Saturday, October 23, 2010

10 Things You're Going to Miss When TSHTF

I just got back from a couple of weeks in Central America. While I didn't get very far away from humanity (there's people everywhere in the small village we stayed in), I did get away from many of the conveniences that people take for granted in the US. So when people complain that America is so terrible and they want to leave, they may want to consider these things that I often miss when I am in a third world country (note that when TSHTF, these items we come to depend on will be similarly lacking in the US):
  1. A good plumbing system. This is often taken for granted in the US whether you have a septic system or are connected to city water and sewer. It is common when there is hardly any infrastructure that there is #1--no water sometimes, #2--unpottable water that comes out of the tap all the time, #3--toilets/make shift sewer systems that empty into lakes/rivers/the street.
  2. The comforts associated with a good plumbing system. In many of these countries, restrooms may be a hole in the floor or you may have to pay to use them or you may have to just go where ever you can. Things like stalls, toilet seats, toilet paper, and sometimes even the toilet are considered luxuries. Ditto things like running water (hot running water is indeed a luxury!). And don't even think about flushing so much as toilet paper since it will probably clog up what system is there.
  3. Privacy. I like holing up in my house and doing my own thing when I feel like it. Being social here is a choice and usually involves advanced scheduling. Not there...people are everywhere and they find it odd if you want to be alone. Also, most of society is built on social relationships--who you know can be as serious bonus for everything from getting utilities hooked up to getting out of jail should the need arise.
  4. A general sense of health. We are used to people being generally healthy and at least vaccinated in the US. Third world medicine is, um, lacking to say the least. Many of the people in the village have never received a single vaccination, sanitation is sadly lacking, disease is not uncommon (watching someone turn purple with Dengue Fever is not pleasant), and medical care is cheap by our standards but on the flip side, if people can't afford medical care, they simply don't get it. They can die on the clinic's doorstep if they can't afford to pay (and many can't).
  5. A general sense of safety. We know that there are some places in the US that can be unsafe (various locations in LA, Chicago, and NYC come to mind) but overall, most people have an innate sense of safety where they live and work. Law enforcement is effective, corruption is minimal, and the looming possibility of robbers/bandits/drug cartel flunkies/etc are far from the norm of your daily life. Not so in many countries that lack infrastructure. Law enforcement is either lacking or corrupt, there is always the possibility of crime, and, while the places may not be as bad a Somalia, the general sense is of danger.
  6. Electricity is nice and quite common in the US. Flip a switch and barring a storm or other malfunction which is quickly fixed, you will get power. Not so in poor countries. Power is often spotty and subject to brownouts/blackouts, if it is even available.
  7. A general sense of order. We take it for granted that sidewalks are the same everywhere, the rise in stairs is standardized, problems get fixed by whichever municipality is on call, we can avoid being too hot or too cold, people behave a certain way, etc. All of these expectations go out the window when there is no one to provide order or the services we have come to expect. Sidewalks can be of all levels and materials (even within the same block), street can be made out of mud, workers can work at frighteningly slow paces, kids can be begging on the streets, craters in the road or dangling power lines are passed at your own risk, etc. Kind of keeps you on your toes...
  8. A safety net. In very poor countries, people are poor. And poor there is nowhere near like poor here. In the US we have a variety of safety nets: food stamps, homeless shelters, charities that provide free clothing and sundries, hospitals ERs that must treat you, free vaccinations, welfare programs, retraining programs, et al. Poor countries have none of these things (or they are extremely limited like charity medical programs), and you are basically on your own to scrounge up what food you can find or you don't eat, what shelter you can find or you get rained on, etc.
  9. Options. We have a lot of options here that people in third world countries don't have. Like choosing a job you want instead of taking anything you can get. Like moving to a warmer/cooler area or an area with better prospects. Like choosing where to live instead of being stuck in your barrio for life. Like being able to improve your education/job skills/earning potential/etc. Like being regarded based on your merits not things you can't choose like looks, family, race, income, etc.
  10. Efficient, effective supply chains. I like being able to buy anything I want, any time I want in the US. There is literally nothing I can't have, and have quickly, should I have the need/desire to buy it. Supply chains in poor countries can be complicated to say the least. Often mail systems preclude ordering online and local stores may find it difficult/impossible to carry the things you want/need.

Well that's the down side. I actually had a great vacation and connected with lots of interesting people but it was a very good reminder of how relatively organized/efficient/effective the US is at doing many things that we take for granted.

p.s. Should TSHTF, all of the above items could easily become commonplace in the US.


  1. I second these, based on a trip 10 years ago to the former Soviet Union (a "second world" country, but with many features of the third world) and have a few more:

    #11: High-quality and high-quantity communications and media: What's true of electricity is also true of broadcasting, phone and Internet service. Cell phone service ranges from nonexistent to spotty. In addition, illiteracy is quite common in poor countries amd the media is often limited. We take for granted that we can know what's going on in the world anytime and anywhere.

    #12: A general sense of freedom. When survival is job one, people are more willing to give up rights that we take for granted, such as the right to choose our government officials and worship as we please, to be fed, clothed, and sheltered. People are also more willing to violate the rights of others to survive and less likely to resist abuses.

    #13: Trust: We take for granted that we can trust strangers not to take advantage of us, trust that people will do their jobs efficiently and cheerfully, trust that our governments will generally not violate our rights in extreme ways, trust that people will do the right thing. In poor countries, the only people you can really trust is your immediate family, and sometimes not even them.

    #14: A good financial system. Despite the current situation with the economy, we can be reasonably certain that we can cash our checks and the bank won't be out of money, that prices won't skyrocket to the point where we need a wheelbarrow full of $100 bills to buy a loaf of bread, and that our credit cards will work. In poor countries, hyperinflation is the rule, not the exception, and the barter system is commonplace as banks are unreliable. And you CAN leave home without your American Express card, as poor countries don't have many places where credit cards are accepted.

    #15: The future. We take the future for granted and focus so much on it, as in what we'll do when we graduate, retire, make partner, send the kids to college, etc. In poor countries, that's not the case, often simply because the likelihood of seeing even tomorrow is a lot less. So, people only can see as far ahead as today and only try to get by another day, and planning for the future is even less of a thought, for these and the other 10 reasons.

  2. Anon--Excellent additions to the list!