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I just learned a depressing statistic: The unemployment rate in our corner of Idaho is 13.6 percent. Keep this in mind for a moment.

A couple weeks ago I was asked by the local Mormon church to teach a class on cheese making. Mormons, in case you don’t know, are big on self-sufficiency. They are counseled to keep at least a year’s worth of food and other provisions stored up. Whatever your views on the Latter Day Saints, I’ll admit this is a spiffy concept.

I was happy to teach what I know about making cheddar and mozzarella, and I included how to make butter and yogurt as well. Preceding my class, the group had a lively discussion about garden seeds. After the class, a local woman displayed some products of her cottage industry: reusable feminine hygiene items (a huge hit with the largely female audience). The next day, my daughter’s violin teacher called to reschedule lessons for the next eight weeks because she’s attending a Master Gardening class.

We had dinner with neighbors the other night, and the subject of borrowing each others’ tractor implements came up in order to drastically expand everyone’s gardens. One woman commented, “It’s like we’re living on a commune but in separate houses.” That’s because there happens to be a broad range of useful skills represented among our circle of neighbors and friends, and we’re all willing to pitch in and trade knowledge, equipment and labor.

Welcome to Flyover Country, where we know darned good and well a depression is looming. People are preparing like crazy.

Defining an economic depression, of course, is an elusive thing. They’re easiest to spot after the fact. The general distinction of a depression seems to be when the GDP declines by more than 10 percent and unemployment rises above 10 percent. Right now it’s been reported that the GDP decreased 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. Apparently we’re not depressed yet.

Or are we? Remember, our corner of Idaho has a 13.6 percent unemployment rate.

It’s been argued that the Great Depression of the 1930s was intensified and lengthened by FDR’s aggressive government interference rather than letting the free market sort things out through harsh selection for a couple of years. The concern today is that Obama’s administration is duplicating or exceeding FDR’s policies, thus guaranteeing our country will go down the economic tubes for the foreseeable future.

But the point of this column is not to argue definitions or point the finger of blame (tempting as it may be). The point is for us, individually, to be ready for the worst.

If you’re lucky enough to still have a job and a home – unlike a whole bunch of less fortunate people – then you’re in a position to prepare.

Those of us in Flyover Country are scared spitless about the economy – 53 percent think we’re on track for a 1930s depression – but we’re being scared into action. The other 47 percent, I assume, are locked into Obama-worship and are in denial. (They’re confident the Messiah will save them.) They’re putting their trust in the current administration and are sitting on their hands, waiting for a bailout. They may be in for a nasty surprise.

But for many, frugality has become the norm. I know from personal experience that thrift stores in nearby urban areas are now thronged regularly. People are stockpiling as never before including, apparently, the federal government. The dipsticks in the mainstream media used to call this sensible behavior “hoarding,” but even the talking heads seem to be changing their tune since more and more “ordinary” people are stockpiling needed items.

As I said in one of my earlier columns, we are astoundingly vulnerable in this country because we’ve lost much of the knowledge and skills of our forefathers, the wisdom mankind has honed since the dawn of civilization. We have lost that wisdom in only two or three short generations due to the ease of modern technology. But here’s the thing: Technology, if it’s gone, doesn’t put food on the table. Garden seeds and know-how do.

Girls used to learn cheese making at their mothers’ elbows. Boys used to learn carpentry at their fathers’ knees. Now we can barely unclog a toilet by ourselves, much less know the proper way to build an outhouse, grow a garden, or butcher a steer.

I’m not saying our culture will backslide to the days where everyone had a cow and an outhouse. I’m saying things are going to be tough economically for a long time, and having food and other necessities stored up is a good thing. I’m saying that blindly putting your trust in a governmental bureaucracy to feed, clothe and house you is stupid. The government cannot do anything with efficiency, certainly not at the individual level. Try asking the government for a tube of toothpaste next time you run out and see what happens.

Your ability to prepare for a depression is clearly dependent on where you live (it’s hard to keep a cow in a high-rise apartment) and your income status (it’s hard to buy a year’s worth of food when you’re unemployed). But for cryin’ out loud, do something. Anything. If you can’t stockpile goods, then stockpile knowledge. Learn a useful, barterable skill such as sewing, carpentry, welding, or canning. Don’t become a burden on the rest of us because you’re in denial.

Whatever your views on the cause of our current economy, and whatever your views on what is needed to pull us out, remember this: In the end, the only thing you can depend upon is YOU. You’re the only who can tighten your belt, buy seeds, stockpile food, plug those financial leaks … whatever it takes. But don’t bury your head in the sand and think that hard times can’t hit you personally, because they can. It’s time to stop thinking ideologically and start thinking practically.

Prepare as best you can – so you too don’t have to be so depressed when the depression hits.

 


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