Matters of Concern: 2022-04-06
With Russia simmering on the back burner, we look ahead to recession, supply chain issues, COVID madness, why cyberattacks aren't happening, and I share what I've been watching and reading this week.
Welcome to Matters of Concern, our semi-weekly roundup of news you need to know and what you can do about it. Join us on our Discord server where we discuss the news as it happens. The past few Matters of Concern have been behind the paywall, but we’ve made this one free and opened comments to all. Share it with a friend!
The war between Russia and Ukraine is simmering on the backburner, with President Biden calling out Putin for war crimes, and the United States going after Putin’s daughters. It doesn’t look like the war will be over anytime soon.
Oh, and a new challenger has appeared:
(I’m not sure Russia wants to test Finland. The Finns demolished them the last time they scrapped, thanks in part to badasses like Simo Häyhä, who sniped over 500 Russians without using a scope.)
Here in the United States, we have some more pressing concerns this week: a possible recession that is looking increasingly likely, supply chain problems that may never end, why people are acting like fools in the COVID era, the surprising reason why we haven’t seen Russian cyberattacks, and what I’ve been watching and reading this week.
If you’re new and need some weekend reading, catch up with our preparedness guides. We have something for everyone:
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The Looming Recession
We touched on the possibility of a recession last month, but it’s looking more and more likely. Former Federal Reserve Governor Lawrence Lindsey is predicting that we will be in recession by summer.
“Inflation is eating into consumer spending power, they’re going to have to cut back… You can’t have that much of a shock without having a recession,” he said.
Deutsche Bank is a bit more optimistic, predicting a recession in 2023:
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress this week that the Ukrainian war will have “enormous economic repercussions in Ukraine and beyond,” making inflation — already at a 40-year high — even worse.
You’re probably already feeling the sting of inflation. I experience sticker shock almost every time I’m checking out of a store. According to data from Bloomberg Economics, you need an extra $5,200 this year — or an extra $433 per month — to maintain the same lifestyle you lived last year.
What can do you do about this predicted recession and the current inflation? I’ve seen a lot of people talking about moving their 401Ks and IRAs from stocks and bonds to cash. I wouldn’t recommend that unless you’re close to retirement. I moved half of my Roth IRA to cash in early 2020 and missed some big gains from the unexpected market rally.
It’s a good time to buy Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies because the prices crashed last year and are still recovering. However, I don’t think Bitcoin is a great hedge against inflation. My Bitcoin halved in value last year, which was even worse than the most pessimistic inflation estimates.
However, the price of gold and silver has skyrocketed over the past few years. A few years ago, a single American Silver Eagle cost about $20. Today, they’re running about $40 each. It may not be a great time to buy metals, but if you already have some, check the prices. You may be pleasantly surprised.
My single best inflation hedge these past two years has been hard assets that make me more self-reliant, like land, durable tools, infrastructure (like raised beds), perennial plants, and foods with a long shelf life. We started spending like crazy on stuff like this in 2020. That was painful because I’m a natural penny-pincher, but my only regret is not investing more in our homestead before prices got even higher.
Of course, that is, if you can actually buy the stuff.
Supply Chain Issues Continue
Supply chain issues and bare supermarket shelves have become facts of American life. Now, Business Insider reports that retailers and manufacturers are cutting back on product variety in order to ensure the availability of the most popular products. The article’s author, Andrew Novaković, offers this explanation:
“Instead of a stockout in the general sense — no toilet paper — fewer varieties of products are now offered in stores — plenty of single-ply bargain rolls but no three-ply, ultra-absorbent, super-soft toilet paper. Maybe you see plenty of plain cream cheese, but you can't find your favorite type with added pineapple.”
As far as problems go, it’s pretty first-world, but it’s a data point in America’s apparent decline. There’s a greater significance to this than you might think. One of the tipping points in the fall of the Soviet Union was Boris Yeltsti’s 1989 trip to a random Texas supermarket. It was unscheduled because Yeltsin wanted to see a real American supermarket without any capitalist American tricks. The sheer variety he witnessed sent him into an existential crisis that caused him to reject communism.
