Guest Post: Insights Into Cultural Shifts From A Visit To A Hardware Store

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Pete Kofod of Casey Research

Insights Into Cultural Shifts From A Visit To A Hardware Store

"So this is what it looks like when a society is starting to collapse," the man standing behind the counter at the hardware store said matter-of-factly. The remark had been directed at no one in particular, but generally at anyone standing nearby. As I was among that audience, I looked at him inquisitively, eliciting in return a look indicating that his observation should be intuitively obvious to even the casual observer.

"We should not be this busy," he continued. "People are normally out Christmas shopping for the latest tech gadgets for their kids, but instead they are spending their hard-earned money here." I had to agree with his observation, because the place was packed, and it was obvious that his inventory was disappearing from the glass showcases and from the wall behind the counter quicker than the store could replenish it.

"We have manufacturers that aren't taking any more orders. We even have a manufacturer that has shut down production and furloughed the entire workforce. I guess when we run out, we run out." He excused himself and joined his staff to help restock the shelves as well as operate the register.

As I surveyed the store, I noticed no discernible demographic pattern among the customers. They included elderly ladies, young couples, construction workers, police officers and hipster techies as well as people from virtually every ethnic and socio-economic background. They would have made the perfect tapestry for a politician's campaign stop.

"So this is what it looks like when a society starts to collapse," I reflected on what the man behind the counter had said. As melodramatic as his words were, they would be understood by any student of human history.

But it raised questions in my mind: "Does social decline precede economic decline? Does the decay of social graces, the protocols that define civilized interaction, the written and unwritten laws of the land, precipitate the ruin of a nation, or is it the other way around? Is it a vicious cycle where one feeds the other, and if so, can the destructive feedback loop be reversed?"

Based on what I observed in the store, I'm inclined to believe that people are concerned about social collapse, in whatever form that may take. Publications such as The Casey Report implore its readership to hedge against inflation (as well as deflation) by dividing their portfolio into balanced thirds spread across asset classes and political jurisdictions, but what does the erosion of a fiat currency really mean?

I would suggest that very much depends on where you live. In more resilient communities, in which economic actors all create value, the impact may in fact be little more than a moderate nuisance. Various South American countries have shown that, despite their governments' penchant for destroying the nation's currency at predictable intervals, life can go on. As a result, while people in those countries know that things can periodically get tougher, they also have become resolved to soldiering through the hardships, knowing that the latest challenging period will pass.

By contrast, with their advanced – and leveraged – economies and large urban centers that are highly dependent on government subsidies as well as consumer supply chains that are extended, the social impact of a fiat currency collapse in the US and Europe could be far more profound.

Such an event would likely be even further exacerbated, and significantly so, by the absence of such experiences to most Western nations in recent memory. In the United States, a small but emerging subculture known as "preppers" focus their resources and attention on developing personal resiliency in response to the perceived deterioration of both financial and social infrastructure. While the theories and actions of "preppers" range from the sublime to the ridiculous, it is undeniable that the financial, social and logistical fabric of the United States has been stretched very thin.

This tenuous position in turn manifests itself as a palpable level of stress readily observed in many people. There is no longer a sense that "everything will be OK." In conversations with people, I get the sense that people feel very uncertain about the future, and not in a hopeful way. They see their prospects as having limited upside with virtually unlimited downward risk. There is a prevailing belief that this is as good as it is going to be for a long time. It is this subsurface tension that was palpable among shoppers in the hardware store.

You see, the hardware store I was in was a gun store. What on earth would compel me to visit a gun store so close to the horrible tragedy in Connecticut? As some readers know, firearms played a significant role in my former professional life in the military. The truth is I wanted to get a sense for what's actually going on in the gun industry, as opposed to the manufactured "reality" presented by the mainstream media.

Having returned from serving a customer, the owner of the gun store continued his observations.

"It's different this time. The last time, with the Clinton gun ban, people knew that it would be temporary. The economy was good and people didn't really care. This time… well, it's different." He then elaborated on the reason that one manufacturer had shut down its fabrication facility: Apparently it was unwilling to be stuck with inventory that at a stroke of a pen will become contraband.

