Contingencies – Introduction

ContingenciesPeople use knowledge and experience to cope with the problems of daily life, but unexpected events that require a different behavior can and do occur. The people who best handle a changed situation are adaptable and stubborn. They persevere regardless of obstacles. They do whatever they must to survive, to adjust, and to achieve better conditions. If necessary, they accept periods of humiliation, degradation, and brutal treatment. They press on despite stress, constant discomfort, frequent misery, and fear.

In disasters, some fatalities lose contact with reality and are paralyzed by fear. Most survivors instantly recognize the threat and react accordingly. The principle taught to airline flight attendants is first save yourself, and then help others. It is grim reality that some survivors fought their way past others who died. People have crossed oceans in small boats, walked a thousand miles, gone months with almost no food, and lived for years in a concentration camp because they would never give up. Others wasted away and died in a few weeks because they could not accept the changes.

Rarely is the person in charge at the time of a disaster the best leader for survivors. A compulsion to lead does not indicate good judgement. A good leader sets an example, helps others, and makes decisions that improve conditions. Nagging should benefit the person or the group, and humiliation should be a last resort to obtain cooperation or save lives.

Abandoning a group of people who are making a bad mistake could be viewed as socially reprehensible, but the choices might be live pariah or dead fool.

All Life Has an End

All life has an end. If death is the best alternative, the easiest, gentlest form is suicide by starvation. There is little or no hunger after the first day, and a slow withdrawal from life over the next several weeks is relatively easy for both the dying person and the survivors to bear. Other options, including delaying the inevitable, are unnecessarily traumatic or cruel.


For shelter, every city has a Salvation Army or Mission Army where transients can sleep overnight. Rules vary but lodging is limited to 1-3 nights and meals to 1-2 per day; there may also be nearly new clothing, everything from socks and shoes to jackets and caps. Ask the other bums how things are done. In smaller towns, hobos look for an unlocked car at night, especially one on a used car lot. In the country, they look for an abandoned building. A bridge or culvert funnels the wind and is unpopular for this reason. One religious hobo carried a bible and said that the house closest to a country church always has a key; he was rarely refused permission to sleep on the floor and use the bathroom; many nights he was fed at the house. In nice weather, however, he usually slept under a tree. Hobos generally carry a little food with them; cornbread is popular. Also, a person can eat for days on a small sack of soda crackers, cheese, and canned sardines from a country store. Many hobos carry a large spoon and sharp knife for eating; cans and wire bales for cooking can be found everywhere. Offering to work for food still gets a meal without the work at many country homes and some small-town restaurants.


Nearly all trouble with authority can be prevented by retreating and by not openly opposing officials. In rare cases, however, evasion might be necessary. About 60% of all criminals are arrested at home, and about 20% of the remainder are caught at the houses of relatives. Most are betrayed by tips. Criminals are rarely arrested if they avoid relatives, known associates, and favorite haunts. Evasion is much easier for an individual than a group; the odds drop sharply for each additional person. It is useful to adopt a role; tourists are welcome everywhere in the world, and workers (briefcase or hardhat) are never questioned in cities. Carrying a camera, however, is interpreted as an abnormal interest in local people or their property. Strangers are much more likely to be noticed in rural areas, but an older car or pickup truck is nearly invisible on secondary roads; a smile and a two-finger wave will partly cover the face and distract people who show an interest in the driver.

Fleeing criminals almost always run a short distance and then hide; the police know this and thoroughly search nearby places. Police dogs are trained to find hidden people within the search area. Evasion requires staying ahead of the searchers. Few humans can follow anything but a deliberately made trail, but searchers should not be encouraged. Avoid leaving footprints, broken branches, or a straight path through tall grass; animals make curving, irregular paths through grass. At some point in some intensive searches, dogs may be brought in to follow the trail by scent. Contrary to popular belief, walking in a stream will not confuse dogs because remnant scent clings to streamside leaves and grass. And rain freshens instead of washing away scent. It is better to travel downwind as rapidly as possible. The body scents of the searchers may then precede them and slow the dogs. Also, deviate to walk near or through empty buildings and animal shelters; cautiously approaching and searching these areas will delay pursuers. The strong smells of an animal enclosure can also delay dogs. Safety lies in reaching a populated area where your scent is soon overlaid with that from other people.


Inflation is caused by shortages. Consumer prices increased 150% in 1914-20 (WW I), and 250% in 1971-96. In the late 1970’s, banks were paying 5-7% annual interest (before an income tax of 30%) on certificates of deposit, but the inflation rate was more than 10%. All inflation hurts people with savings and those living on fixed incomes. The beneficiaries are debtors, including governments. Once an inflation rate exceeds 10% per year, there is no upper limit, and prices can change monthly, weekly, or hourly. The society sinks into poverty. Goods begin to disappear from stores at inflation rates of 20-40% per year unless there is reliance on a hard currency for trade. The U.S. dollar served this purpose in Russia and South America in recent years. Inflation decreases generally require government actions. The runaway inflation in Germany during the 1920’s stopped abruptly when the government announced that a new currency would be backed by the value of the national forests. Recently, inflation in Argentina stopped when the government announced that each new peso would be backed by a U.S. dollar.

An ownership interest in a profitable growing business is usually worthwhile in a period of inflation. Other relatively safe investments are real estate (including rental property if rents can be increased), nonperishable farm products (including timber), and possessions that have a wide market and little depreciation. The prices of new and used guns have tracked inflation as consis-tently as anything else in the last 50 years; gold and silver coins were best in earlier periods. Stock prices are usually depressed in a period of high inflation but rise to new peaks (nearly a sure thing) when the inflation rate drops. The worst investments are savings accounts, life insurance, and bonds, including those that pay interest weekly.

