Mr. C. Vernon Myers, profiled in another installment of this column, generated a lot of interest and a great many letters from readers asking for a larger sampling of his wisdom. Myers is a gentleman who just happens to have been more successful in predicting the world's economic future—for a full decade now—than any other financial expert we can name. In response to those many queries, then, we're proud to present the following advice from C.V. Myers' new book Weathering the Storm, excerpted with permission from the author and publisher Soundview Books.
The subject itself suggests disaster. Guard against over-reacting to the suggestion. It can be as harmful to go overboard in panic as to remain passive.
First, remember that we are not talking about war. We are not talking about the end of America. The country will still function. People will walk the streets, drive the highways, and go to work. Secondly, we are not talking about prolonged paralysis. We are talking about a temporary paralysis which will be bad enough to justify extensive preparation.
In essence we are anticipating a paralyzing initial shock resulting in a massive but temporary dislocation. We are talking about arriving at a realization that our way of life has changed and will never be quite the same again.
Following that, we are talking about a painfully slow convalescence. It will take a lot of time to adjust to new austere conditions ... to face a reality we have refused to face for so long. We are like a rich man who is over his head in debt, shutting his eyes to the inevitable bankruptcy, paralyzed for a time after it happens, finally picking himself up and beginning to rebuild his life on a reduced scale. He can still enjoy the sun and the flowers, his family and his friends, his intellect, his body. Gone are the servants and the pomp, the cars and the boats, the furs and the florists, and above all the grand feeling of power and wealth. Rebuilding and readjusting will take a lot of time, probably years.
I use the analogy because it is dead on. America is bankrupt. We are hopelessly in debt. We never can pay. The only reason we have been able to avoid the truth is that our creditors haven't closed in yet. Our creditors are ourselves.
Our creditors are foreigners as well, but the biggest credit resides in the liabilities of banks, and the bonds of corporations and government ... municipal, state, and federal. This kind of situation always comes a cropper ... and when it does, the nation will go into a state of financial and monetary shock similar to the bankrupt individual. The federal insurance corporation (one percent of bank funds insured) will be swept away like a dike made of straw. That's the day the shock will hit: pandemonium at first, and for a while chaos. You cannot rule out widespread violence and looting. I doubt that the chaos could last as much as six months. Even a wild bronco, put in ropes, eventually reaches a period of exhaustion. But that six months, or three months, whatever, may be the most crucial period of your life. I do not want any reader of this book to wake up one Monday morning to a bank closing and say: "I meant to get money out yesterday."
I want to emphasize keeping a supply of emergency cash at home, well secured, and totally secret. Cash can be kept anywhere from beneath a floorboard in a tenement to a concealed concrete vault in a mansion, or in a sealed container under the garden. This also applies to your silver coinage and your emergency gold coinage, if you are in that bracket.
My main objection to safety boxes in banks miles from where you live or in the heart of populated areas is that if things get bad enough, you would not like to take the risk of getting there and back.
If you wanted to fly out of the country or drive to a retreat, you might want to do so quickly, by-passing the city and by-passing the bank ... which might be closed for a few days in any case. The logic of this survival money rests on a personal decision and is likely to differ according to circumstances.
So much for money.
The first consideration is security. That means first of all good locks and strongly bolted doors. In suburban residences a strong floodlight at entrances, automatically triggered by light conditions, is an effective deterrent. Thieves and looters would rather see the place in darkness. Exposure worries them.
A good apartment block will probably increase its own security, but your door lock is your own business.
Where practical, a good dog is also a deterrent, especially one of the big breeds: Great Dane, St. Bernard, Newfoundland. One bark out of these monsters will send all but the bravest robbers scurrying. A German Shepherd can be much fiercer, but the problem is that it may be fierce to your friends as well. The big dogs are mainly bluff, but the robber can't be sure, and bluff is often enough.
Firearms are tricky. If you don't know how to use them, you are probably better off without them. Never show a firearm you don't intend to fire. It could get you killed. Never aim unless you are prepared to pull the trigger. If a warning shot doesn't spur the intruder to flight, you have no choice but shoot to kill, if your life or the life of your family is threatened.
Don't monkey with firearms unless you are completely familiar with the piece you are using. You might, in the excitement, forget to release the safety catch and end up shot.
You should have your door equipped with a peephole, your windows fully blinded. Allow no entry unless it's someone you know. And don't buy the firearms and forget to lay in the ammunition. You don't need a lot.
Some will be able to have a retreat and some won't. If you do have a retreat, don't take your safety any more for granted than you would at home. Hoodlums will spread far and wide from the big cities, and these will be the most dangerous. In an isolated retreat you should take every precaution outlined above, and you certainly should have firearms. You should have only one main entrance, and you should be equipped to floodlight it.
In making the shelter (home) secure, each person must use his own common sense according to his circumstances. In certain cases neighbors can team up for security. In other cases you have to go it alone. In the shelter you should have candles, kerosene lamps, or Coleman propane lamps. There are bound to be power failures. You should have propane or hightest Coleman stoves. Propane is probably better because you can easily store half a dozen cylinders.
You should have lots of warm clothing and blankets in case of heat failure which is very likely to happen occasionally. You should have a fan for summer.
You should have books and games on hand and devices for the amusement of small children, such as coloring books etc. By all means you must have one or two battery radios and some spare batteries.
All of these things, so plentiful now, could become scarce in a matter of a few days. Why should you be part of an anxious lineup, and probably near the end of it?
