This week, we’re going to cover some important lessons from the recent coup in Tunisia, the riots in Egypt, and the bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. This is great information that you will be able to slip into current events conversations immediately.
On January 14th, the government of Tunisia “dissolved” after a coup d’etat. A short two weeks later, while the stock market is still closed, their day-to-day economy has “mostly recovered,” according to some analysts. As I’ve been following the events over there, and especially after reading the analysis of their economy this week, I couldn’t help but think of how different things would be if the same thing happened in the US.
To begin with, I need to tell you some of the peculiarities of Tunisia. They WERE considered a “model of stability” in Africa…until shortly before their coup. They have a safe, highly developed drinking water system and a fiber optic network that gives them some of the lowest high speed internet rates in Africa, but they also have blackouts when too many people in an area use appliances at the same time. 34% of the population uses the internet and almost 16% have Facebook accounts, but cash is still the preferred method of payment for most offline transactions. Tunisia is one of those countries that you can’t pigeonhole.
Ironically, one of the things that Tunisia had going for it was that it was that the economy was resilient because it was built on cash transactions and a knowledge among the people that the country was politically unstable. The US economy, on the other hand, is built on digital payments and intertwined with national politics and a coup would throw the Stock Market into a freefall and most likely paralyze the banking system and day-to-day transactions, which are built on digital payments.
The big takeaway that we can get from this is simply to keep some of your savings available in cash. Preferably $1s, $5s, $10s, and $20s. Just be aware that since the REAL inflation rate in the US is approximately 8.5%, you’ll LOSE about $8.50 per year in purchasing power on every $100 that you keep in cash.
I want to encourage you to look at the inflation chart below from ShadowStats.com.
It’s pretty darn important. When we hear about the inflation rate on the news, what we’re hearing about is the Consumer Price Index. The consumer price index is a measure of the relative change from month to month of what an URBAN consumer would pay for a basket of typical items, like fuel, food, housing, transportation, medical care, education, and recreation.
Government pensions, military retirement, salaries, Social Security, and more are dependent on the CPI, so it is in the best interest of the government to keep inflation as low as possible. They have done this over the years by adding to and removing items from the “basket.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the adding and removing that they’ve done hasn’t affected the CPI (http://www.bls.gov/cpi/cpiqa.htm) but the chart above shows what the CPI would look like if the “basket” of goods had remained unchanged from 1980 to today. As you can see, it shows that the rate of inflation is 8.5% rather than the 1.64% rate of inflation that they’re reporting from 2009 to 2010.
Why is this important? Because if you’ve got any money earning less than 8.5% after taxes, then you’re losing ground. If your income isn’t going up faster than 8.5% per year, then you’re losing ground. And either way, if this continues for very long, you’re going to need to figure out how to compensate by earning more or spending less in order to keep the same standard of living.
“Inefficient” Societies Are More Stable
One amazing difference between Tunisia and the US is that interruptions in stock trading and the instability in the political system just haven’t affected everyday life in Tunisia like they would here.
It’s similar to the impact that a regional power outage would have on someone in suburban Denver vs. the impact that it would have on a miner living in the mountains above Leadville. Since the miner isn’t as tied in and dependent on the stability of the electrical grid, his relatively primitive life wouldn’t be affected. The suburban Denverite, on the other hand, would have almost every aspect of their life touched…from heating, cooking, and entertainment to getting their car out of the garage, dark streets, no stoplights, and no open stores or drive-throughs.
Some of what we’re witnessing in Tunisia is the stability that results from having a somewhat inefficient society. What I mean is that when a group of people have to adapt and be flexible as a way of life, when bad things happen they’re able to bounce back quicker. The fact that most day to day transactions are done with cash made the breakdowns in order after the coup less dramatic than they would be in a society that depended more on electronic transactions.
I’m not saying that things in Tunisia are a rose garden. The stock market has been closed for more than a week, and there’s still rioting, between 20 and 35 people have died so far, and the problems that led to the coup are still in place, (more on this in a second) but people are still going out and using cash to buy everyday items. If the same thing happened in the US, not only would store shelves be empty, but people would quickly run out of physical cash to buy things with.
