest and scandalous economic practices of our day guarantee this. So this begs the question, “What do we do now to make life better then?”
No one can predict exactly how the coming economic correction will play out. We don’t know if it will take the form of another great recession or depression, or if it might take on the more extreme form of total economic collapse with the loss of the dollar as our currency. We don’t know all the ramifications of such an event, nor will we until we live it.
I, for one, am a peace maker. I believe in community. I believe in love. I believe in the human drive to innovate, cooperate, and thrive. We may see some violent times. But I believe that the violence, the looting, the squabbling, the crime, and the panic can be mitigated by actions that we can take today to make life better now and in the unpredictable future. Yes, it is possible that we could experience even worse situations, but preparing a position of strength now prepares us for a future of peace or whatever else may come.
It is valuable to take individual steps to ready for difficult times. But this article assumes that each reader is already prepping. This article assumes that the readers are preparing financially, storing up extra food and supplies, learning how to grow their own food, and putting together all those contingency plans that will guide families through possible evacuation scenarios.
That said, what else is absolutely essential for weathering tough economic times? I assert that individuals and individual families will not have what it takes to thrive during an extended emergency, no matter how prepared they may be. It takes more than a family to thrive. It takes a community. No, I am not talking about social circles (although those matter too). I am talking about extended groups of individuals with a diversity of skills and resources who can form their own sustaining local economies when the economies of the nation and/or the world fail.
Consider for a moment that our current economy depends on goods and services that are supplied from around the world. Production of goods has been centralized through corporate and government actions to the point that we have all become increasingly dependent on ever fewer and more-fragile supply chains.
The three-day supply of food in our grocery stores travels thousands of miles by boat, rail, and truck to get to the local shelves. What if the trucks cannot be depended on? What if the failure of the dollar results in a period with no means of exchange? Without money, how will the local store order groceries? How will trucks buy fuel? And if the food somehow makes it to the grocery store shelves against all odds, then how will you purchase it if there is no dollar? Yikes!
Another example of our dependence on long supply chains is our dependence on the electrical grid. This vast, interconnected web of power transmission and distribution lines is far too vulnerable to failure. We have all heard about the terrifying EMP strike scenarios. While a successful EMP strike on the US is highly unlikely, it is possible. But consider for a moment the thousands of miles of lines that stand undefended against simple acts of vandalism, terrorism, or the violence of nature. Long term loss of electricity is a very real possibility. How will you buy food and supplies if the debit card scanner is down? What if the dollar has no value left either?
We have similar, long-distance dependencies on our clothing, fuel for our cars, replacement parts for vehicles and machines, communications, shoes, tools, medications, vitamin supplements, as well as the supply chains for manufacturing. What happens when the supplies fail to arrive?
If every home generated all of its own electricity, then our vulnerability to the loss of the power grid would be vastly reduced. If every community grew and raised its own food, then the three day supply of groceries at the grocery store would no longer be such a threat. If there were a local shoe factory, then we would not depend on container ships, trains, and trucks to get our footwear. What is the main point?
If the centralization of production of food, goods and services has created these vulnerabilities, then decentralization and diversification of the same can reduce our exposure.
As I have expressed in previous posts, I am not proposing that we declare war on the major corporations that currently provide the vast majority of our goods. We need those corporations. We need the efficiencies created by the scales on which they operate.
But we need vibrant, local production too. We need this local production to create jobs, to establish the REAL economy, to decentralize power, diversify production, and reduce the risk of the loss of our supply chains.
One family cannot do all this. One family cannot store up enough food, clothing, and other supplies to thrive during a long emergency. Sure we can scrape by for a while, and those with adequate farms may last a bit longer. But what do you do when your work boots are worn out and the centralized supply chains for boots are still not restored? What do you do when your work gloves wear through and your hoe snaps? What do you do when your well pump fails (assuming your generator has lasted that long)?
The solution both now and during times of crises is to have a strong local economy with a diverse production of goods and services. Self-reliance is fantastic but limited. We must build local communities that we can rely on. We need local group economies to make our lives better now and in times of emergencies.
Local group economies - groups of local people who organize symbiotically to leverage their diversification of skills and production for the enrichment of the group today and in the unpredictable future.
I propose that forward thinking people start moving their preparations away from isolation and toward community. You may be a skilled mechanic. That will be a very useful skill during times of supply chain interruption. But that does not make you a skilled gardener, dentist, doctor, veterinarian, cheese maker, beef farmer, or teacher. One person cannot do it all. That is why we need local group economies.
Let’s get specific. Fostering community is not some nebulous “I ought to know the folks in my town” sort of dynamic. Rather, we need to start with small groups of individuals and families that can work together strategically. And then groups of these groups can form larger community units, and so on. How do we accomplish this?
1) Make a list of goods and services that you feel are important to your way of life now. Where are your interests and talents? Which of these needs can you address for yourself and others?
2) Now, make a list of people that you know that have skills that will allow them to address other needs on your list. These people might be preppers or they might not be. What matters is that they can bypass the long-distance supply chain to provide goods or services locally that will benefit others. Don’t worry if you don’t know a person to address every need on your list.
3) Have some folks over for dinner who are on your short list to discuss this idea. You don’t need to convince them that there is an economic collapse coming. Rather, offer to establish cooperation between your hobbies, businesses, or interests. For instance, if you raise chickens for meat and eggs, then offer to provide these resources to the family who has a dairy. By doing business with each other locally, the local economy benefits and the local community grows stronger. But more importantly, relationships are developed between people who can help each other now and in the uncertain future.
4) Your skills do not have to be prepper specific. Perhaps you make greeting cards. Offer to trade some greeting cards for a few dozen eggs from time to time. Do you play an instrument? Offer to entertain for a gathering at the dairy in exchange for some milk. What matters is that people start exchanging what they do to grow local relationships and local communities.
6) This point is key. Each person in the group should commit to doing business with each other when it is possible and reasonable to do so. This commitment will be the driver that encourages people in their specific areas of production. It also provides a reason right now—a benefit right now—for the group working together.
My family and I live in the mountains in Colorado. When the floods destroyed our canyon highway several weeks ago, we realized that we depended on the city more than we might have thought. Suddenly local provision started to matter. But this little bedroom community of mountain folks has people from all industries. We have mechanics, teachers, gardeners, doctors, lawyers, dentists, truckers, heavy equipment operators, pastors, and liquor store owners. We have hunters, fishers, nurses, and construction workers. We have electricians, roofers, framers, and plumbers. But this community did not really depend on each other for these services. Now we have more motivation to sort out who can provide what and to take advantage of the local services. But think of the advantages of building those relationships even if a crisis were never to come?
Listen, if the whole world’s economy goes belly up but you have built a strong local group economy, then you can continue to meet each other’s needs whether the dollar continues to exist or not. Your local group economy can barter for your needs. While the rest of the world is in a panic, you will know that your local group has what it takes to weather the storm. And it will be natural to take care of each other first, since you have built strong business and community relationships before a crisis starts. And by taking care of your local group economy, your group will be better suited to help others in times of need.
In my next article, I will get into the nitty gritty of what types of goods and services should be a priority as you build your local group economy, and how local group economies can begin to cooperate with each other to form larger economies with even more independence and security. Until then, make a list of the goods and services you find important to you and your family today. Start putting together names of people who could provide these assets locally. Start thinking about everything you do in a local-first way. Consider formalizing a group to build your own local group economy.