Surviving Sandy: A Few Life Lessons
William L. Anderson
by William L. Anderson: Alack
and Alas, We Are Undone for Bernanke Has Twist (and QE1, QE2, QE3,
and QE Forever)
The snow began
to fall Monday afternoon, and it continued to fall…and fall. By
Monday night, we were in an all-out blizzard – and I was out driving,
picking up one of my daughter’s friends to have her spend the night
at our place, given schools would be closed the next day. After
picking up Sasha’s friend, we drove through one whiteout after another,
which is a most interesting experience after dark (but I have become
used to it, living in famously snowy Garrett County, Maryland.)
(which became a tropical storm soon after hitting the New Jersey
coast) was flooding the East Coast, but in our county (average elevation
of 2,300 feet, which is high for the eastern USA), Sandy’s precipitation
was snow, heavy, wet, and sticky snow that acted more like falling
cement. Three feet of it in places. We knew we would lose our electricity
and at about 9 p.m. on Monday night, the lights flickered, and then
went out for good.
In fact, the
lights would not come on again at our place until about 5 p.m. the
following Saturday, November 3. Between those days, I would learn
some life lessons about survival and living without the thing that
most supports modern life: electricity.
Maryland, is located on the Allegheny Plateau and is famous for
snow, lots of it. This place is not what comes to mind when one
usually thinks of Maryland, which is more famous for the Chesapeake
Bay, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and Ocean City.
is my sixth autumn here and we have had snow falling around the
end of October for three of them, so having snow at this time of
year is not unusual. What is unusual, however, is for there
to be three feet of October snow, and while most of the leaves have
fallen from the trees, nonetheless few trees, fences, and even some
roofs were not able to withstand the heavy white mass that whacked
us last week, and the end result was the destruction of electric
and telephone lines.
So, on Monday
night, we went to bed in the dark and woke up in the dark. Thank
goodness, we had somewhat prepared. We had flashlights, a gas grill
(with a separate gas burner) in the garage, and large bathtub full
of water to enable us to flush toilets. My wife had bought lots
of drinking water and we hoped that the lower-lying places like
nearby Cumberland would recover quickly enough for new supplies
to be made available, if need be. As for heat, we have a wood stove
and a large pile of firewood to serve a relatively small and well-insulated
It turned out
that our preparations still were not enough. We could have made
it through two days and even three, but the water in the tub finally
ran dry, although we could have melted snow. (We chose to fill up
gallon jugs where I work and use them to flush the Johns.) In fact,
two days after the lights went out, the problem supposedly was fixed
and our power was on – for 20 minutes. A local transformer blew
and then 10 houses on our road were in the dark. All of our neighbors
had power, but we did not, and would not for another three days.
came on Saturday evening and I could feel my blood pressure dropping.
On Sunday morning, I was able to grind the Ethiopian coffee beans
I had roasted in my wok and have a real cup of coffee. (OK, I had
three cups of coffee, but I was making up for lost time.)
Life almost had returned to normal.
All of this
made me think about the larger picture. Yes, the lights finally
came on, and sooner or later every house in our hard-hit county
will have electricity again, but we have to keep in mind that as
the political situation deteriorates in this county, we have to
be prepared to live weeks and maybe longer without electric power.
And at this writing, it looks as though Americans might send Barack
Obama back to the White House and there has been no president in
modern history who has been more hostile to conventional generation
of electricity than Obama. In his rush to relegate demon coal to
the historical ash heap, Obama has made it clear that he wants every
coal-fired electric plant in this country to be shuttered for good,
damn the consequences. (Anyone who believes that wind farms will
adequately replace the huge coal-fired electric plants need not
read anymore, since that person already is delusional.)
So, what are
the lessons I learned, and how can I apply them to the future? The
first is that I was somewhat at a disadvantage not having a generator,
but even more important was the loss of water. So, what do I do?
After all, the last time residents here lost power for this long
was during and after the infamous October 2002 ice storm that hit
before the leaves had fallen from the trees. Should I purchase thousands
of dollars of preventative merchandise in order to deal with a future
problem that might not come until 10 years from now?
In the end,
you see, this is not necessarily a production problem, but rather
an economic one. What should I do to prepare for disaster without
going overboard? My first instinct was to look for emergency hand
pumps for wells, as I’d be willing to push down a lever a few hundred
times to keep the water flowing into my house. Hand pumps do not
require fuel. I may go that route.
I will speak to an Amish neighbor who has running water but no electric
pump and no windmill. I need to see what he has, given that he and
his family were able to handle the storm and the aftermath much
more easily than I was able to do. I cannot imagine living a long
stretch without electricity, but the Amish have done just that and
it is worth it to find out some of the things they do which help
make electricity irrelevant to their lives.
