U.S. Infrastructure is Fragile almost by design

Infrastructure systems include: medical care, transportation, power, housing, food and agriculture, finances, schools, and more. All of these systems are commercial in nature. They continue as long as there is sufficient money to fund their activities. But because they are commercial, they are always close to capacity. It would not be economical to run any infrastructure system with a significant amount of unused capacity. The money it would take to keep extra capacity at the ready would not generate any income. As a result, our infrastructure systems are always close to the breaking point.

For example, hospitals in the U.S. have steadily decreased the number of hospital beds over the past several decades. See my post U.S. Hospital Capacity Breaking Point. Hospital beds has decreased 35%, and the total number of hospitals has decreased 19%, all while the population was steadily increasing.

The situation with doctors and clinics is worse. When you try to find a new doctor, many are not accepting new patients. And when you have a doctor and need an appointment, often the wait is weeks, not days. What will happen if a major epidemic strikes the U.S.? The medical system will be quickly overwhelmed. We will run out of hospital beds. Doctors will have more patients than they can handle. And this occurs because we can’t afford to pay the money that would be needed for doctors and nurses to be less busy, and for hospitals to have lots of extra capacity on deck.

But other essential infrastructure systems also operate at near capacity. Schools cannot handle a loss of teachers, if a large percentage were out sick or otherwise unavailable. The electrical power system can’t handle a sharp increase in use of electricity. As it is, in a hot summer, the increased use of air conditioners strains the system. The entire transportation system is reliant on oil and gasoline prices, which (though they are rather low now) can spike for a number of reasons that are out of our control.

Agricultural is another case in point. The amount of farmland used for crops has been steadily decreasing, as yields have steadily increased. But if yields suffer a hit — due to drought or lack of fertilizer or government mismanagement — the current farmland capacity will not be sufficient. And we are more reliant than ever before on imported foods. So if there were a trade war with China or with a set of nations, we might also find ourselves without enough food.

I could go on to describe the problems with each infrastructure system. But I have a more important point to make. All these systems, as fragile as they are individually, are closely interwoven. We could easily face a SHTF disaster which causes one system after another to fall like dominos. And that would be far worse than a single-system failure

If there were a crude oil shortage or a large spike in price, the prices of many goods and services would jump higher, because gas prices affect the transportation of goods and the travel of persons who provide services. This price pressure could cause some businesses to fail, harming the overall economy. And many persons could lose their jobs, thereby also losing their healthcare. Food prices would jump, because food is mostly delivered by truck. And agricultural costs will spike because the machinery runs on fuel, and the crops are transported by truck.

If many persons cannot afford healthcare, because of job loss and a rise of prices in most economic areas, then the healthcare system will shrink. It will be able to service fewer persons. Then if an epidemic strikes, the system will not be able to grow to meet the sudden increase in need.

If the economy falls apart, and joblessness spikes, there will be an increase in crime. Police departments do not have much extra capacity to deal with this type of increase. So the populace and businesses will be vulnerable to various crimes, further harming the economy. The increase in injuries could overwhelm the medical care system. Then tax revenue will be down, due to joblessness and the decrease in profits from businesses, putting further pressure on government services to the population.

It’s all connected. And each system is close to capacity. So if a major disaster occurs, especially one that is long term, we could see the whole network of infrastructure systems unravel. Individual disasters are often discussed by preppers. But maybe the more likely scenario is a multiple system failure. Something to think about.

– Thoreau

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