When I was twelve, I read a science fiction story, probably by Issac Asimov, I can't recall the author. In the story, a man has a modern combustion vehicle (a car) and is trying to sell it to a tribe that is pretty self-sufficient. The man is frustrated because the tribe elders seem reticent to trade for it. He can't understand why since it will go faster, it is stronger, and it protects the driver versus their horses. They say, “What does it eat, and how do you breed it, and how do you heal it?” He shrugs sheepishly. I think this is the primary issue that we'll have in a SHTF scenario when our modern reliance on creating specialists butts up against the lack of sustainable technology.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Luddite. I enjoy being warm at night in Winter and not having to stoke the wood stove (well not too warm, I'm a guy and being a little cold helps me sleep better), opening the 'fridge to grab a cold one and not having to brew it, eating a ready made bratwurst and not having to butcher an animal and make a sausage from scratch, etc. Both ways are good: the old pioneer skills and the technology to make life easier.
Living in a world post-SHTF will be unique. Once things settle down, it will be a both/and world of using the knowledge that we have, but trying to live in sustainable ways in order to harvest materials locally and using all of the tribal lore that enabled people to migrate to America.
We hold some freedoms very dear, and the Patriots who deliberately wrote about them and formed them were geniuses. The covenants between a federal, state, and local government that protected the people but limited the power of the government at the will of the People were amazing living documents. While capitalism is flawed, as any man-made economic system will always be, no good alternative has consistently worked because people are basically more interested in themselves and their families and then the community. That means post-SHTF capitalism, and a nation of people who can provide products and sell them for individual gain, will always return. Someone will always want a bigger house, a better horse, more variety of food, more stylish clothing, etc.
But... we can't keep living the way that we've tried before. Shipping goods from far away lands and paying people smaller wages so that we can have more things at the expense of “other” people is just not sustainable. Eventually all people want better lives. While they may accept smaller wages for a time due to their governments (really totalitarian regimes) and do without specialized goods, eventually unless we can get lower species to make our things, then we'll not be able to find worker-bees to do our bidding. Try getting monkeys to make your cars, electronics, and shiny toys.
This type of system is based upon an idea that whatever we have is superior to whatever they have. In other words, whatever we can produce has a higher trade value that whatever they can produce. It's that old medieval paradigm of the large city of the King (and his specialists) who protects all of the little villages of generalists, the earlier analogy that I offered from history made large. In those days, the medieval knights were the ones who protected the people, but only separated by the distance of a ship ride or the journey of a travel by horse. These days it's the idea that American soldiers can protect the world from the enemies of capitalism, in exchange for Hollywood and Wall Street. That won't suffice. The world doesn't buy it anymore. We've worked ourselves out of a job. We don't produce things like we used to, quality goods that were made strong, produced efficiently, with the supply chains that could transport ready made goods and replacement parts.
As the Cold War came to a close, different nations wanting to spend more money on infrastructure and their people, and less money on soldiers and military hardware. They decided that they could trade goods between nations, and make money as a result of specialized labor that used the products of their friends and enemies. They had to. It was unsustainable to have enormous military costs since the risk of danger was always rather small. The more powerful the weapon, the less of a chance to use it due to its destructive capacity.
As time progressed, since labor was cheaper in developing nations, selfish profiteers relocated factories that produced goods to these nations. Image two swimming pools connected by a pipe. In one pool is an enormous volume of water; in the other pool much less. The water will be pushed by gravity to it's lowest level and eventually it equals out. In a healthy world, the amount of water would be added by rainfall, but no matter what as the worth of a product is more valued, unless there are trade goods of equal value in the other nation, it all equals out. If one nation can no longer produce goods, they run out of money to buy the other nations goods. It comes to a standstill.
In a SHTF scenario, since governments can't borrow more money, and the price of goods is high from demand, but disruptions in the supply chains occur, coupled with people having a lack of money to purchase goods, makes the current economic model to collapse.
Visionaries and government officials have been hoping for some new technology to create new products which be able to produce some better shiny toy or an incredibly valuable tool, but as long as profiteers are willing to move the manufacture of them to a place with lower labor costs, that won't help America. We should look in the mirror for the profiteers. We like to blame the people at the top of the pyramid, but in reality Americans (and I am an American) enjoyed the transfer of wealth by investing in the stock market and higher returns on mutual funds and greater dividends from cheap labor as a result of Asian countries. We are the profiteers. We have to own up to that.
But...when we began to extend credit to keep the market going, and enable home ownership for everyone, plus allowed the creation of derivatives to bet against everyone's success, then we created an unsustainable system and kicked it in the teeth. It's crippled and dying. You can hear the death rattle.
The only way that I can imagine is a miraculous new product. Even then unless someone can figure out a way to distribute it and a reason to manufacture it in the USA, there really is no good rationale for doing so. Imagine living anywhere else but the USA. Wouldn't you want that product to be made in your country? Wouldn't you do your best to have it made locally? That's the healthy response. Bizarrely our politicians for years have been working to send jobs elsewhere. It's common sense not economic protectionism.
When I was very young, and didn't know much, I volunteered to paint an enclosed porch for a church project. They were glad for volunteers. We all set out with our tools and supplies in different directions. I ended up taking on the porch project and set to work alone. Eventually I got toward the end, and it was lunch time. Then I looked up and laughed and laughed. I had begun painting near the doorway and painted toward the corners of the room. Fifteen minutes before lunchtime I realized that in order to get to the door, I needed to step on the painted floor. I had painted myself in. :0
This is exactly what the politicians in Washington have done. We voted and supported them. We did it too. It would be comical if it were not also disastrous.
The only way we can begin to repair the damage to our countries is to learn how to produce goods locally so that all people have an opportunity to own them based upon their ideas of thrift and need for luxury items. It's not economic protectionism; it's common sense. Some countries will have a monopoly on special items. Let's say that one country has rare-earth metals. If you don't have something, then you can either trade for it at a disadvantage, or find something they need, or explore your country for them, or find an alternative to them. It's that simple.
If there is an economic collapse, people who can fix broken items, find alternatives to them, replicate them, will all manage to survive. We could put everyone to work who wants to work to do this. It won't be as cheap as relying upon goods made in other countries, but it will help reduce people having to rely upon government assistance.