At the time, Yeltsin said, “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” and told his entourage that there would be a “revolution” if Soviet citizens saw what was in that Randalls supermarket. He later wrote in his autobiography:
“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”
Another data point in America’s decline: American Airlines is resorting to busses for connecting flights because they don’t have enough pilots. Over 3,500 flights were canceled just last weekend.
Back to supply chain issues, if you’re planning a garden this year, that means you need to be thinking about how to preserve the harvest. That often means canning, but canning lids have been in short supply in recent years. Lois Thielen offers an explanation in the SC Times: Newell Brands purchased both Ball and Kerr, the two major canning supply companies. In 2019, Newell closed a major Ball plant in Indiana and consolidated manufacturing, which has contributed to the shortage.
You might have also noticed that eggs are getting crazy expensive and sometimes hard to find. That’s thanks to a bird flu that’s wiping out chicken farms. If you’ve been considering getting your own flock, now is the time to do it. I just bought an incubator so I can try hatching my own eggs. I’m eager to tell you how it goes.
Is COVID Making People Crazy?
Have you noticed that people seem… crazier — for lack of a better word — since COVID began? At least once per week, I see a viral video of someone having a meltdown in public. Auto accidents are up — I witness an obvious drunk driver on the road almost every time I leave the house. And of course, there’s the now-legendary Oscars slap.
Olga Khazan wrote a good piece for The Atlantic chronicling the post-COVID weirdness. She proposes that it’s not mental illness, but pandemic stress, isolation, and the fact that people are drinking more.
However, I have another hypothesis. It’s common knowledge that COVID mostly kills old people, which is why some brush it off. Most of us know at least one elderly person who died of COVID. What if that is having an effect on the way we view life?
We used to have this deeply embedded idea that we needed to work hard and be careful in life so that we could enjoy a long, fruitful retirement in our golden years. But with COVID, those golden years are far from guaranteed. Are now people simply living for today because there may be no tomorrow?
That would also help explain The Great Resignation. Why spend decades grinding away in jobs you hate for a retirement that you may not even live to enjoy? (And retirement was looking increasingly less realistic even before COVID.)
On the topic of post-COVID thinking, my friend Dr. Chris Ellis appeared on Connecticut Public Radio to discuss how we’re all preppers now.
Why We Haven’t Seen Cyberattacks
One of our day one predictions was Russian cyberattacks. Other than Apple’s iCloud troubles, that thankfully hasn’t materialized. It turns out there’s a reason for that: the FBI has been hacking into unsecured servers and fixing their security issues to thwart a Russian botnet called Cyclops Blink.
Did the FBI do a good thing or bad thing there? Tell us what you think. In the meantime, brush up on your own cybersecurity with our tips for hardening yourself against cyberattacks.
What I’m Watching and Reading This Week
I’m constantly studying preparedness, and I thought you might be interested to find out what I’m learning.
I’ve been on a Jack Spirko kick this week. If you’re not familiar with Spirko, he’s a Texas-based “redneck hippy duck farmer” who has hosted The Survival Podcast since 2008, and he’s a rich resource on all things preparedness, whether it’s crypto, gardening, guns, herbalism, or permaculture.
I’ll warn you in advance that he’ll piss you off. Spirko has strong opinions and expresses them forcefully. I don’t agree with everything he says, but his recent episode, “10 Keys to Unlock the Chains of the Systemic Slavery” is a great listen full of wisdom. In effect, what he’s talking about are dependency loops, which are a big topic here at Unprepared.
I’ve also been intently listening to his ongoing series on permaculture. We’ll cover permaculture in more detail, but for now, understand it as a way to build resilient natural systems.
A book Spirko recommends is Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City about two friends who bought a small urban lot and turned it into a permaculture paradise. I’ve heard from many urban readers who insist that homesteading isn’t an option for them, so I’m excited to read this book.
In other agricultural news, my friend and expert gardener David the Good has been on a scything kick and shared some awesome scything videos on his blog. Jim Kovaleski is a neat guy who feeds his gardens with his scythe and built a gadget to bale hay by hand. If you’re a homesteader, you owe it to yourself to invest in a good European-style scythe. It’s a surprisingly useful tool.