Americans sure seem jumpy these days. Acquaintances who have never seen websites like LRC have asked me about buying gold or silver, and even those who previously abhorred the thought of owning a gun seem to be warming up to the concept.
There's a very real sense that something is wrong; like people on the shore watching water rush away from the land, the shared notion that it's time to get to higher ground, fast, is palpable.
Higher ground is easy to identify when one discusses topography. It's a lot more difficult when considering the definition of "safety" during a financial, economic, and potentially social cataclysm.
Anyone paying attention for the past twenty years could be forgiven for being shocked at how long this whole sorry excuse for an economy has held up. I thought seriously about selling my house in 1998, secure in the belief that doing so would allow me to bank the "profits" at the top and rent during the ensuing economic contraction, after which my money might buy much more.
Whether you agree with my implied expectation or not, my point is that an error in timing is significant. Five minutes too late in running from a tsunami certainly cost some people their lives in Japan. Being five minutes too late during a bank run could lead to complete loss of savings.
Acting too early, however, also has its risks. When making a massive change in one's finances there's usually a burn rate involved in waiting for the anticipated calamity to ensue. During that waiting period there's food to buy, bills to pay, and the costs of life-goes-on are significant.
This is why I cringe when I read recommendations that are unequivocal and drastic. Maybe the author is right on timing and severity, but my experience is that no one, as yet, has nailed both of those in the past twenty years. I think it pays to weigh major financial or life changes very, very carefully.
Be very cautious when considering putting all of your eggs in the "Prepper" basket.
To me, preparing for a middle-of-the-road crisis seems prudent. This means eliminating debt, trying to shore up a job (or plan for another income source), and accumulating a reasonable supply of water and healthful foods you already like to eat.
Crisis or no, I think it's silly not to own a good fire extinguisher and know how to use it. I mean, in the time it takes for the fire department to show up after you call, your actions could be a matter of life and death. By the way, substitute "gun" and "cops" for "fire extinguisher" and "fire department" and you can infer my view of living the unarmed life.
That said, crisis is not a time of Mad Max and roving gangs, it's a time of self-help and mutual assistance. Invest a lot more time and effort into family, neighbors, and friends. They are much more likely to be keys to success if the going really, really gets tough.
Money-wise, I think it's safe to assume that someday the electronic forms of money to which we're accustomed may have a hiccup or two. While the jury is still out regarding the final Act in the Shakespearian tragedy Fiat Money, it remains quite possible that little green-stained pieces of paper will be accepted as a medium of exchange for a while longer. I have yet to see the early signs of a credible alternative and until they appear there is nothing obvious between our current money and a full barter economy. Barter is a TEOTWAWKI [The End Of The World As We Know It] kind of thing, and I think the only way to "prepare" for that is to fill a secret cavern with trade goods you know will be hot commodities in a few years.
With my luck I'd sink my life's savings into something people turned out to be willing to make for themselves. I simply don't try to prepare for Armageddon. Doing so appears mutually exclusive with regard to handling less catastrophic conditions.
Instead, I work with the world as it is today, with an eye to what my research informs me I should prudently prepare to face when this IOU-saturated, over-consuming paradigm evolves into what comes next.
The good news is that I look forward to my fellow citizens hopefully rediscovering the joys of living honorable lives, and expecting no less from those who seek positions of power. The Crystal Meth Economy was fertile ground for moral relativism and infantile "me first" behaviors, and after going cold turkey from that pernicious hallucination perhaps we can expect a popular resurgence of more socially beneficial views like the values of hard work, modesty, and minding one's own business.