In reply to my follow-on question as to what he meant when he said society was starting to collapse, he answered, "People talk about debt, a recession that won't go away and how we are on track to bankrupting the country. This is all true. But they are all part of a bigger problem."

"What problem is that?" I asked.

"Respect," he said, with just a hint of bitterness. "Treating people with disrespect has become a way of doing business, a way of life. When a culture ceases to demand respect for life or livelihood, anything and everything is fair game."

At this point another gentleman joined the conversation, adding, "You know, these tragedies are a politician's best friend. It allows them to take the public's eye off issues like financial woes and cutbacks in benefits."

In my view, the spectacle in the gun store, which apparently has played out nationwide, is a clear indication that people are doing the equivalent of "shorting" social stability. This is clearly concerning, because the extent to which we can plan our future is directly related to the faith we can reasonably place in social stability.

It may be presumptive, but in my view, people who rush out to purchase firearms in anticipation of gun-control measures are not part of the "gun culture." The "gun culture" already has its arsenal stocked up. The "last-minute shoppers" are people who believe that one day they may need a gun and may not be able to buy one. These are the same people who clean out the grocery store before the first big winter storm hits.

As for the logistics of controlling access to firearms, I suspect that in short order, it will prove to be an academic point anyway, perhaps even more futile than the War on Drugs.

The relevant agents include: crypto currency, open-source hardware, 3D printing, and Dark Net exchanges like The Silk Road.

On the topic of technical limitations to keeping guns out of the hands of the citizenry, let me direct your attention to the following article on a gunsmith who "printed" a gun. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know, but I do know that it is inevitable. The first group that will make a go at it will likely be people who are legally prohibited from owning firearms, yet their livelihood depends on access to weapons; in other words, members of criminal organizations. Shortly behind them will be technically gifted people who, one can only hope, are imbued with decency and respect for human life.

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francis_sawyer's picture

You can find some cool shit at hardware stores... LIKE SILVER SOLDER... [cept in Illinois probably]...

Kreditanstalt's picture good hickory-handled axes, camp stoves, kereosene, crowbars, saws, wedges to split forewood, wire mesh for my basement windows (to keep out entitlement-dependent zombies when their checks stop) and incandescent lightbulbs....etc., etc.

francis_sawyer's picture

I'm less worried about the entitlement dependent zombies than I am about the fucking mice... So stock/stack up on plastic TOTES to play 'keep away' from your food... If you buy transparent ones, they can also double as mini 'greenhouses' if you have plants in the ground before or after the frost hits...

Kreditanstalt's picture

A lot of people will turn zombie if their checks stop coming. 

I live in a neighbourhood about 15% wealthy unionized resource workers and their pensioners, 40% wealthy government employees and their pensioners, 20% impoverished private sector and 25% welfare recipients.  When the paychecks stop for the 65% (and the alcohol runs out) there goes the neighbourhood.

Kind of like "28 Days Later" without the disease...

The Juggernaut's picture

Pane et Circenses.  Bread and games to distract the Roman Republic so politicians can tip-toe around the Sleeping Republic.  Thankfully, Ron Paul, Judge Nap., Lew Rockwell, and Tom Woods etc... are voicing the last chance.

Manthong's picture

Don’t forget the software..  Pb.

francis_sawyer's picture

I'm not wrried about the urban zombies... Most of them won't have the energy to walk their fat asses out of the city 5 miles before they collapse due to exhaustion... The ones who do make it that far don't even know what REAL food looks like...

I might start manufacturing some KFC buckets & fill 'em up with rubber chickens (just in case)...

fonestar's picture

Besides the non-productive assets of gold & silver I love hardware and hardware stores for their investment offerings.  Why is it that I need to double down on all investments of the "information age"; PC's, cell phones, software licences, iPods, etc, etc every six months?  Yet when I invest in the industrial age; hammers, guns, ammo, binoculars, wrenches, etc these items seem to last a lifetime?

The consumer cult-ure, planned obsolecence and keynesian economics seem to go together like some unholy wet dream.

whstlblwr's picture

No, the big question is what did the Jews buy for Hanukah? I'm sure francis_sawyer with his poor ass nose in the dumpster didn't notice.

Zap Powerz's picture

Um.  The lessons learned at this fake hardware store are meaningless compared to the real life examples we have all around us.

