How to Prosper in a Salvage Economy


A salvage economy is a post-production economy. The economy is based on salvage and then reuse or remanufacture of salvaged materials. The current modern equivalent of this are those individuals who sort through trash heaps and dumps for recyclable materials. The historical equivalent of this are the stone masons in Egypt who tore down ancient monuments for building material. For example, the lost Pyramid of Djedefre was thought to have not been built until its foundations were found, including a mortuary temple and queens’ pyramids. Where did it go? Must of it was used to build buildings in Cairo from 1300 through the 1700s. It was easier and cheaper to take apart an existing pyramid near the city than find, mine and transport new limestone blocks from now-distant quarries.

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Salvage occurs when the manufactured product is unavailable in a new state, has become too expensive for anyone to purchase, or has a supply chain that has fallen apart to the degree that the product is often unavailable most of the time.

For all of the discussion on survival, why focus on long term survival on a salvage economy? First of all, many people will not set up a refuge in the wilderness. Their best survival opportunity seems to be within the city. While difficult, it is not impossible, especially for those who prepare. Secondly, if we do slide to a post-technical or “eco-technic” society, we should not expect to return to “Little House on the Prairie”. More than half of the world’s population lives in the cities. Those cities will still be there even if some catastrophe, be it nuclear, chemical, biological, or EMP, manages to kill most of its inhabitants. And we should not expect all cities to be lost, even if several major ones are destroyed in terrorist strikes or war. If those untouched but partially depopulated or damaged but re-buildable cities can be utilized to rebuild civilization, which should be part of a larger goal. This rebuilding will then requires a salvage economy. And last but not least, if we have a multi-generational decline, we will fall into a salvage economy as manufacturing capacity fades. Even if we retain the capacity for a high-tech manufacturing capacity and find it crippled by environmental regulation and economic depression, we will find a salvage economy as has exploded in California.

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If faced with a salvage economy, the question then rises: how do you survive long term in such an economy? More importantly, how can you prosper in a salvage economy?

1. Use creative recycling within your own household. If opportunities present themselves that can be ethically utilized, do so, but avoid scavenging for a living. (Hunting and gathering of food are excluded from this discussion. Here we are only discussing physical materials.)

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2. Do not be a scavenger or salvager of materials yourself. This is to literally be at the bottom of the economic food chain. Be the collector or buyer that buys goods from the salvagers and then sells it at a profit to the recycler or craftspeople. This level of the supply chain is safer than doing the manual labor of salvaging, and your supply is both more diverse and continuous than those who do the actual salvaging. There is also less personal risk of injury or illness than salvaging. By becoming a collection point or “depot”, your own time is still mostly spent on survival related activities instead of searching for materials one only hopes to trade for items and resources needed for survival.

3. Have close and direct ties to multiple smelters or material re-processors. This provides more stability in sale price than if there is only one customer. A single purchaser can set their purchase price based on their ability to refuse to buy until you are hungry enough to sell at their desired price.

4. Invest in the replacement materials and goods that will replace salvaged product. After all, salvaged goods will eventually run out. This may be smelting equipment that can melt down the newly recycled metal into yet another material, compared to smelting equipment that melts down old steel beams into new steel goods. It may be plastic grinders and pellet makers that can turn new plastic materials into another form. It may be the act of investing in green energy projects as Peak Oil runs out and salvaging wood and plastic to burn winds down.

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February 19, 2010