“Hoarding” is a dirty word these days, with reality TV shows that feature hoarders stockpiling useless knickknacks or broken televisions. But hoarding by housewives in the Midwest is much different than hoarding by the U.S. government to protect our way of life.
A nation has a host of ways to protect its strategic interests. There’s diplomacy, the threat or use of force, economic relationships — and, of course, hoarding.
The U.S. is hoarding a host of stockpiles in the event of an emergency. And while in some cases the hoarders in Washington are following logical path because the goods they are protecting are important … admittedly, in other cases, it’s much harder to fathom why we’re so protective.
Here are nine goods the U.S. is hoarding in case of disaster:
Oil: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the most well-known instance of U.S. hoarding. the SPR has a capacity of more than 700 million barrels of oil, and was created in response to the 1970s oil embargo. The idea was to protect our vital economic interests, but in recent years, President Obama has tapped the reserve simply to keep gas prices a bit cheaper.
Helium: You might think of the gas as nothing more than the lift behind birthday balloons, but it has big high tech applications in MRI machines, flat-screen televisions and other electronics. So while the National Helium Reserve in Texas was created ages ago and hoarders thought it would be crucial to power a blimp fleet, helium remains an important part of the U.S. economy today. Of course, legislators now are considering scrapping the program since it sounds outdated, but big technology companies like Intel (INTC) and General Electric (GE) are hell-bent on keeping helium under Uncle Sam’s protection by continuing the hoarding program.
Raisins: Seriously, there are government raisin hoarders. The stockpile was created after World War II to stabilize prices. While some call the regulatory structure around the raisin reserve “the world’s most outdated law,” it still exists, and hoarding still happens to U.S. raisin crops.
Wheat: After this year’s harvest, estimates are for a stockpile of 561 million bushels of wheat by next spring. That’s enough for more than 40 billion loaves of bread. Of course, hoarding wheat is easier than hoarding stacks of WonderBread.
Food (for others): Obviously the U.S. can get what it needs at home pretty easily, thanks to the rule of law and power of government, and is keeping wheat (and apparently raisins) for a rainy day. But the USDA’s Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust also exists to deliver food elsewhere in the world should a humanitarian crisis hit.
Gold: There’s a conspiracy theory that no gold is actually stored in Fort Knox, but according to the U.S. Mint, there’s 147 million ounces in the bullion depository. At current values, that’s nearly $200 billion in gold.
Medicine: After 9/11, the government began stockpiling vaccines including medications to fight anthrax. More recently there has been an effort to load up on treatments to fight botulism, and in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster, a renewed focus on potassium iodide to treat radiation exposure.
Uranium: Speaking of radiation, it’s worth noting that the U.S. is also hoarding uranium, both in its usable form for weapons or energy as well as uranium that is spent. While some of the other items on this list are iffy, the regulation of uranium use and supplies is pretty much a no-brainer.
Animal Sperm: Not kidding. There’s a USDA animal sperm bank that is completely sortable and allows you to dig into the lineage of elk, steer, fish, pigs and other animals.
Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.