by Jeff Thomas, International Man:
Recently, I was in a pharmacy and overheard the pharmacist say to someone, “There’s so much unpleasantness on the news these days, I’ve stopped watching.” The pharmacist has my sympathy. I’d love to be able to ignore the deterioration of the First World. It is, at turns, tedious, depressing, disturbing, and infuriating.
Unfortunately, we’re now passing through what, before it’s over, will be the most life-altering period in our lifetimes. As much as we’d like to behave like ostriches right now, we’d better keep our heads out of the sand and be as honest with ourselves as we can if we’re going to lessen the impact that these events will have on us.
I cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of a possible shortage of food. History is filled with examples of cultures that would endure most anything and still behave responsibly… but nothing causes greater, more unpredictable, or more violent behaviour in a people than a lack of food.
Interesting to note that whenever I converse with people on the finer points of the Great Unraveling, when I mention the words “famine” or “food riots,” even those who are otherwise quite comfortable discussing the subject tend to want to discount the possibility that these will be aspects of the troubles that are headed our way. For this very reason, I believe that we should shine a light on this eventuality.
The Present State of the Industry
In America, the food industry is not in good shape. Normally, the food industry relies on a low-profit/high-volume basis, leaving little room for error. Add to this fact that many business owners and managers in the food industry have given in to the temptation to build up debt over the years. Following the 2008 crash, many have been struggling to get on top of that debt. Inflation has made that task especially difficult. Some have been keeping their noses above water; others have gone under.
In future years, hyperinflation is a very real possibility. Historically, whenever a government creates massive debt and greatly increases the printing of currency, dramatic inflation, if not hyperinflation, results. Those businesses that are already on the ragged edge will find that when they’re paid, they cannot buy the same volume of goods for the same amount of dollars. This will be true throughout the entire food-supply chain. Of course, little inflationary blips are the norm in business, and businesses adjust to them. The problem comes when there are large increases that continue steadily over a period of months. When this occurs, we’ll see a greater frequency of food-supply businesses going belly up.
In a normal business climate, the failure of some businesses would aid the competition, as they would have new markets to take on, but if the remaining businesses are already having trouble, they will not be in a condition to expand. The disappearance of large numbers of providers will result in a failure of delivery to the next business down the chain. Nationwide, distribution will become inadequate. This, of course, will not be uniform. Some areas will suffer worse than others. Those types of areas that are already chronically problematic will be hit hardest.
Those who are the most likely to go down the earliest will be those who have the highest overheads and the lowest volume. Typically, these are the small stores—the ones on street corners in every city.
These stores are critical. If a supermarket in the suburbs experiences a shortage, purchasers may drive across town to another supermarket. Not so in the city. If a corner store has empty shelves, or worse, closes completely, the purchasers in that neighbourhood must walk to the next neighbourhood to buy, and they might not be welcome there if the people in that neighbourhood are already having problems with supply at their local store. Worse, should the second store also close, the number of purchasers is redoubled. When the shoppers from two stores arrive at the third store, physical conflict between shoppers is a near certainty.
Panic Sets In
Food panic doesn’t necessarily occur if a retailer carefully assesses his increased market and rations sales so that everybody gets a slightly lesser share. In fact, I’ve personally seen this work well in the event of a natural disaster in my home country. The panic does occur when the availability suddenly becomes non-existent (even for a brief time) and the shoppers are unsure when it will be resumed. In an inner city, this is exacerbated by three factors:
Shipments from suppliers become erratic and insufficient.
A significant increase in the number of shoppers cleans out the store.
Individual shoppers become unreasonably demanding.
This last factor, in any inner-city situation, is almost always responsible for the chaos that evolves into a riot. It works like this: A mother complains that there is no bread for her children to have a sandwich. Her husband becomes angry at the problem and goes down to the corner store, demanding a loaf of bread. The store manager says that he cannot release the bread until the next morning, when the neighbourhood knows they can each come and buy one loaf only. The man, becoming angrier, goes in the back and takes a loaf of bread. The manager resists and is shot.
The man, on his way out, grabs a carton of cigarettes and a couple of six-packs of beer for good measure. The store, now unmanaged, is looted. Those shoppers who are normally peaceful people begin to panic and realize that it’s time to grab what you can. In these situations, the food stores are generally cleaned out quickly. In a very short period of time, a full-scale riot may be in play. In most inner-city riots, the liquor stores are hit early on, then the appliance stores, and so on down the line.
But this is no ordinary riot. Unlike a riot triggered by, say, a TV news clip of some policeman beating a seemingly innocent man, the trigger is ongoing and, more importantly, it is not, at its heart, anger-based—it is fear-based. And it is self-perpetuating. Shipments are not resumed to a store that has no one running it. Worse, additional store owners close for fear that they’re next. The situation escalates very fast.
Enter the Cavalry
While the US and Europe have seen many riot situations and we can therefore study how they play out, a series of self-perpetuating riots has not taken place before. It’s likely that, within weeks, a national emergency would be declared, and rightly so. But how to deal with it?