From all the loud complaints about the snow and freezing
weather in Britain and parts of the United States over the last couple of
weeks, you would imagine we were experiencing the sort of conditions that were
familiar to Scott
of the Antarctic or the Grand Army on the Retreat
The fact is that conditions were not that bad in absolute
terms, but they were still severe enough to have caused havoc among people who
were not used to them, and who had not made the elementary preparations that
would have enabled them to cope easily. This is not necessarily to their
discredit: only a fool or an extremely rich man – or an extremely rich fool –
would invest in a snowmobile if he lived in an area which rarely saw snow.
Once again, we were reminded that our civilisation is a very
thin crust. The slightest disruption in transport, telecommunications, or
sanitation systems, or in the supply of power, food, or water, is enough to
bring the complex machinery of our daily lives to a complete halt, and prolonged
disruption over a large area can knock out a modern economy in its entirety.
Yet it was interesting to note that it is public services
which were most likely to be suspended and public facilities that were most
likely to be closed.
Private shops were more likely to be open and, if not always
functioning normally, still performing a valuable role in providing the
essential goods their local communities needed.
Of course, that is absurd generalisation and, as with all
generalisations, there are many honourable, even heroic, exceptions, especially
those public servants who went above and beyond the call of duty to help
Yet, as with all generalisations, it is still more true than
not that those most likely to struggle through the snow to open their
businesses were the owners of those businesses. They were also more likely to
encourage their employees to do the same.
This is one more demonstration of the practically
unstoppable power of human enterprise.
It also shows that, although our civilisation is indeed very
fragile, we can take comfort from the fact that, if it ever collapses
completely, within hours entrepreneurs will be building it again from the