Exhibit A:  Barack cock sucking Obama.  He was just mother fucking re elected despite being a tyrant, a criminal, an ignorer of the rule of law, the constitution etc.  He is a thug.  Why did he get re elected? Because he was able to believeably promise more free shit than that stupid fucking cunt Romeny.  Thats why.

If you were unable to see that society has already broken down because of the elections of Bush and Obama then youre just not paying attention.  The USA is a dead man walking.

The near future will try mens souls.  Many will want to die rather than live in the hell we face. Are you prepared to drop the hammer on your neighbor when he comes aggressively asking for food for his family?  You gonna sleep ok after that sparky?

You guys are smart.  Youve been watching the societal trends for at least a decade.  This fake story is not going to convince you of anything you didnt already know and hopefully are preparing for.

AldousHuxley's picture

Typical Americans ... Prepping consists of material stock piling because that's what they value in their lives.

No material goods can offset social decline due to collapse of institutions

Collusion of military police and government can legally rob you of all possessions. Best bet again collapse is connections to powerful people outside the system And get your family a foothold in a foreign lAnds withou losing too much ground

Supernova Born's picture

Where oh where did all the Iran NUCLEAR BOMB stories go to?

What is this Wag the Dog "gun" bullshit concealing?

And...I would bet gun control under a "President Romney" would have ALREADY advanced FARTHER than it has, due to conservative R's being forced "into line" by the AWB-signing former governor of MA.

James_Cole's picture

"Why is it that I need to double down on all investments of the "information age"; PC's, cell phones, software licences, iPods, etc, etc every six months?  Yet when I invest in the industrial age; hammers, guns, ammo, binoculars, wrenches, etc these items seem to last a lifetime?"

If you buy a hammer from 1998 and a hammer from 2013, the differences in the product are fairly unsubstantial. If you buy a computer from 1998 vs. one from 2012 the differences are substantial. 

People seem to like to romanticize the idea that technological change is really only cosmetic when in reality it is fundamental to the rapid change we see in every industry and economic region.

Just because you can't keep up with it doesn't' mean it isn't happening and doesn't affect you.  

Would you rather be treated in a medical facility with tech from 2006 or 2012?

CPL's picture

There weren't drug and supply shortages in 2006.


So I'll take 2006

James_Cole's picture

"Would you rather be treated in a medical facility with tech from 2006 or 2012?"

I wasn't suggesting a time machine. 

CPL's picture

Ever buy an IKEA flatpack and note that a couple of screws are missing?  What happens then?  You put it back in the box because the furniture is 'broken' and bring it back to the store.


Having the most technologically advanced car on the planet doesn't count for anything if you don't have oil, gas, tires and replacement parts plus the ability to repair properly.

...and for medicine.

An MRI scan is worthless as an instrument without the highly processed and manufactured barium drink to allow the machine to ID the location of a problem.  The cancer doctor trained with the latest techinques in cancer care is worthless without the medicine to treat it.  Or does merely standing in a room with a high qualified professional treat the issue? (and the machine that goes ping.)


James_Cole's picture

I'm not taking issue with the point you were making, it's just a separate argument from what I was trying to respond. 

CPL's picture

I read into his statement of how transient 'modern' technology is without the underlying support versus hammer and nail.  Which are well engineered ideas.   It's hard to make the promise of new technology until it reaches that well developed and well understood position.  Like a hammer and nail.  It's not sexy, but it does some amazing things for everybody.  The cell phone, while handy, won't be building houses or empires anytime soon except on paper.  Same goes for medical gimmicks, note how there is no 'cure', just an increased chance of survival.


However you listen to the news and sales guys of this stuff, you'd think Christ was resurrected in a pill.  In reality, you pay a fortune to increase the odds of the poker hand at a very large table.

francis_sawyer's picture

 "If you buy a hammer from 1998 and a hammer from 2013, the differences in the product are fairly unsubstantial"


It's more than obvious that the only thing you know about hammers is what they 'look like' [because you probably spend too much time staring your METROSEXUAL face into the mirror]... I won't VOUCH for a 1998 vs. 2013 hammer comparison here, but I'll GLADLY take a 1913 hammer over a 2013 one...

James_Cole's picture

I meant in terms of the technolgy.........................

