Is It Time to Flee the City Yet?
As I've been saying to some friends and coworkers lately, 20, 30 years down the road, people are going to look back on this point in history the same way we look back on the late 1960s.
They'll view this time as an era of turmoil, an era of change, an era of chaos and instability.
The youth of this future — people who haven't been born yet — will see the images and videos and thank their lucky stars that they didn't have to live right now.
They'll ask their parents what it was like and be happy that all they have to do is learn about it in school.
And yet here we are right now, living through it day by day, week by week.
Thanks to the wonders of the modern Internet and the hundreds of millions of smartphones out there, we get to see the news from around the country and the world as it happens... and these days, it's usually more and more of the same.
Protests, riots, arrests... Cars plowing through layers of activists blocking the streets of our cities.
What they are all protesting is hard to pin down — not because they're vague, but because there is so much that makes so many unhappy.
Trump's most recent assault on the establishment put major travel restrictions on individuals from certain countries.
The unprecedented reach of his executive orders is singling out people in a manner that reminds many of what happened to people of Japanese heritage during World War II.
Are internment camps next? Are strokes of the presidential pen going to start eating away at the rights of American citizens?
I have no idea. Nobody outside of Trump's inner circle knows what the next wave of executive orders will bring, but one thing is for sure: whatever it is, the backlash will be felt in American cities coast to coast.
The threat of civil unrest becoming an ongoing pattern on our collective landscape is starting to generate a backlash all its own... a backlash that I know all too well on a personal level, as I've already taken part in it.
Pack Up; Lock Up; Roll Out
Last summer, I left the city.
I didn't leave because I knew Trump would be president (I was sure he had no chance of winning).
I didn't leave because of protesting, even though Baltimore, my hometown, had seen its fair share of unrest over the past year, stemming from the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing legal debacle.
I left for bigger reasons.
To me, the city — any city, really — is a highly sophisticated organism that relies on millions of moving parts, all working together in harmony.
The workers, the traffic, the services, and all the elements of the infrastructure we rarely see and usually take for granted allow modern cities to run.
An interruption in any of the essential sub-systems would cause a cascade of secondary failures, all leading to one inevitable conclusion: shutdown.
And here's the really scary part: let's just say that essential deliveries stop arriving at a city's major ports and depots.
Do you know how long the average food supply will last?
Streets of Concrete; Feet of Clay
Three days. 72 hours.
That's 72 hours until the all the shelves of your local grocery mega-marts will turn into a scene from The Walking Dead.
72 hours before people realize they don't know where their next bite of food will come from, and before they start turning on each other to get it.
Not a week. Not a month. Just 72 hours before our society, which most of us rely on the same way we rely on air to breathe, stops providing basic essentials.
Just 72 hours before the cities that bring us together by putting all the conveniences of modern life within walking distance turn into chaotic death traps ruled by desperation and violence.
Even without a polarizing leader in D.C. to inspire people to stand in the street to get a point across, a modern city, to a growing number of Americans, is a potential nucleus for anarchy.
So what do we do? We move.
We move away from the conveniences and complexities of urban life and seek places less populated.
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The Best Neighbor is No Neighbor At All
My own journey took me into the mountains of central Pennsylvania, where the only traces of civilization come in the form of airliners flying overhead and, periodically, the sounds of ATVs running through some distant trail.
When I lived in Baltimore, hearing gunshots generally preceded police sirens. These days, the sound of somebody shooting off a rifle is as common and as newsworthy as a gust of wind.
I share my property with deer, foxes, raccoons, and black bears, and there is never any doubt as to who's the outsider here. It's me.
Nature owns and rules this place. I just stay here.
And if the cities all shut down and caught fire, well, I might not even notice...
The countryside is as close as the modern human can come to total-immersion reality distortion field. It takes the events of the outside world and relegates them to the two dimensions of my computer screen.
This reality distortion, however, isn't complete. Not for most of us, anyway. We are still tied to modern society by dependence.
Even though my property produces its own water and can, in a pinch, be relied upon for basic fuel and food, if I want to keep the lights on, I still need a power source.