Economic Depression

A depression, which includes both recession (lower production) and deflation (lower prices), develops gradually, but the only ways of ending it may be an increased money supply, including government guaranteed loans and work projects. During the Great Depression, the price of farm products decreased (wheat sold for $2.19/Bu in 1919, $1.03/Bu in 1929, and $0.38/Bu in 1933), and there were decreasing sales in most business and industry. Rents dropped and occu-pancy rates fell, but some rental property was still a good investment. Business inventories, the bankruptcy rate, and the unemployment rate increased. There is a limit to unemployment because some products and services are essential or coveted. People continue to buy food, fuel, and alcohol plus utility, religious, entertainment, medical, travel, government, and funeral services. Some jobs may open in these areas, and some investments are profitable. Unemployment is usually highest in manufacturing, mining, and construction. In the U.S., it peaked at 25% during the Great Depression; small farmers and the unemployed suffered, but there was little effect on half of the population. The unemployment and underemployment rates of a few countries in recent years have exceeded 60%. People cope with high rates through extended families that provide the necessities to their members plus joint ownership of a few luxuries; all decisions are made by one or several patriarchs or matriarchs, and junior members have little personal freedom. Capital is scarce in a depression, and some real estate and profitable businesses must be sold because cash is needed for an emergency. Investors can sometimes buy at bargain-basement prices. Short-term, high-interest loans are also profitable.

Going Off the Grid

People can disappear, for practical purposes, if they have no phone and if their current address is not known to creditors and relatives; major criminals remain free for years. More than a few people have borrowed as much money as possible and then simply moved elsewhere. The legal system is too overloaded to pursue debtors, and any search must be paid for by creditors. Part of the usual quick-and-cheap hunt for a debtor consists of computerized searches of various data bases for a phone number or address. The rest consists of calling relatives, who can be tricked into telling, and possible employers. People who want to disappear must change jobs, move, don’t tell anyone where they are going, and do without a phone. They should also close bank accounts, cut up credit cards, and pay for everything with cash, traveler’s checks (any name can be used), or money orders. More isolation is usually unnecessary but can include moving across a state line, using a wife’s maiden name for automobile records, using a made-up business name on magazine subscriptions and mail orders, and not insuring anything for the next 2-3 years. Avoid giving anyone in the new area a correct social security number or date-of-birth, cash salary checks in grocery stores, and use small local banks for other transactions. If a dead-end mailing address is required for some purpose, all cities and towns have furnished housing that can be rented by the week; it is used by construction workers and students.

Loss of Income

If you suddenly have no income, life style changes are necessary. Any job is better than none, but if there are no prospects, you must become nearly self sufficient. Cancel all insurance, and request partial refunds. Apply for unemployment or welfare. Move onto land that you own where the only essential costs are taxes, electricity, gasoline, bought food, school expenses, used clothing for growing children, and medical care; all but taxes can be minimized. Do without a telephone. Minimize use of electricity (see “Energy Conservation”). Plan trips to make a tank of gasoline last 6-8 weeks; catch a ride with neighbors. Use wood for winter heat and fans for summer cooling. Plant a large garden. Select bought food by the cost per family meal. In 1999, 4 lb. of shelled corn that cost $0.28 ($6.95 for 100 lb.) at a feed store could have been used to prepare a meal of porridge for a family of six. Buy all clothing at yard sales; good shoes or a set of clothing for a child should cost only $1-2. Search out the simple and free pleasures of life; the most satisfying may be a study of nature, the love of another person, and conversation. Some income will be needed, and various options are described in this book. Homemade or home grown products from soap to flowers can bartered for rides to town, telephone use, etc.

For minimal food cost, regular rice, cornmeal, flour, dry beans, and large sacks of potatoes are cheap enough at a supermarket, but untreated seeds, which have been cleaned and sorted, and other whole grains from a feed store are cheaper. Similarly, canned fish, vegetables, chicken, and eggs are inexpensive in stores, but farm-raised products, including free-range chickens and ducks, are cheaper. The principle is that flour is cheaper than bread, grain is cheaper than flour, and seed is cheaper than grain. Also, there are no meat dishes in most of the world. Instead, vegetable dishes include slivers of meat or fish for flavoring; familiar examples for us are hash and soup. To obtain maximum production from a garden with minimal cost and effort, plant snap beans, butter beans, crowder peas, corn, turnips, okra, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Tolls and Bribes

In ancient times, many cities rose to glory because of tolls extracted from traders in high-profit luxuries like silk, amber, and pepper. More recently, some Jews who escaped Hitler’s pogrom converted their assets into gold coins and diamonds; they bribed their way past police and onto foreign ships. In most of the world today, authorities are poorly paid, and bribes are both acceptable and necessary to facilitate business and travel. Before paying a bribe, remember that the passage of time and bargaining are needed to reduce expectations.


People who flee an advancing army usually suffer greater hardships than those who take shelter during the battle. Most casualties in most battles occur among the exposed attackers. Among defenders, most casualties occur while firing at an enemy. Few well-sheltered soldiers and civilians are killed. An isolated small farm is not likely to attract the attention of either army regulars or looters, but plans to assure personal safety, essential tools, and a long-term food supply are advisable. Express no political opinions, trust only your family, and never resist anyone with a weapon. If surprised by an armed group, try smiling and waving. Other concerns for a time of war are discussed in “Food,” “Agriculture,” and “Security and safety.”