Thursday, February 23, 2017

The rich are different from you and me. Yes, they have more money to spend on survival.

My husband and I used to watch a “reality’ show called Doomsday Preppers, which focused on folks who acted on their fears – the grid goes down; California gets hit with the big one and sloughs off into the ocean; the feds seize their guns; Sharia law takes hold; carnage moves from the inner city to rural America (hmmm: sounds like a certain someone’s dystopic inaugural address) – and stockpiled guns, canned goods, toilet paper, etc. so they’d be all prepped for doomsday. Some folks on the show planned to shelter in place, guns poking out the turrets in their steel-encased houses. Others had armored vehicles in which they planned to get away to their safe houses in the woods. And some lived in remote fortresses, ready to live off the land. I remember who had even built himself a machine for making bullets.

While the preppers were assiduously making sure they had a lifetime supply of canned green beans and shampoo, or were prepared to make their own (or make do without), I don’t recall any of them making sure they had a full library, or collection of CDs. Me? Once I saw who was planning on surviving whatever nasty bit was going to take life-as-we-know-it out, and nary a one seemed to want to have books around, I pretty much decided that my preference would be to be sitting fat, dumb and happy at ground zero of whatever nasty bit was about to hit. Sure, I do hope that there are some monks in Ireland who are going to survive in their clochans and preserve the written word. But I’d just as soon not wait around to see whether they’d transcribed the complete works of Jane Austen and Anthony Powell, or Fifty Shades of Grey.

Anyway, whatever cataclysm comes our society’s way, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to survive anything that’s so dire that it would have justified doomsday prepping.

But apparently there are plenty of uber-wealthy folks who do want to survive. They’re not hand-crafting bullet-making machines. But they’re nonetheless doing some doomsday prepping.

The founder of Reddit, Steve Huffman, had laser surgery.

“If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.” (Source: New Yorker)

Huffman also has “a bunch of guns and ammo. Food. I figure that, with that, I can hole up in my house for some amount of time.”

And Huffman’s not alone.

…in recent years survivalism has expanded to more affluent quarters [than the nutters on Doomsday Preppers], taking root in Silicon Valley and New York City, among technology executives, hedge-fund managers, and others in their economic cohort.

Antonio García Martínez, who made his coin at Facebook, bought island property in the Pacific Northwest, and has it stocked.

“I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”  

He deliberately chose a survival site that wasn’t totally isolated, so that he could form a militia with likeminded others so that he can successfully “ride out the apocalypse.”

My question, of course, is you ride out the apocalypse – then what? It’s not like you’ll go back to dim sum in San Francisco.

Silicon Valley boys are hording gold, bitcoins, cryptocurrency. Bitcoins? Cryptocurrency? That’s going to survive the apocalypse.

More practically, IMHO, they’re investing in real estate and keeping their helicopters gassed up. They’re armed – some with guns and ammo, others with bows and arrows.

And, unlike most of those profiled on Doomsday Preppers, these guys are 1 per-centers, society’s winners. They’re educated. They’re affluent. They’re not so much worried about tsunami as they are financial meltdown or societal/political breakdown.

Interestingly after its Doomsday Preppers show took off, National Geographic (the network it ran on) sponsored a survey that:

…found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k).

Sure hope that the sixty percent are right. I would like to get the opportunity to spend at least some of my 401(k). As for the tech preppers, they’re not bound by the constraints of a 401(k). They’ve got serious coin to spend on their survival.

Yishan Wong is an alum of both Facebook and Reddit. He says:

“The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”

…The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.) “I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” [Linkedin’s Reid] Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy? Is it going to turn against technological innovation? Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”

Among the fifty percent of the Silicon billionaires who aren’t prepping is PayPal founder Max Levchin.

“It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.” 

A number of the Silicon preppers – and there are estimates that half of the Silicon billionaires have some sort of what’s called “apocalypse insurance” - are thinking New Zealand. (I will note that there’s an East Coast ritzy prepping cohort as well.) Other well to do preppers are investing in luxury “condos” built in de-commissioned bomb silos in the Midwest.

Me? I’ll be sitting in my home sweet home with the covers pulled over my head. And it really doesn’t matter to me whether those who are going to survive are the tin-foil brigade with their bullet-making machines, or the Silicon big boys with their New Zealand getaways and their helicopter, sitting their gassed and read to go. Include me out!

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