If you’ve visited your local hardware store (yes, a few still exist), you may have noticed that the canning section is much larger and better stocked than it used to be a few years ago. A larder like the one pictured here would be familiar to member of The Greatest Generation (that of my parents) who understood what it meant to preserve, conserve, repair, and maintain. These skills about preparing for anticipated shortages or disruption in supply are slowly coming back into fashion, like vegetable plots and backyard chickens.
Usually, the only time serious stocking up enters my mind is during hurricane season, an annual ritual for Floridians and blessedly unnecessary in recent memory. But I started to thinking about stockpiling a little differently after a conversation the other night with someone who used to work for one of the largest retail conglomerates in the country. He and I agreed that the public response to global warming lacks appropriate urgency, but as a businessman, he had a novel — to me — idea as to one possible cause. At least some of it had to do with stockpiling, he said, and he offered the following example. His cable provider (and ours) has the technology to greatly improve its service to customers, but is apparently hampered by the fact that a lot of money is tied up in hardware dedicated to the existing system. Until that was used up, the logic apparently goes, upgrades don’t make economic sense. It’s like my friend who understands why she needs to switch ASAP to energy-efficient CFLs, but wants to use up her current supply of conventional light bulbs first.
Setting urgency aside for a moment, this seems a crippling form of scarcity mentality (vs. abundance, see Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and I began to wonder how pervasive it really is. I didn’t have to look too far to find out. Banks? Definitely, hoarding cash during the recent government shutdown, on the premiss that there would be a run by depositors a la the Depression. But, more weirdly, also after the TARP bailout, despite the understanding (unregulated) that they would put the cash into the economy. In 2012, U.S. Corporations broke records for stockpiled cash — $147 trillion. Might not some of that wealth have helped alleviate unemployment? Even Apple Computer is reportedly hoarding cash at an unprecedented rate, 70% of it overseas. And then there are all those spare auto parts tucked away in dealerships and repair shops all over the country, standing in the way of a more robust adoption of the EV. Remember the EV1? Could it be deja vu all over again?
I think my adopted state is in for some difficult times ahead as sea level rise and salinization of the water supply begin to impact the most vulnerable communities. We are going to need an abundance mindset to get through it, not the zero-sum game of scarcity or mattresses stuffed with cash or coin.