Second, I need
to purchase a generator, but not necessarily something that will
power my house and the rest of my neighborhood. Again, I don’t want
to go overboard with spending, as do not want to end up shelling
out thousands of dollars so that I can live five days in slightly
better comfort than my neighbors. A generator certainly is in the
future picture, but do I buy a powerful-but-expensive one, or a
generator that would keep our essentials running, such as refrigerators,
freezers and, perhaps, our water pump.
precariously in the aftermath of a natural disaster calls to our
attention the importance of community and that is something that
government at all levels has destroyed. It is true that Garrett
County is not New York or New Jersey, as the local culture is not
the at-your-throat-all-the-time existence that characterizes that
part of the country. Unions are not strong here, which means that
after a disaster like what we experienced, people who try to help
are not asked to show their union cards, as was the case in the
hard-hit areas on the coast.
But the problem
is much deeper than just unions, although they are joined at the
hip with the worst elements of the State. For all of the "liberal"
talk about government and community, in reality, government as it
exists now is the very antithesis of community. In a place where
community mattered, a post-disaster scenario would see people quickly
coming together to pool their resources and talents, assess damage,
and work together.
modern scenario is for people not only to wait for government
agents (i.e. FEMA) to arrive before they did anything, but also
for taking orders and getting supplies. This is not community by
any stretch; instead, it is comparable to how people lived in the
U.S.S.R. when the communists ruled.
In the 1970s,
a large hotel in Moscow caught fire, and the reaction of the residents
who came from western countries versus the Soviet Union is eye-catching.
Japanese tourists staying there got out by tying sheets together
into a life-rope. Americans soaked towels in water to aid them in
breathing as they crawled to the exits. All of the "foreigners"
escaped and survived.
however, waited for instructions and many of them died. (Logan Robinson
recounts this event in his 1982 book, An
American in Leningrad.)
in Moscow more than 30 years ago is not much different than what
happens in this country after a disaster. Governments at all levels
step in, send troops or other people with badges who bark orders
and make threats and, after several days, bring supplies for which
people must stand in line for hours to receive. Price controls guarantee
misallocation of resources, and, not surprisingly, people are at
each other’s throats.
To make things
worse, politicians swoop in for photo-ops and political operatives
such as Paul
Krugman tout the wonders of government (as long as people who
"believe in government" are in charge), or newspapers
like the New
York Times insist that only massive, authoritarian
government intervention is appropriate after a disaster. Yet, the
actual effect of this outright invasion is much different than what
the "experts" claim it to be.
people do receive needed supplies in the process, we forget that
the people furthest from the sources of needed information are the
ones with the most authority to make important decisions. Not surprisingly,
the decision-makers engage in behavior designed to make themselves
look good. People who actually are victims of the disaster are treated
as political pawns and are made subject to arbitrary arrest and
denied any role in helping themselves.
was not the case in Garrett County, where there was not a FEMA worker
to be seen. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who wants to run
for president in four years, dropped in to promise "resources"
to people whom he knows did not vote for him, but most people here
understood his goal was to look good, not do good.
The real heroes
here were not government agents, but electric utility workers from
other states, including Florida and Georgia, who worked in terrible
conditions to restore electricity. Unlike New York and New Jersey,
where non-union linesmen were ordered to stay away, the line workers
were welcome in a county where nearly everyone lost power.
there was a sense of community here. People in church congregations
assessed needs and helped each other. Members of our own church
fed us and let us come to their place to take showers and get some
respite. (Because of our aging dog, we elected to sleep at our place
and cook some meals on our grill, and as long as we had water, we
were OK.) Local road crews plowed our county road, so we were not
ago, we had about 20 feet of snow, yet there was not one
day in which our road was not passable, even when we had two consecutive
blizzards which piled more than five feet of snow in a little more
than two weeks. The county road crews are dedicated and, to be honest,
seem to enjoy their role when times are tough.)
I have found through this affair is that as individuals, we need
to be prepared, and that means redirecting some of our present consumption
to things that might be relevant only in an emergency, and when
we will have such an event, no one knows. But we also have to realize
that we are part of a community, which means reaching out to neighbors,
getting to know them, finding out their needs, and not living our
lives in hermetically-sealed containers.
On the other
hand, we also see that large-scale government disaster relief tends
to make things worse and exists mostly to make politicians look
good and to give people with badges and guns the authority to boss
others around and make threats. Unfortunately, the latter is what
our "elites" believe to be best for all of us.
if the present trend of government to eliminate the burning of coal
and natural gas to generate electricity continues, we can expect
more of these blackout episodes, and we won’t need a natural disaster
for that to occur. Time to prepare for what seems to be inevitable.
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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