Over the last few months, a number of articles have appeared in mainstream media regarding the alleged proliferation of "doomsday bunkers" for well heeled customers.
For example, here are three articles from 2017:
CNN: Billionaire bunkers: How the 1% are preparing for the apocalypse
The New Yorker: Doomsday Prep For The Super-Rich
CNBC: The super rich are preparing for the end of the world
The inference comes with little left to the imagination: really smart, successful people are terrified that the wheels are coming off of society, and so they are taking steps to hedge against that risk. Which means most of us are screwed.
The New Yorker piece is the most in depth of the three and well worth your time to read. From the article:
But élite survivalism is not a step toward prevention; it is an act of withdrawal. Philanthropy in America is still three times as large, as a share of G.D.P., as philanthropy in the next closest country, the United Kingdom. But it is now accompanied by a gesture of surrender, a quiet disinvestment by some of America’s most successful and powerful people. Faced with evidence of frailty in the American project, in the institutions and norms from which they have benefitted, some are permitting themselves to imagine failure.
Should we be using the surge of bunker purchases as a barometer of where things are heading? The permadoomers at Zero Hedge point to the divergence in the interest in prepping between the "elite" and the average prepper since the Trump election. If most preppers are taking their feet off the gas pedal now that Trump is president, but the "elite" are preparing faster now than ever before, does it not suggest the elite know something we don't?
I would submit the very wealthy and elite assess risk differently than you and I do. Again, from The New Yorker article:
Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “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.”
Wong perfectly describes my fourth axiom of prepardness: the odds are low, but the stakes are high. The elite are in a position to spend a relatively small part of their net worth to have a sweet bunker/bug out location, complete with air purification and underground bunker providing protection from a nuclear weapons strike.
You and I are likely not in a position to do that. If someone with a net worth of $25M elects to spend five percent of their net worth on a doomsday bunker as a hedge, they would spend $1.25M. That can purchase a fairly nice set up. Meanwhile, someone with a net worth of only $85,000 - the average American's net worth for those 45-54 years old - who could only spend five percent of that on preparedness would have an effective budget of $4,250. That's not going to get you a luxury bunker anywhere.
And so the wealthy have extra capital to burn on nice retreat locations in case things "get bad." But do they really know anything more than us? Many of these elites were not able to foresee the 2008 economic crisis or the possibility of 9/11. We're supposed to believe that they're now paying more attention to what's going on, with information you and I don't have?
I'm not buying it.
The reality is this: there's plenty of information out there for those who consume a steady diet of doom. The wealthy who are buying bunkers and gold are not doing so because they are privy to some inside intel that you don't have access to. They are reading the same bearish outlooks about the economy and the future of the United States that you are. They do not have access to information you can't see for yourself.
How do I know this? Because I read the articles I linked to above. These elite and wealthy preppers are now becoming concerned about the same things those in the preparedness movement have been concerned about for years.
Where they differ is that they have sufficient assets to address the problem - and hedge the risk - differently than you and I do. They buy a bunker, while you and I might stock up on storable food and have some emergency cash set aside. They buy airplanes to fly them to their retreat in New Zealand; you and I make sure our vehicles are properly maintained and equipped so they can reliably get us home after a disaster or during an emergency.
Don't let the stories of bunker purchases lead you to believe they know something you don't. In many respects, I could make the argument their purchases and contingency planning is a sign not that they are ahead of the rest of us, but that they are playing catch up with the rest of us. They are just doing it in in their own way.
Rather than use this a fuel for further anxiety or class envy, let's embrace it for what it is - more people continue to accept the notion that we need to be more resilient and prepared as a nation for a wide spectrum of perils.
Here's where I tell you what I think about things I think about.