Guns and Ammo Will Keep You Alive, But You Still Need Internet
Many people in these parts have diesel generators to keep their most essential modern mechanisms running in the event of a power outage, but, like the fuel that powers these generators itself, this is just a short-lived, temporary solution.
Unless you have the resources to bury a 20,000-gallon diesel tank in your yard, relying on fossil fuel to get you through a permanent power outage is simply unrealistic.
Today, however, there is another option — one that can deliver unlimited, free energy to anybody with access to a piece of open sky.
I'm talking, of course, about solar power. Plenty of people these days have panels on their roof. Some people go a step further and build out larger arrays, producing far more power than they need in order to sell that excess energy back to the power companies.
They, in effect, turn their homes into mini power plants.
Some people go to the next level and install small wind turbines to tap the power of naturally moving air.
The problem with all this is that creating electricity only solves half of the problem.
Having power to use in real time is great, but what do you do when you need to turn on the lights at night, or when the wind isn't blowing?
For this, modern homeowners have the option of installing domestic energy storage systems — basically large lithium-ion batteries.
Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) became a notable pioneer in this industry in 2015 with the introduction of the company's Powerwall series of domestic energy storage units.
Capable of holding enough charge to keep your average single-family home running (at least partially), Powerwalls allowed homeowners to store the power they created on site for when they needed it most.
It also allowed them to take advantage of varying daily rates set by power companies by running off stored electricity during times of high demand and buying their power, as usual, during low-usage periods, cutting costs in the process.
Most importantly, it created yet another layer of independence from the grid, another layer of insulation against societal uncertainty.
The Powerwall definitely changed the game when it came to small-scale power generation, but the product turned out to be far from the magic bullet that Tesla chief Elon Musk made it out to be in his extremely passionate speeches and tweets.
The units themselves were too big, too expensive, too hard to install, and often required more than a single unit to run a household.
Moreover, Tesla and its founder Musk, the champions of domestic power storage, forgot one major element.
Their batteries hold a charge, but when it comes to managing this charge and outputting it on demand, the company didn't bother building the most important ingredient: the power control system (PCS).
Basically the brain of this giant battery, Tesla outsources this component to different firms — making the Powerwall, on its own, an incomplete package.
This shortcoming isn't something that's commonly known by Tesla's prospective clientele on the consumer end, but its commercial partners have definitely taken notice.
The lack of a PCS has caused at least one of Tesla's biggest partners — Daimler — to walk away from a well-established relationship and start building its own batteries for use in its electrical vehicles.
Your Smile Only Gets You So Far, Elon
For its needs, Daimler chose to partner up with a much smaller, lesser-known company to provide the essential PCS technology.
This company, like Tesla, builds its own line of domestic power storage systems.
Its batteries are smaller, cheaper, hold more charge, and can be installed by a single technician in a single afternoon, beating the Powerwall in all of the major metrics.
Of course, being a smaller company (less than 1/100 the size of Tesla) does have its drawbacks — the main one being a lack of a public profile.
Whereas Tesla has become the global leader in electric car manufacture and now in lithium-ion battery production, this tiny company is only known to specialists within its own industry.
That, however, is changing rapidly.
As contracts and deals start to line up for this small tech company, and as the niche itself expands, this Tesla-killing firm is slowly coming out of the shadows.
I learned about this company last summer, just as I was in the process of moving myself out of the city.
Today, this company is on the brink of becoming a major player in the domestic power storage space, as well as gaining traction for its PCS units — called the best in the industry by at least a couple insiders.
It's growing an already impressive list of commercial partners and expanding its reach to end-users.
Though Tesla is certainly to thank for the all the publicity, it's very possible that another brand will be the one to popularize this technology on a consumer level.
Companies with this kind of potential don't come around often, which is why it's crucial to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, when they do.
I recently published a full report on this firm, making it available to all of my readers.
Fortune favors the bold,
Coming to us from an already impressive career as an independent trader and private investor, Alex's specialty is in the often misunderstood but highly profitable development-stage microcap sector. Focusing on young, aggressive, innovative biotech and technology firms from the U.S. and Canada, Alex has built a track record most Wall Street hedge funders would envy. Alex contributes his thoughts and insights regularly to Wealth Daily. To learn more about Alex, click here.