Sure, when your particular product is stagnant from a technological perspective the best way to increase sales is find a way to make it cheaper and shorten its lifespace (two things that technological advancement does by default). 

francis_sawyer's picture

 'planned obsolescence' is as much a part of MODERN hardware manufacturing as it is in ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGY products... [which is a characteristic that the 'Krugmans' of the world enjoy]... 

The Alarmist's picture

I'm still using my Grandfather's hammer from 1925 ... five new handles and three new heads since then, but it's still going strong.

Jreb's picture

+1000 Best ever low flying joke on ZH. Still laughing....

cynicalskeptic's picture

Don't romanticize the past.  I'll take a forged Estwing hammer or fiberglass handled  modern hammer over some old hickory handled antique any day.   My father's all metal 1960 crafftsman drill weighs a ton (and needs an outlet to plug into) compared to a polycarbonate cased 18volt one.  Have fun taking down a tree with an old hand saw - would much rather use a chain saw.

There's plenty of cheap crap out there - you see the difference in sockets and wrenches - the old stuff is thinner and stronger - but truth is that tools are a LOT cheaper now than they were 50 years back.  You can go for the really ceheap stuff from China at places like Harbor Freight and still get reasonable functionality or spend more on 'quality' tools (still probably still made in China) but it's still far more affordable.

The real difference is in how many people actually know HOW to use a hammer today compared to 50 years ago.  Pretty pathetic how UNskilled your typical suburbanite is today.  Have had kids in Cub Scouts building Pinewood Derby cars who NEVER held a tool of any kind before.  I remember grammer school fairs with the old 'Bang the Nail in the wood in 3 tries' games..... today ..... kids wouldn't know what a hhammer was or how to use it.   The very well paid finance guys and attorneys are in deep shit when they can't pay people to fix their 100 year old houses.....  

Sandy was a revelation.  A lot of the supposedly 'prepared' types were screwed when their Generac units wouldn't work or blew up after 2 days.   Knew someone living in a camper after his whole house unit failed.   You had fools paying $10 for a bundle of wood when there were trees down all over the place (yes, you had to cut and season it - though plenty were dead for some time).  Around here they cut trees and leave them by the curb for a week or so before carting it away - free wood for the taking, though not many do so.  Not all that had to cut it down, stack it and split it - having a half cord or more 'in case' - the only cost being your time.  I love the people who spent a fortune on state of the art heating systems that couldn't be run by a generator (not an issue with old steam systems that need only power to run a blower motor if you have an oil burner).  All the people that live a hour from work and have to drive to get there fount that wasn't so workable without gasoline.   Even now a water main break is leaving stores out of bottled water nobody seems to have any contingency plans.


francis_sawyer's picture

can't argue with a lot of what you say...

I have a lot of 'more cleverly designed' wrenches, etc. that beat te hell out the old adjustable ones my father left me... I end up mixing in a little of both [as the job requires]... & the CHEAP vs. WELL MADE argument you make is valid... Not to mention the casual ideas like 'downed trees' during Sandy... Anyone who knows this stuff knows that 'replacement parts' are as much a key as anything else [as well as what you can cobble together using your own imagination]...

I scour dumpsters for things like cardboard, discarded wooden pallets, & plastic Coke & Pepsi trays... Half of my garden is set up using those throwaways...

TimmyB's picture

This whole "hammer" discussion is funny, especially the 1913 vs. 2013 model.  The truth is that hammers are mostly obsolete.  People who actually drive nails for a living use nail guns.  I don't care if you have the best 1913 or 2013 model hammer, a pro with a nail gun will kick your ass.     

CPL's picture

Until the power goes out.  Then they can stick the tube that creates the pressure in their mouth and blow.  


I predict a lot of very dizzy framers in that situation.

(and yes, nail guns are awesome.)

James_Cole's picture

"In reality, you pay a fortune to increase the odds of the poker hand at a very large table."

I'm sure the guys at the world poker tour would be happy for that advantage. 

"The cell phone, while handy, won't be building houses or empires anytime soon except on paper.  Same goes for medical gimmicks, note how there is no 'cure', just an increased chance of survival."

That's like saying, 'well, if you take cellphone technological advancements they really pale in comparison to when humans learned the ability to create fire on demand.'

