Sunday, July 28, 2019

Hyperinflation: What would you invest in?

This is a mental exercise and I want comments.

What would you invest in if you anticipated violent inflation? For the sake of argument, let's say your crystal ball predicts 100 percent, annual inflation in the years 2021-through-2029.

As a practical matter, that means that the dollar you had in your pocket on December 31, 2020 will buy fifty cents worth of goods on December 31, 2021.

Twenty-five cents worth of goods on December 31, 2022. Then twelve cents, six cents, three cents at the end of 2023, 2024 and 2025 respectively.

James Dakin at Bison Prepper suggests that food, the means of growing food and hand tools are good investments. I have no quibbles with Mr Dakin. He is a sharp guy and it is hard to improve on his analysis for a forty-thousand foot fly-over.

I am lopsided
Like nearly everybody else, I am stronger in some areas than others. I enjoy growing food.

I am not as strong in tools, especially the kinds of tools that were common on the farm in 1920.

What is notable about that vintage of tool is that the portions that were manufactured were very durable and the other "bits" could be fabricated on-the-farm or locally.

Consider a shovel or an ax. A farmer was unlikely to mine the iron ore, coal and limestone. Smelt the ore. Hammer out the iron and forge the ax head or business end of the shovel.

He might, however, make the three-to-twenty handles an ax or shovel might go through during its life.

Further, as the ax became blunter over the course of hundreds of re-sharpenings, the farmer might drop the head off at the local blacksmith some five miles away. The blacksmith might heat up the ax-head and draw the blade portion forward of the handle-hole further out by thinning it out. The ax then becomes a shingle ax or a roofing ax or a carpenter's ax.

The take-away of this verbal vignette is that a small forge and a wood-lathe for making handles might be a good investment.

Can you suggest others?

The Mason Steam Show
I went to the Mason Steam Show this weekend.
The spark plug is replaced with a "bash valve" that allows high pressure steam to enter the cylinder. An advantage of bash valves is that they degrade (wear and leakage) much more slowly than the "slide" valves usually seen on steam engines.

One of the things I learned is that it is entirely possible to convert a two-stroke, gasoline powered motor into a "uniflow" steam engine.

Used, 550cc, two-stroke snowmobile engines are not uncommon. It would not be technically difficult to cobble together a boiler and engine that would turn over.

The issues are two-fold:
The primary issue is, what would you use a six-hundred pound, three horse-power motor for?
The secondary issue is, what application would justify the poor thermodynamic efficiency of an engine running on 200 PSI steam?

Historically, steam engines were first used in stationary applications like pumping and as a source of industrial power where there was insufficient water-power.

The very first application was pumping water out of a coal mine. Imagine that: coal and water within yards of the application.

The second part of the problem, efficiency, is directly related to water quality.

High temperature, high pressure water is very corrosive unless it is preconditioned and highly amended with chemicals. The practical limits on a steam engine using "native" water is somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-to-300 psi and that results in thermodynamic efficiencies of 3%-to-4%.

That is not the average thermodynamic efficiency. That is the ceiling.

By comparison, a modern automotive gasoline or diesel engine has a ceiling in the 30%-to-45% range.

The advantage of a steam engine is that it can burn process waste products. It can burn sawdust or lathe turnings or dried cow poop or peat-moss or corn stalks. While those materials can provide the basic feedstock for a methane digester or gasifier and indirectly feed an internal combustion engine, there is much hardware, time and storage between the generation of the sawdust and the firing up of the engine.

Another advantage of a steam engine is that it can run without any kind of electronics. Efficiencies are lost without a PLC but it does not need integrated circuits or diodes or SCRs or coils or capacitors or spark-plugs.

As long as society can smelt or re-purpose metal/tubing capable of surviving 50psi steam and can hone a reasonably decent cylinder, they can harness steam power. The efficiency may be very poor, but it can be done.


  1. Replies
    1. Alas, all of my firearms were lost in a canoeing accident on the Wabash River.

      However, I can see many applications for simple casting technologies. Things break, wear out, mushroom. They need to be reshaped and casting is a simple reshaping technology.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Historically speaking a way to hedge your bets against both inflation and not cut your throat if it doesn't happen are equities in companies that produce real and needed items while not being dependent upon consumer credit as much as possible.

  3. Food. and the means to produce it. Cultivable land. Best investment.

    Water sources.
    Solar panels and storage batteries.

    Large, slow running diesel that can run off of any oil (including Vegetable oil or waste animal fat)...See "Listeroids for one example. Generators you can hook to them for power. (perhaps lineshafts for other machinery.

    Real Steam equipment. Converted gas engines are neat, but REALLY inefficient and lose heat too rapidly. Add in boilers as well.

    Defense for the above, (watercraft tragedies notwithstanding) as well as alarm type systems for alerting you and your guards.

    Heating methods that do not require infrastructure....think woodstoves or equivalents. Axes and handsaws for harvesting or other tools if you use other biomass renewables.

  4. For most handles a froe, shaving horse, spoke shave and draw knife are more efficient. A couple of buck saws and spare blades, a 3 foot one man crosscut saw and splitting wedges and maul would be handy if chainsaw accoutraments became scarce. Cut larger logs into six foot sections with the crosscut, split with wedges and buck them up with the buck saw.

  5. Steam drive produces "surplus" heat that can be gleaned for domestic use.

    Pipe the exhaust to an insulated heat storage area. Multiple coils of piping through this heat storage would allow for some heat exchange capability. I keep designing ( in my mind) a sauna, hot tub, domestic hot water, in floor radiant heat system.

    Then I add on an outside pizza oven, bbq pit and so on.

    It's pretty my mind.

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  7. My memory from childhood in the Nixon through Carter administrations (in college for Carter) was people getting their paychecks and running to the store for groceries but that was at levels from 6.8 (Nixon) to 13% (Carter).

    Watched a video about the production of axe heads in a shop in KY.(1958 or so) You must have metallurgical knowledge, skills and not just tools. A good axe head is a complicated thing.

    At one level, you have the ability to produce food and you have extra of the things that you use to repair your house and equipment. What you cannot produce you put by in bulk. Be handy to have some gold and silver for what cannot be put by. It would be a lot like the historic life of a farmer where they only had money at harvest time.

    And lastly, it would be important to have good communication/information so you know what the market price of thing is. You would certainly become a trader.

  8. Salt, pepper, sugar, coffee, and toilet paper.

  9. For the sake of completeness, I want to add
    -Breeds or bloodlines of livestock that are easy-keeping and productive
    -Seeds of varieties proven in your climate and soil
    -Electric fence wire
    -Micronutrients (to be touched upon in the up-coming fiction)
    -Stove pipe
    -Bicycle repair parts, especially for tires
    -Files. Shovels and hoes are cutting instruments. They are vastly more efficient when they are honed to a sharp edge

  10. Booze, or the means to create some.