Where Do Consumables Go When You Can’t Afford to Consume Them Anymore?

The link that inspired this blogpost

It’s bad enough to find out that all the CDs I’ve collected over the years would no longer be able to hold me alive during a tight time like I suffered through the late eighties; that I can consign to technological advance and the need to conserve product.

But now, to find out that just about everything out there is quickly becoming more and more worthless.

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Yes, I know that I’ve longed for people consuming less. Call me a hypocrite, if you wish.

But I’ve longed for people to stop buying on their own. I’ve never opposed necessary purchases, and I’ve always stood for quality purchases (sometimes to absurd extremes, admittedly); but I figure that people need to cut down on their purchases.

And while I’ve done the typically American dodge of working more and more, I’ve also gone quite a bit towards straightening my financial house. I have money in the bank (both in CDs I can use and in Retirement Accounts), and my debts are narrowed down to student loans that are at half of what they were at the peak. I’ve also cut down on my consumption and shifted the patterns so that they take up less space.

But consider the blog entry I’ve linked to above. People are now selling their stuff for a gallon of gas. Giving stuff to other people to borrow money with. And people are selling everything they have to keep things going. It’s gotten so bad that The Salvation Army has noticed a 20% dropoff in donations over the January-March period of this year (2008). Mind you, I’ve noticed that the local Goodwill is asking for donations and has had empty shelves for their non-clothing items for a while now.

I have a friend whose been selling his stuff on the Internet to keep from finding a “real job.” He tells me that collectibles have been selling, and nothing else.

There’s quite a few questions that need to be asked. I’m going to ask the following question about this:

If we can’t earn enough money for a gallon of gas or a week of food, where are we going to get the money to:

  • rebuild the expressways when the latest fixes collapse before they’re supposed to?
  • fortify the Mississippi river before it decides to become the Achafalaya?
  • build and rebuild the mass transit systems we let fall apart in our love of horsepower and gasoline?
  • build new houses in the farmland we’re gonna have to reinhabit when the food system falls apart?
  • retrofit the electrical system to accept locally produced renewable energy?
  • protect the homeland when we’re forced to withdraw from Iraq (assuming we don’t leave the men there without armaments or a way back home – a major worry of mine)?
  • deliver the food? get gas to the gas stations? clear the streets?

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I’ve seen it happen too many times. People get to the point where they’re living day-to-day, milking what they can out of what they have; and when it finally falls apart they move backwards. When that final backward move happens, they end up homeless or enslaved for their food and a room at the last-stop inn.

Things go backwards because all the money is used keeping things at where they are. Nothing is saved because nothing CAN be saved. And backwards movements sometimes end up with secondary losses, as with evictions where things are tossed out only to be picked up by scavengers, passers-by and neighbors.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Right now I actually have plans for a “build-down” (a wonderful bit of doublespeak from Gary Hart which actually makes sense, under the right circumstances). I want to buy an electric bike, and a portable computer so I can compute without electricity (when the time comes that we go under brownouts and rotating blackouts).

But that requires time and the ability to earn more than I spend. And while I’m able to some degree to do that (I live in a situation where I get room and board free), I can see a situation where that may not be able to happen. And when I’m stuck with needing to consume what I earn to live, what happens when things fall apart?

It is one of my worries. One that comes from having experienced it.

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