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

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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.