Ten years ago a lot of people in the world were completley cut off from the sum of human knowledge. That is rapidly changing with the advent of cheap portable computer devices, which may seem like a minor technological advancement verses what was around 5 years ago, but the potential to make change is massive. Obviously, this isn't likely to be as massive a change as the invention of the printing press but so what?

francis_sawyer's picture

 "Ten years ago a lot of people in the world were completley cut off from the sum of human knowledge. That is rapidly changing with the advent of cheap portable computer devices"


That's true... Nowadays I know [within seconds], everytime Kim Kardashian is planning to take a shit...

jeff montanye's picture

perhaps not as massive as the printing press (or as) but certainly much much faster.

as far as k.k., perhaps he is asking the wrong questions.

Totentänzerlied's picture

"Ten years ago a lot of people in the world were completley cut off from the sum of human knowledge."

Ten, Fifty, A hundred, A thousand, and so on.

But having access to information is not the same as having to data, or knowledge, which results from data plus mental labor. And having access to data, or having knowledge, does not mean anything, good or bad, will happen as a result.

To illustrate the wishful delusion being expressed by those who talk about the internet and access to "the sum of human knowledge", all one needs to do is glance at the most popular search engine queries. There is a very high signal-to-noise ratio, but most people are not even interested in the signal.

James_Cole's picture

"There is a very high signal-to-noise ratio, but most people are not even interested in the signal."

Why would that matter? When you look at the printing press do you judge its impact by the amount of crap that was produced?

knowless's picture

edit:replied to wrong post..


consumer technology funds the future of innovation as long as the companies/people profiting from them focus on that instead of attempting to fuck with consumption by altering cosmetics. investing in true life changing technologies is one thing, but there will always be significant graft.. the medical/pharmaceutical industry is a horrible example of your point.. if they were to utilise current technologies to their potential while eliminating the rampant curruption supported by the insurance cartels, so much progress could be made.. but it won't be, because there is no incentive to truely "cure" human afflictions, sickcare, they will never heal you fully, unless of course the price is right.

knowless's picture

no, i've never bought a furniture puzzle kit, but if i got one for some reason and there was a screw missing i'de buy or make one... what?

Toronto Kid's picture

For the love of ...

... Ikea has a huge stack of the bits and pieces that usually go missing from the flatpacks. You can find them by the Returns department.

No need to take the flatpack back because of a screw.

Ima anal sphincter's picture

Just give-me 7 years back on this-ol bod and I'll be happy.

AgAu_man's picture

LOL. Dick, I hope your former (official) boss's successor comes for your HW in person, or goes hunting with you. ;-/

Winston Churchill's picture

Another ZHer gave me Fishmox to get anti biotics in bulk off script.

Exact same meds a doc would prescribe(in human doses) packaged as

fish treatments.Same price as the pharmacy ,essential in a

collapse.Without you will die quickly from the sanitisation diseases

we though we had left behind us.

The unprepared mobs  will be quickly thinned out by starvation,

and those diseases.Maybe three months.

Race Car Driver's picture
> ... essential in a collapse.Without you will die quickly from the sanitisation diseases we though we had left behind us.

Yeah... maybe, maybe not.

 MRSA: The antibiotic-resistant bug that has health officials worried

First Antibiotic-Resistant Gonorrhea Cases Detected in North America


See also: Garlic, Oregano Oil, Colloidal Silver ... etc.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Thanks race car.PLEASE don't take antibiotics indiscriminately! So many people have killed or perminantly hurt themselves doing so. I can tell you nightmare stories. Living near TJ I see many people getting them and having horrible outcomes. Antibiotics use appropriately can save your life. But used otherwise is extremely risky. Just FYI from you neighborhood microbiologist.


jmc8888's picture

Antibiotics don't just kill bad bacteria, it also kills good bacteria.

You might be surprised how many people come down with C.Diff (as a result of taking antibiotics) and then THAT has to be cured with a different antibiotic.  It can also be recurring and last for years.  The wider the spectrum the antibiotics effects, the more good bacteria it will kill.