As I discussed back in early December, http://secretsofurbansurvival.com/533/the-emergency-that-partially-crashed-australia%e2%80%99s-banking-system/ our “efficient” just-in-time society is one of our biggest vulnerabilities. Most individuals in the US don’t want to admit that hard times are possible and many of those who do don’t want to do anything to prepare for tougher times.
I don’t believe that we, as preppers, necessarily need to shun every modern convenience, but it IS very important to have a practiced plan in place to survive without them. Learn how to use a bowdrill to make fire. If you have a tent, see if you can turn your heat down/off and set it up in your house and sleep in it for a night or two. Live off of the food that you plan on eating in an emergency for a week. If you can’t stomach it, find food that you CAN eat for your emergency storage. Try using phone book paper instead of toilet paper. Learn primitive skills, get proficient at them, practice them occasionally, and then you can go back to using modern conveniences with the peace of mind that you would do just fine if they all went away tomorrow.
The impact of one family taking these steps is dramatic. The impact of a group of neighbors taking these steps is incredible. After a disaster and/or a breakdown in civil order, a cluster of prepared families creates a stable micro environment for order to grow out of.
If you look at it from a special operations perspective, a natural or manmade disaster is like an insurgent force trying to disrupt civil order. The counter insurgency force goes in and tries to create stable micro environments that can help keep and grow order. As preparedness minded people, we are the people who will help form those stable groups of homes, neighborhoods, and eventually cities after a breakdown in civil order. The more you do today, when times are relatively good, the more you’ll be able to be a part of the solution when disaster strikes. (For more information on getting prepared, please sign up for the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course.)
What Led To The Coup?
The factors that led to the coup in Tunisia are important to look at as well. Four of the main causes were government corruption, rising unemployment rates, rising food prices, and a crackdown on free speech. (Sound familiar?) But the straw that broke the camel’s back happened in a town of 40,000 called Sidi Bouzid 180 miles south of Tunis. On December 17th, a vegetable street vendor and father of seven set himself on fire in protest after his unlicensed vegetable cart was taken by police. His story and eventual death on January 4th brought the unrest to a head.
It’s odd what events will galvanize a group of people. Most people who have been rioting in Tunisia and the people who initiated the coup weren’t unlicensed vegetable street vendors. This was truly a black swan event where the consequences of his actions were impossible to predict and had dramatic consequences. Since then, 4 men in 3 other African countries have tried to set themselves on fire, hoping for the same impact, but failing to achieve it.
Terrorists and anarchists continually try to artificially generate black swan events, but fortunately, they fail with almost boring predictability. History has shown that it’s very hard to artificially create all of the factors that go into creating a black swan event…they just happen.
A couple other black swan events that come to mind are how Walter Cronkite’s mis-analysis of the Tet Offensive changed public opinion about the war in Vietnam and how our reaction to Sputnik changed everything from kids’ beverage of choice to the focus of our educational system.
Some who don’t understand the Second Ammendment are trying to turn the despicable actions of a crazy man in Tuscon into a black swan event by blaming the event on the capacity of the magazine that he used rather than blaming him. More on this in a minute…
The sheer complexity and interdependency of our society and our tendency to quickly overreact to events makes it likely that any breakdown in civil order in the US will also be caused by a black swan type event—or at least an event that’s labeled as a black swan event by non-preppers.
Like helicopter pilots, we preppers tend to see potential trouble before it happens. And, as a result, we’re not surprised when we see things happen that the general public views as unexpected.
As an example, a collapse of the electrical grid because of a coronal mass ejection (CME) of the sun or electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wouldn’t be a surprise to preppers, although society as a whole would view it as a black swan event. It’s not something that preppers would overreact to, because we’ve known about it and prepared to one extent or another. To the general public, it would be a black swan event worthy of drastic government overreaction and an excuse to give up more liberties in exchange for the illusion of safety.