Don't be caught without proper shoes and winter clothing. Even if you have only a modest amount of money in the bank, it will be worth more to you in the form of these essentials ... which you can always use even if there isn't the crisis we anticipate. You should be prepared to stay in your shelter—tenement or castle—for at least a week, hoping of course that it won't be necessary.
Fuel is vitally important. For suburban communities I prefer oil heat with a full 1,000-gallon tank buried in the yard. Natural gas lines can be blown up. I don't think the difference here is great, but given the choice I would go for oil. Only a few people will be able to afford or to house their own gasoline generating plants, but where possible this is a good idea. Power failures are almost certain. Fireplaces are fine if you have a supply of wood or live in a wooded area. New woodstoves are very efficient.
All the means without the fuel are useless.
I expect service stations to be closed. Under these conditions, there will be a complete breakdown of truck transportation. It could last a few weeks or a few days. There is no accurate way to predict its duration.
Transportation fuel can range from ferry cans in small garages to 1,000-gallon tanks in yards, acreages, or retreats. Already it is getting late for the big tanks, at least for the filling of them. Probably you will run into times when it can be done. If you have the tank installed, I think you will get the fuel if you are willing to pay the price. But the time is getting late ... maybe very late.
In the case of a buried tank, it should be well concealed—overgrown with lawn or garden—and the outlet should be equipped with a standby hand pump inside an adjacent building or shed, or disguised by an ornamental fixture. Tell nobody about the fuel. You will simply defeat your purpose or make enemies of those friends who have been grasshoppers instead of ants.
Everyone should have two to four metal jerry cans (5 gallons) full. You might want to leave in a hurry at a time no service stations are operating. I realize there is a certain danger in the case of rear-end collision, but under the circumstances you will have to decide which risk you would rather take.
You should have at least one bicycle (more for families) as well as a moped, and a small Honda equipped with a carrying basket might be a great asset.
I have already dealt with the fuel situation sufficiently to make these conclusions obvious. Diesels are best, but everyone can't go out and get a diesel. Having only a gas guzzler will be bad, chaos or no chaos. Nevertheless, for those who can afford it, one big car could come in mighty handy if a family is to be moved.
It all gets down to your personal circumstances. I could wish we might prescribe the same remedy for all. But it doesn't work that way. This book is for the pragmatist. We must take things as they are, and work from there.
As a last word, those in the country might find some use and much pleasure from a saddle horse.
The first priority is storage security. That knocks out freezer food. A power failure and you are finished. That leaves you canned foods and dried foods. This problem is as old as the world.
North American Indians picked wild berries in the summer, smashed and mixed them with buffalo fat, bound the whole mass up in a buffalo stomach, tied with a sinew from a buffalo leg. That was pemmican, on which they could survive during long, severe winters.
In Africa, natives dry meat from freshly killed game animals on great racks in the direct sun. The volume is greatly reduced, but the nourishment remains. This is concentrated food.
On an Alberta homestead we lived forty miles from a railroad. Our only form of transportation was by horseback or lumber wagon on an often snowbound prairie trail in temperatures that might reach thirty below, a twelve-hour trip one way and always the danger of a killing blizzard. You didn't count on getting to town.
We lived on salted sowbelly and beans and the vegetables and fruit my mother had canned, supplemented by dried apricots, raisins, and such. Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper to a few hundred-pound sacks of flour and you didn't need much more. We had our own cow, but today you have powdered milk and bottles of vegetable oil for fat.
So food survival is not all that difficult and nothing to be afraid of. The only thing to be afraid of is not having it when the time comes that it's really required Of course you can go as elaborate as you like. Our position here is that we are preparing for 3 to 6 months. My suggestion to those whose surplus cash is limited is to make a start on three months. Draw up a list. Start out. Add as you go. When you have completed three months, begin to add the next three months.
I am not going into this problem at length, but here are the essentials of a simple and pragmatic plan.
Their drawback is that they have limited shelf life, but in all cases it exceeds six months. The trouble is we don't know when the emergency will come. What if it doesn't happen for a year, two or more? Easily overcome. On your shelves you have three or six months' supply ranging from coffee through canned peaches and beans. Each week you do your shopping as usual. At the one end of the line you remove the stored can for use and add the new can at the starting end of the line. The line is always moving forward. You are always using food that is three months old, but is absolutely as good as if you had bought it yesterday. The key to this program is making sure that you always use the old cans. At any point in time you have a new three to six month supply in good condition.
As to the elements of this supply, the best suggestions are your own preferences (for example, honey, jam, syrup, or all three).
Howard Ruff devotes a section of his book, How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years (Times Books, Three Park Avenue, New York, N.Y.) to the food you should store. Look into it. It will probably be worth your while to buy the book. It won't be a duplicate of this one. Ruff's ideas and mine differ substantially, but we converge on the conclusion that we face somewhere down the line a national emergency and a resulting temporary paralysis. I tend to think it is nearer than Ruff does, and he believes that it will be longer than I do. No matter. His work on food, nutritional value, vitamin needs is very good.
The point I make is that you can get by simply and cheaply. The more affluent, of course, can probably do better.
Make sure the canned goods are fresh when you buy them. For that reason it's probably wise to stay with the big supermarkets where turnover is very fast. Be watchful though of tempting sales. It might be old stock.
No doubt these are—if less tasty—more reliable, and I certainly recommend that part of your supply be in this form.
Apart from all the foregoing be certain that storage is dry and in as cool and constant a temperature as possible. Don't talk about it.
If you are well off, it would be nice to have something else extra to help out friends or relatives in an emergency, but don't let it be known that you have a supply. Word gets around, and you might find yourself—much to your dismay—at the wrong end of the gun in the hands of a hungry stranger.