Basically if you use antibiotics and don't need to, you are asking for trouble.  That said, if you use antibiotics at ALL, you could be in for trouble.  This doesn't mean don't use it....just make sure that while you stock up on antibiotics, you also need to stock up on pro-biotics to counter that, and even then only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary.

C.Diff can kill, and there are strains that are so resistant to the specific antibiotics used to kill it, that they are literally on the last line of defense with some tuberculosis and other diseases.

So unless those that stock antibiotics also stock pro-biotics, it would be thinned even more.  Even then they also need a wide ranging variety of antibiotics.  Also lack of other products can increase the 'need' to use antibiotics.  Like lack of clean water, no toilet paper, no sewage, etc, etc. 

Also pill antibiotics are crap compared to IV antibiotics.  If you really get something bad, pills usually won't do squat.  It HAS to be IV.  Even then a 10 day supply of some of these drugs can be thousands of dollars.  So pill antibiotics won't be enough.  Some have short shelf life, and others need to be refrigerated. 

There's really no way to really prepare for a collapse.  You can only get a limited supply of some things you need and hope that was enough to last until some semblance of society reforms.  But given it could be in a world after a massive nuclear exchange, it may not be in our lifetimes.  Even then, having something, makes someone a target.  Someone will loot military outposts and whatever most people have will be completely outmatched (and outnumbered) by bands of military equipment armed thugs.

The real only way to survive is to prevent it from happening. 



Miffed Microbiologist's picture

Google (not while you ar eating) " stool transplant" this is the only lasting cure at this time for CDiff. Scary


Totentänzerlied's picture

Bahahahahahahaha! HA! HA! HAHA! HA!

"Glass Steagall"!

That's you're ace in the hole???


fonestar's picture

I was not "romanticizing" the industrial age but rather pointing out the differences between essential and non-essential services and tools and their respective longevity.  Most information in the "information age" could be deemed non-essential information for entertainment purposes and not something worth doubling your living expenses or going in debt over.  Also, I work in networking and with virtualization, until we get more sophisticated transistors, organic LEDs, etc I can tell you much of the "advances" in consumer technology since 2006 are less substantial than the marketers would have you believe.  In the case of M$ for example all hype and window dressings.

James_Cole's picture


It's a common argument I hear, something along the lines of "x" technology never changes so therefore current technology is really just a bunch of hype.

What actually happens is as more people buy the technology it becomes more ubiquitous more investment is made and then more advances. So it may seem like there's not a lot of difference between the first iphone and the iphone the difference between the iphone and the cray1 is substantial.

If you don't want to update your information age devices every couple years that makes sense, but you probably do every 5 years and definitely every 10 years. And what you go through updating your computer is nothing compared to what a lab or medical facility goes through to keep up with current research. 

A decade ago how many people were investing in 3d printing companies? Now a company like DDD thrives. Even a few years ago that was hard to imagine. 


knowless's picture

do you mean can't keep up financially? because that seems rather naive, all the smartphone activated computer controlled doors and motors don't stand a chance against a torch and hammer... just saying..


people who are "keeping up with technology" on a personal consumption basis have no idea what you are even talking about.


James_Cole's picture

No not financially. And that point doesn't make sense over a longer period of time. All tech becomes cheaper / more accessible with time and with these rates of change that time window is compressing even more. Most people in North America can easily afford an early generation iPhone (or similar technology), yet at the time they couldn't. That's only a few years out. 

What I meant was technology is changing so rapidly people get technology fatigue and start looking at their hammers and think of those wonderful simpler times..

People have long been suspicious of technological change and fear it, technophobia being very commonly expressed these for many generations. One way it's expressed is in people's dismissal of tech advancements "the old ways were better" type stuff. And of course any tech advancement has both pros and cons so you can argue it either way. But I'm firmly in the technological advancement is good camp.

The basic problem imo these days is that on a long enough timeline technological advancement and capitalism are fundamentally at odds, something few people wish to acknowledge and also something which is causing a lot of problems. Anyway, that's a separate argument... 

tango's picture

I too love tech.  Most of those yearning for the good old days are living in a fantasy world. tecnology enriches - it's as simple as that.  And yes, I think technology may make the whole greed/need/success/work/prosperity culture extinct someday.  I mean, if we can manufacture anything for a fraction of the costs, it will inevitably lose its appeal.