Post-Apocalypse Markets

How will we operate businesses and trade after World War III, or if a catastrophic attack or disaster befalls our country? The local economy is going to have to focus on producing or trading products needed for survival. That means the most important products and services are going to be things that can immediately be used for everyday household needs, and probably won’t stray too far from that. 

Where will you find a market to trade goods? The surviving malls of the old civilization have been turned into palaces for highway barons and their minions[1]. Most supermarkets have been looted and damaged so extensively that it’d be impossible to secure your inventory. So, what does that leave us with?

Flea markets!

After everyone abandons the major cities and metroplexes, after the initial chaos settles, and when communities start coming together, the once forgotten flea market is going to become the new mall or trading hub. Why?

  1. They exist out in rural areas, which aren’t going to be targeted by a foreign enemy.

I mean, come on! Who’s going to waste a nuke on Woodville, Texas, or a small village called Swartout?!

  • There won’t be any reliable electricity, and these places with outdoor pavilions are going to be perfect to serve as the malls of the post-apocalyptic future. Some of the more upscale flea markets are wired for electricity, and a generator can be hooked up allowing the market to operate at night. 
  • Most flea markets are structured in a way that makes them easily defendable. The rent and protection fees vendors will be forced to pay landlords will help fund the market’s security.
  • Plus, it shouldn’t be too hard to convert some of the stall-pavilions into make-shift housing for vendors and security personnel. 

The only problem I can see is getting products to that market. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 21 million horses in the United States[2]. Nowadays, horses, donkeys, and other draft animals are endangered here in the USA. According to Pete Gibbs[3], a Texas A&M University animal science professor, the Houston area has one of the highest concentrations of horses in the country, with a population between 150,000 and 200,000. We’ve become so dependent on the almighty car, we don’t have the draft animals to produce the “horsepower” needed for agriculture or transportation.

There’s a reason why automobiles are advertised as having varying amounts of horsepower.

I always liked a scene in Things to Come[4] when the Airman lands and the community leader arrives on a convertible car being pulled by horses. I thought it was funny the first time I saw the movie, but that odd sight may very well be the stagecoach of the future. We will need to return to using animals to power our new agrarian society and to bring those products to market. 

Dollars will be worthless.

The new economy will be based on barter. If you want a certain product, you’ll need to trade something of equal or greater value… and more often than not, you’ll need to trade with greater value.

Inequitable trading is to be expected. Recall that a centralized economy doesn’t exist anymore. There is no reliable currency, so it makes sense people will want to trade their products for greater value because of this unreliability.

Whatever you do, do not accept any immaterial currency as trade. Currency only works in an insulated environment controlled by someone who has power to enforce the stated value. It also needs the faith of people who believe in the inherent value of that currency. None of that exists any more.

You may be able to trade currency with one person, only to find out it’s worthless to another. It’s also easy for that same person you originally traded with to turn around and say they aren’t accepting cash or currency as legal tender anymore. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who’s as gullible as you to accept that currency in turn when that happens. 

Recall that I previously mentioned currency only works in an insulated environment? In this new world, you may encounter specialized currency at a sealed market. In this situation, you trade goods the community needs for a posted amount upon entry and receive a locally accepted form of currency, which can only be used inside the borders of the market. Expect the person issuing you the new currency to take a cut of your trade as a fee. (The local government has to make money too.)

If you encounter this type of system, you need to make sure you spend all of this new money immediately. If you have any cash left over, use it to buy something that has a stable value, like non-perishable food.

Nothing is certain anymore. A change of leadership could happen, or counterfeiters could flood the market. Whatever the cause, the accepted form of payment can change overnight and you’ll be left with nothing of value to trade the next day.

I’m pretty sure food will become the new unit of account for currency, akin to what the “gold standard” used to be. If the new markets are smart, they will base the currency on the common knowledge of caloric count. and may give special dispensation, or increase in price, to foods which provide a boost to certain vitamins and minerals. An example would be bananas, which are high in potassium. If you’re operating a distillery in the post-apocalyptic future, it’d be beneficial to grow bananas as well as distill alcohol. You could resell the bananas as a hangover remedy[5]

What’s going to be sold at these markets?

Food will be the most important products being sold at the market, and you might not find much else until the local economy gets stronger.

Eggs and live chickens are light and easy to transport, and will be the first proteins or meat to be traded. I emphasize that chickens will be traded alive, because there won’t be power to refrigerate and preserve butchered meat. The best way for the new markets to cheaply “preserve” meat for days is by selling it live.

I don’t think many hens capable of laying eggs will be sold at the market. It doesn’t make sense for the farmer to sell something that’s making money or ensuring the survival of his or her family.

Livestock will be another early addition to the market. Horses and donkeys will cost a fortune because they can provide transportation and power to work the land. You may be able to find goats at the market too. Demand for goats milk and cheese will plummet. Most Americans don’t have a taste for either, and storing the dairy products will be next to impossible without electricity. Farmers will need to sell off or cull their stock when it becomes apparent they can’t feed all the animals on the farm. You can buy them for the meat, or if you can get a male and female, purchase to start your own farm.

You may find the same situation with pigs. There will be too many mouths to feed and no way to quickly preserve the meat. Both pigs and goats can eat pretty much anything, so feeding a small number of these animals won’t be much of a problem for a survivalist farmer. If it does get too hard to feed them, then it may be time to host a meat-lover’s party.

Fuel may show up at the market at some point. I’m not sure when it will appear though. Most people with petroleum gas or propane may try to hold onto it to power farming machinery or generators. Barring hoarding for personal use, I’m pretty sure fuel will get confiscated by local governments to power emergency vehicles, or possibly provide a dramatically scaled down form of public transportation.

A Word of Caution

What if you want to start a business and open a shop? That’s very enterprising of you, but drill this into your head now:

Don’t set up shop at home!

You’re basically inviting people to come to your house and look at what you’ve got. The majority of your shoppers are probably honest, but you need to expect that with every 10 customers, there’s probably 1 thief scoping out your home to rob later. If the “business” gets burglarized, so does your family.

It’s much safer to sell things at a market. Yes, you’ll have to pay rent on your stall and you may have to pay a security surcharge on top of that, but it’s worth it in the long-run.

***

Money as we know it will be worthless after a catastrophic attack or disaster befalls our country. So, how will we conduct business and trade? Our redefined economy will be based on barter and locally defined currency exchanges. Flea markets will be the perfect foundations to establish markets to buy, sell, and trade goods.

Check my blog later for the next part of this post-apocalyptic series. I plan to describe what you might do for a living after the collapse.


[1] A wise slum-lord will take over a mall with a jewelry store, and use the gold, diamonds, and other precious metals as a form of currency to pay an army of desperate soldiers.

[2] ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance. (2007, September). The Educational Programming Guide for Going Places. Retrieved from Park City Museum: https://parkcityhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Teacher-Background-Information.pdf

[3] Crowe, R. (2006, January 18). Riders rearing up over new horse restrictions. Retrieved from Chron: https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Riders-rearing-up-over-new-horse-restrictions-1889342.php

[4] Menzies, W. C. (Director). (1936). Things to Come [Motion Picture].

[5] I’m sure there’s a Ferengi Rule of Acquisition related to this.

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