The billionaire marketing strategy for the apocalypse

This month, FTX Buying and selling, the once-dominant monetary empire whose spectacular 2022 chapter despatched shock waves throughout the sprawling cryptocurrency economic system, filed a large lawsuit in opposition to founder and alleged felony fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, hoping to recoup tens of millions of {dollars} the corporate claims have been funneled to Bankman-Fried and his high lieutenants for his or her private profit. Whereas largely targeted on varied monetary transactions and manipulations, the swimsuit contained a number of stunning allegations nestled amongst its drier financial claims — significantly as they pertained to the work of the FTX Basis, a “purported charity that served little goal apart from to boost the general public stature” of Bankman-Fried and others, based on the swimsuit. 

Describing the muse’s work as “steadily misguided and generally dystopian,” the swimsuit made a particular level to say an trade between Bankman-Fried’s brother Gabriel and an unnamed basis officer through which they mentioned a “plan to buy the sovereign nation of Nauru with a purpose to assemble a ‘bunker/shelter’ that may be used for ‘some occasion the place 50%-99.99% of individuals die [to] be certain that most EAs [effective altruists] survive’ and to develop ‘wise regulation round human genetic enhancement and construct a lab there.'” Because the swimsuit wryly famous, the memo then went on to invest that “most likely there are different issues it is helpful to do with a sovereign nation too.”

The allegation that Bankman-Fried was concerned about buying a complete island nation as a eugenics-focused haven from some unspecified world cataclysm has understandably captured a big portion of the curiosity surrounding the lawsuit particularly, in addition to Bankman-Fried’s nosedive from vaulted crypto king to alleged felony mastermind. However whereas the Nauru scheme could have been stunning in its scale and cartoony framing, it comes as a part of a broader pattern among the many mega-wealthy, a lot of whom have spent parts of their fortunes on varied apocalypse survival bunkers and contingency plans accessible solely to them and their equally wealthy friends. Requested in 2017 by The New Yorker what number of Silicon Valley billionaires had some type of “apocalypse insurance coverage” hideaway, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman estimated “fifty-plus %,” evaluating it to the choice to purchase a trip residence and serving as a form of “security blanket for this factor that scares me.”

‘An optimist but a survivalist’ 

In 2016, years earlier than the Covid-19 pandemic roared the world over shutting down complete nations and killing tens of millions, Silicon Valley investor and mainstay Sam Altman confessed to The New Yorker that ought to there be a worldwide pandemic — on the time, the foremost concern was chook flu — his “backup plan is to fly together with his buddy Peter Thiel, the billionaire enterprise capitalist, to Thiel’s home in New Zealand.” Thiel, the notorious right-wing arch-libertarian billionaire, heralded Thielman as an “optimist but a survivalist, with a way that issues can at all times go deeply improper and that there isn’t any single place on this planet the place you are deeply at residence.”

As The Guardian famous that very same yr, that nervousness wasn’t restricted to world well being crises. After Donald Trump’s shock presidential victory, within the “two days following the 2016 election,” the variety of People who visited New Zealand’s Division of Inside Affairs web site to “enquire concerning the means of gaining New Zealand citizenship elevated by an element of 14 in comparison with the identical days within the earlier month.” 

“Saying you are ‘shopping for a home in New Zealand’ is form of a wink, wink, say no extra,” LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman defined to The New Yorker. “As soon as you have executed the Masonic handshake, they’re going to be, like, ‘Oh, , I’ve a dealer who sells outdated ICBM silos, they usually’re nuclear-hardened, they usually form of seem like they might be attention-grabbing to stay in.'”

Just a little over three years later, the cartoonish notion of a New Zealand escape plan took on a extra quick significance, because the island nation’s popularity as a Covid-era haven soared among the many world elite. “None of those guys that I take care of say they’re getting ready for the tip of the world,” one luxurious actual property agent instructed CNN. “They are saying issues like, ‘In instances of geopolitical strain, New Zealand is a cool place to be as a result of it is farther away.'” An identical increase in bunker curiosity adopted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with one retailer in 2022 claiming that “up to now month, I’d have usually fielded lower than 100 inquiries — I’ve fielded over 3,000.” 

