Being a serious preparedness-minded individual, I often look at venues that offer used or previously owned items for sale. These venues could be flea markets, thrift stores, antique stores, yard or garage sales, auctions, or online sites like Craigslist.
It never ceases to amaze me the items that are offered for sale at these venues. When I go to these venues, I have prepping in mind and am looking for items to help make me and my family better prepared. Often, I have to wade through piles of, in my opinion, useless junk. What is useless junk in my book? The general definition is, items that serve no purpose in helping one survive or recover from a disaster. But that is just my take on things. So old VHS tapes, collectible cards, ornate glass, and Star Wars toy figures all fall into useless junk for me.
I was at an Amish estate auction a while back and I realized that there is a big difference between an “Amish” Auction (defined as an auction where the property up for sale is from an Amish person and the vast majority of those in attendance are Amish) and an “English” auction (defined as an auction where the property for sale is from a non-Amish person and those in attendance are overwhelmingly non-Amish). About a month ago I was at a non-Amish estate sale and canning jars were going for about $2 a box, with most boxes having over a dozen jars in them. At the Amish auction I recently went to, one dozen used canning jars were being sold for $9. Granted that is still a good savings but compared to the non-Amish auction they are extremely high. To be fair Amish tend to pay higher prices at auctions since they don’t have the ability to order online or drive around shopping and transportation adds to the cost of buying things. But this diametrically opposite valuation of certain things does have a “survival” connotation.
When you think about the Amish, in general they live a simple life. If you ever went inside an Amish house there is not a lot of trinkets and decorations. Items they own are to serve a purpose other than to just look at. When you look at a non-Amish home there is a lot of “stuff”. But does that stuff serve a purpose?
I know several people who have collected baseball, football, and other “collector” cards. It amazes me that people think that these cards have “worth” since they are just paper and ink. Ironically, what gives “worth” or value to a Pokémon card is exactly what gives worth to the U.S. dollar, that is, supply, demand, and faith. I have heard one “collector” tell me that one of his football cards was worth $200. I said: “Prove it. Sell it for that.” This person often sells large parts of their collection of cards and states that he did not get near what they were worth. Well, are they really worth what the price guide states then? When SHTF, what will the value of a Joe Montana rookie card be? Would you give anything for one? I know I would not.
Means of Production
I was talking to a like-minded friend of mine, with whom I sometimes attend gun shows, auctions, and flea markets. We were talking about what our strategies were and why we buy the things we do. I told my friend that, at this point in my preparedness journey, I look for “the means of production.” That is, I buy “stuff” that will allow me to produce “something” in a post-End of the World as We Know it environment. Going back to the Amish and their “simple” life we can see that what they value are also the means of production.
So, what are “the means of production”? They include the raw materials, supplies, equipment, and the knowledge to make “things”. As Preppers, we sometimes focus on the stockpiling of “stuff” but many never consider the realm of re-supply. Some basic means of production, are things like seeds to grow food. But growing the food is just the first step in food production. We need to harvest and preserve the food somehow, so the means of production can include butchering equipment, canning jars, lids, kosher salt, and a pressure canner, it could also be a smokehouse or dehydrator. Other examples include being able to make or repair clothing and footwear, so having sewing supplies like thread, needles, zippers, buttons and equipment like a treadle sewing machine and tailor’s manikin would be examples of means of production.
So, where does the worth reversal come in? Think about what the average American or citizens of a First World nation value. For the most part, we do not value the means of production for basic survival purposes. Going back to the example of sewing, a person may have the knowledge and skills to sew, they may have a sewing machine, a few buttons, thread, and even a little material in their house. Does this constitute “means of production”? While one could argue that the person with the above sewing items could make something, hence production, what we need to strive for is the sustainment of the production on a scale beyond that for personal, family, or group use. When I go to auctions or flea markets, an old coffee can filled with galvanized nails has real valve but those cans bring a pittance of its true value compared to something like baseball cards. But those are “today’s” values. The worth reversal is when, after the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI), that old coffee can full of galvanized nails will be priceless and a Joe Montana rookie card’s value will be that of fire starter.
So what? Knowing that there will be this worth reversal, we can take advantage of today’s lack of demand and low prices to stock up on the means of production. For example, there always seems to be an old food chopper/grinder every time I go to the Salvation Army Thrift store or to an auction or a flea market. Most can be had for a few dollars. Ones made by Griswold are highly collectible and sought after and will command a higher price. Not to worry, since ones marked Universal work just as well and can be had for as low as $2. As Americans rush back to our agrarian roots and families revert back to raising and butchering their own livestock and/or game, items such as the $2 Universal meat grinder will command much higher prices than they do today. Many people who process their own livestock and/or game have electric saws and grinders and will be in need of non-electric tools. I literally have purchased, over the years, no fewer than a dozen grinders/choppers with most set aside as barter stock for post-TEOTWAWKI. I can barter the use of the grinder (rent) or I could actually barter for its ownership. Either way I have something that will be in very high demand but low supply.
Many preppers have stocks of barter items, but unfortunately, many of those preppers all stocked the same items. The issue then becomes supply and demand. If the 20% of the people in your area that are preppers all have disposable lighters to trade those in need can “shop around” for the best deal. If you stock something that only 5% of have preppers in your area have the supply is low thus making that item worth more in a trade.
As I write this, the world is seemingly on course to another world war. Unlike the two previous world wars, the United States does not have a robust industrial manufacturing capability. Everyday items that we need are imported from far-off lands, many of whose governments are not “friendly” to the United States. During World War Two the United States and other nations were subjected to rationing of food and other items. The United States may not have to worry about making and distributing ration stamps for the next war, considering that there will not be much to ration due to imports being cut off by hostile nations or due to interruptions in world shipping. Having manufactured goods stored for personal use will be good. Having manufactured goods saved for barter purposes will be great, but having the means to produce items that will be in high demand will be priceless.
We should be preparing with the goal of not having to resort to bartering at all. That should be the goal, but reality will probably necessitate resorting to bartering at some point, even by the most well-stocked prepper. Our barter stockpiles, like the rest of our preps, are going to be finite. When you are done bartering them away there will not be anymore. Bartering should be done when absolutely necessary those extending your stocks of barter items. The other thing to keep in mind is the longer you keep your barter items, the more worth they will have. Considering the number of “un-prepared” people there will be a lot of demand for “things”. People who are “liberal” with their bartering could burn through their stocks in weeks or months, leaving them with nothing to barter when they need it. Those who are conservative will maintain their stocks longer and have them when they need them. Personally, I view bartering as something I only want to resort when I absolutely need something that will impact my family’s health and safety. For example, if one of my family members gets sick and we run out of or do not have the correct antibiotic then we will resort to bartering. If I run out of diesel fuel and I need it for the farm tractor to help with food production, then we will barter. Bartering for nice-to-have items, or operating a post end of the world as we know it business is not in our plans.
A word of Caution
There are laws on the books about “hoarding”. Hoarding is buying in excess for “normal” personal use during an emergency. There is a difference between “stockpiling” which is defined as putting items away before an emergency that necessitates their rationing. Being able to prove when you purchased an item may keep you out of the legal system. Selling and/or even bartering items when the government has implemented wartime emergency powers could target you for “Black Marketing”. Even if you can prove you purchased items well before the emergency this may not be enough to stop your stockpile from being seized and you landing in the legal system.