Some American hedge fund managers and Silicon Valley billionaires are preparing refuges so they have places to flee in the event of a revolution or economic collapse.
Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker, said they call this “apocalypse insurance.”
Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me.
New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”
I asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad. “I would guess fifty-plus percent,” he said, “but that’s parallel with the decision to buy a vacation home. Human motivation is complex, and I think people can say, ‘I now have a safety blanket for this thing that scares me.’ ”
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,” 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?”
Robert H. Dugger worked as a lobbyist for the financial industry before he became a partner at the global hedge fund Tudor Investment Corporation, in 1993.
After seventeen years, he retired to focus on philanthropy and his investments. “Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution,” he told me recently.
To manage that fear, Dugger said, he has seen two very different responses. “People know the only real answer is, Fix the problem,” he said. “It’s a reason most of them give a lot of money to good causes.”
At the same time, though, they invest in the mechanics of escape. He recalled a dinner in New York City after 9/11 and the bursting of the dot-com bubble: “A group of centi-millionaires and a couple of billionaires were working through end-of-America scenarios and talking about what they’d do. Most said they’ll fire up their planes and take their families to Western ranches or homes in other countries.”
One of the guests was skeptical, Dugger said. “He leaned forward and asked, ‘Are you taking your pilot’s family, too? And what about the maintenance guys? If revolutionaries are kicking in doors, how many of the people in your life will you have to take with you?’ The questioning continued. In the end, most agreed they couldn’t run.”
Suppose the rich people Dugger described could flee to refuges in the Rocky Mountains or New Zealand with enough people to provide for their needs—gardeners and cooks, maintenance workers, armed guards. How could they count on the loyalty of servants based solely on money? How long until the paid staff decided they no longer needed the rich people?
To sum up: This segment of the super-rich (1) fears the world it helped create, (2) wants to flee the consequences of the world it helped create and (3) doesn’t know how to survive in the world it helped create.
As Noah Millman wrote in The American Conservative:
Elite anxiety is not just a gauge of our national predicament. It’s a cause. These are people who have the power and position of societal leaders. They built the plane, they own the plane, and they fly the plane. We are all flying along with them.
And they are having serious conversations about bailing out rather than, I don’t know, changing course, preparing for a water landing — anything that suggests a concern for all the other people in the plane as something other than a threat.
The best way to survive bad years ahead is to acquire skills and habits that make you indispensable to friends and neighbors. The best security is to live in a way that will make people want to keep you alive.
Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich by Evan Osnos for The New Yorker.
Who Isn’t John Galt? by Noah Millman for The American Conservative. [Added 1/26/2017]
How Great the Fall Can Be by John Michael Greer for The Archdruid Report.