Why do I mention this? Because I feel that it’s important to be able to join in conversations on current events and contribute the idea that it’s not alright to always overreact and give up liberties every time something bad happens. Also, because the simple knowledge and basic understanding of the concept of black swan events can help you understand what’s happening when simple events cause massive, illogical reactions.
Egypt’s attempt at a copycat coup
After watching Tunisia oust their President, Egyptians started trying to do the same thing. Two Egyptians have lit themselves on fire so far, but the Egyptian government is much more stable and, unlike in Tunisia, the Egyptian police force is trying to use non-lethal force as much as possible.
One of the things that I find interesting, albeit somewhat morbid, is the cause of deaths. So far, with thousands of riot police deployed, estimates of 90,000 people protesting & rioting, over 1000 people have been arrested, hundreds injured, but only 5, 6, or 7 deaths, depending on which report you read. Two of the deaths that were originally attributed to the rioting actually happened in an ordinary traffic accident.
This is amazing because the police are deploying tear gas, shooting rubber bullets into the crowds, and shooting live ammo into the air. The demonstrators, on the other hand, are throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.
So, how are people dying? Well, as of the 26th, there were three confirmed deaths where the cause had been released. Two of the deaths were civilians. One from a pre-existing lung condition set off by police tear gas and one from a protestor getting hit in the head with a rock, most likely thrown by another protestor. The other death was a policeman who was hit in the head with a rock thrown by a protestor.
This leads me to think that if 66% of the deaths happening in the Egyptian riots are being caused by people getting hit by rocks in the head, then if we learned anything from the insane shootings in Tuscon, there is only one rational course of action. Egypt must move immediately to outlaw all devices that are capable of carrying a high capacity of rocks. Duffel bags, satchels, backpacks, and wheelbarrows must all be outlawed.
I bring up Egypt for two reasons. First, to help keep things in perspective. Riots are horrible and I’m not about to go searching one out, but I’m going to keep these statistics in mind if I find myself in one: 90,000 rioters & only 5-7 deaths. The stats won’t keep me safe, but the knowledge that I will probably live might help me keep my pulse 10-20 beats per minute lower, keep me from getting tunnel vision, and help me make more rational decisions that get me and my loved ones to safety.
Second, if you get into a conversation with someone about outlawing high capacity magazines, bring up the fact that 66% of the deaths in the Egyptian riots were caused by rocks and that anytime someone has the motivation to kill another person, they’ll find a tool and a tactic to make it happen. Guns, knives, sticks, shivs, and rocks are simply tools that are neither good nor bad. Whether they are used for good or for bad is based 100% on the actions of the user. In short, lawbreakers break laws and evil people do evil things, regardless of what the laws are or what tools they decide to use.
Moscow Airport Bombing
Finally, on January 24th, there was a bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport. So far, 35 people have died and more than 160 were injured. I wanted to mention this for two reasons. First, it emphasizes the importance of practicing situational awareness and listening to your gut. Not everyone injured would have interacted with the bombers, but I would bet that many who did ignored their gut response to immediately leave the area. This is why I continually stress the importance of situational awareness and cover it in the SurviveInPlace.com Urban Survival Course.
The other takeaway that I want to leave you with from Moscow, Egypt, and Tunisia is to seize the day (carpe diem). Many of the people in all 3 places went from living their normal life to being dead in an instant. Preparing for the future and planning for bad times is very important, but so is living life to it’s fullest. Don’t let the potential (or probable) troubles of tomorrow rob you of the good times that you could have today. Spend time on your important relationships, develop habits to keep your mind and body healthy, and spend some time making sure that you’re comfortable with what will happen to you after you die. (I’ve got very strong beliefs on this, but I’ve said before and I’ll say again that this is not the place to preach or debate the specifics of something as important and involved as eternity. There’s a section on the forum for that.)
With that, I wish you a wonderful, safe week. Let me know your thoughts on today’s newsletter below…the benefits of inefficiency, practicing primitive skills, inflation, keeping cash on hand, creating stable micro environments, staying calm in a riot, living for today, or anything else.