Nonetheless, for as a lot as New Zealand, particularly, could have change into a shibboleth of kinds for Hoffman’s crowd, it’s miles from the only real refuge for the ultra-wealthy in search of to trip out the — or a minimum of an — apocalypse. In 2022, expertise and media journalist Douglas Rushkoff wrote about his assembly with a “group mysteriously described as ‘ultra-wealthy stakeholders,’ out in the midst of the desert.” After awkward introductions with the 5 males current (two of whom, Rushkoff famous, have been billionaires), “ultimately, they edged into their actual subject of concern: New Zealand or Alaska? Which area could be much less affected by the approaching local weather disaster?”

“This was most likely the wealthiest, strongest group I had ever encountered,” Rushkoff wrote. “But right here they have been, asking a Marxist media theorist for recommendation on the place and find out how to configure their doomsday bunkers.” He describes varied post-doomsday properties within the New York Metropolis area, luxurious prepper hideaways in decommissioned navy amenities all over the world that “provide non-public suites for people or households, and bigger widespread areas with swimming pools, video games, films and eating” and even an “ultra-elite” shelter within the Czech Republic with a “simulated sunlit backyard space, a wine vault and different facilities to make the rich really feel at residence.” 

Billionaire bunkers and ‘tender succession’

As The Nation’s Jeet Heer famous within the wake of the Nauru revelations, this tendency towards ultra-wealthy prepper-ism is not merely about apocalyptic paranoia. It needs to be taken within the context of what libertarian commentator Jeff Deist has dubbed “tender succession.” For the ultra-wealthy, this implies retreating into “uncommon authorized areas, anomalous territories and peculiar jurisdictions,” together with “city-states, havens, enclaves, free ports, high-tech parks, duty-free districts and innovation hubs,” all for the broader goal of eradicating themselves to some extent from a democratic society they really feel in a roundabout way hampers their pursuit of unimpeded enterprise and private freedom.

To the extent that SBF and Theil, whose plans for an “elaborate bunker-like lodge” in New Zealand have been nixed final yr, could also be motivated by a real concern for the way forward for the planet, they’re nonetheless “unwilling to do something about it, as a result of they know their very wealth and standing depend upon the financial system that threatens humanity,” Heer stated, evaluating the pair to “arsonists who’re beginning to discover that the world is burning, which leads them to wish to purchase fireproof bunkers.” Rushkoff appears to agree, writing after his “center of the desert” assembly that the ultra-wealthy pursuing post-apocalyptic bunker life have “succumbed to a mindset the place ‘successful’ means incomes sufficient cash to insulate themselves from the injury they’re creating by incomes cash in that manner. It is as in the event that they wish to construct a automobile that goes quick sufficient to flee from its personal exhaust.”

That this form of zero-sum doomer-ism is prevalent among the many Silicon Valley elite is a byproduct of working in expertise particularly, since “it is fairly widespread that you simply take issues advert infinitum,” Bay Space enterprise capitalist Roy Bahat defined in 2017. “That leads you to utopias and dystopias.” Furthermore, though there are a lot of elements concerned in billionaire bunker mentalities, a lot of those that have grown rich by means of Bay Space tech fear that as “synthetic intelligence takes away a rising share of jobs, there shall be a backlash in opposition to Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest focus of wealth,” The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos defined, after conversations with Bahat, Hoffman and others. 

One underlying theme all through the huge ecosystem of billionaire preppers is the diploma to which they steadily overestimate their potential to outlive a civilization-ending occasion. It is “merely marvelous that the best mind geniuses in human historical past did not contemplate that, except for rising sea ranges, resulting from human phosphate mining it’s *actually* not possible to domesticate crops on Nauru and successfully 100% of the island’s meals is imported,” novelist Jacob Bacharach mused on Twitter, following the FTX filings. Extra broadly, Rushkoff famous, the “preposterously brittle” nature of a hermetically sealed bunker means the “chance of a fortified bunker defending its occupants from the truth of, nicely, actuality, could be very slim.”

“Concern of catastrophe is wholesome if it spurs motion to stop it,” Osnos concluded. “However élite survivalism is just not a step towards prevention; it’s an act of withdrawal.”