When the great real estate bubble burst a few years back, it was easy to point fingers and ask, “How could you not see that coming?”

We seem collectively a bit more cautious these days.

Capital Business hosted a group of general counsels the other morning and one, who works for a big multinational firm, told how he had recently sought advice on just what would happen if Europe’s economic troubles led the continent to splinter.

Hey, it could happen.

Likewise, it once might have been easy to dismiss threats of government shutdowns and “sequestration,” a fancy name for mandatory budget cuts.

But no one wants to be caught flat-footed anymore. It’s prudent to have contingency plans ready, so an industry trade group called a meeting last week to go over budgetary hypotheticals. (You can read staff writer Marjorie Censer’s report on the confab on Page 3).

It didn’t seem to matter that sequestration is still a ways off, and that a lot can change after the November elections. It didn’t matter, really, that the president or Congress could change the rules down the road.

It is as if the government contracting world suddenly woke to discover it is sitting in a 100-year flood zone. The sun is out today, but eventually the waters will rise.

Bet on it.

Contractors have been making preparations for some time now.

And increasingly we hear government agencies are moving cautiously, too, hoarding their budget funds.

In other words, the very prospect of cuts is leading the government to slow spending, producing a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

“That’s kind of ironic given how legislators struggled to get an appropriation passed despite severe political polarization on Capitol Hill,” defense analyst Loren B. Thompson wrote in a column last week.

Perhaps this holding pattern is only a blip. Perhaps the global economy is on the mend and draconian measures will not be necessary. It is always possible that wiser heads will prevail and government leaders working with contractors will find ways to do more with less.

But, it can’t hurt to have a life raft handy.