How the super rich are preparing for the end of the world
The Dow has hit 20,000 for the first time ever, but rather than celebrating, some of the richest of the rich are building bunkers to prepare for a potential apocalypse.
These "preppers" are making other investments too. They're buying houses in New Zealand, which has become a popular spot in case of calamity. Billionaire Peter Thiel just secured property and citizenship there .
And they're getting elective surgery. Steve Huffman, the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of the online community Reddit, got Lasik so that he'd be able to be more independent in case of emergency.
"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," the San Francisco resident tells Evan Osnos as part of The New Yorker's chronicle of the elite's end-of-the-world preparations.
"Without them, I'm f---ed."
In addition to the eye surgery, Huffman has accumulated guns, ammunition and motorcycles so that he won't get caught in traffic jams during an evacuation.
The notion of "doomsday prepping" was popularised in the mainstream by the National Geographic channel's show by the same name. The show's website offers a quiz titled "How prepped are you?" so you can test your own likelihood of surviving an apocalypse.
Former Facebook product manager Antonio García Martínez bought wooded land in the Pacific Northwest that he has stocked with generators, solar panels and ammo, The New Yorker reports.
"You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse," García Martínez says.
"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."
In particular, the political climate has made many coastal elites anxious about the future.
"I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power — that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work," says Huffman.
"While I do believe they're quite resilient, and we've been through a lot, certainly we're going to go through a lot more."
Doomsday prepping crosses political lines. When Barack Obama was elected to his second term, conservative preppers hunkered down, collecting canned goods and gold coins and buying products hawked by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, The New Yorker reports.
As today's preppers tend to have more resources, they are investing in tech-based currencies like Bitcoin as well as in precious metals, since they're looking to secure assets in systems not tied to the stability of government structures.
More than half of Silicon Valley billionaires have outfitted themselves for a crisis, whether with a bunker, second home or vacation spot, estimates Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn.
And prepping isn't a solitary pursuit. Tim Chang, the managing director at venture-capital firm Mayfield Fund, tells Osnos that survivalism has become a popular hobby, like bowling leagues for the 21st century. "There's a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about back-up plans people are doing," he says.
"It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and crypto-currency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens."
"I kind of have this terror scenario: 'Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready,' " Chang says.
After all, the same imagination that powers Silicon Valley can also terrify it.
"When you do [think big], it's pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias," says Roy Bahat, the head of a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm Bloomberg Beta.
And the Valley's preppers have the resources to help soothe their troubled minds.
"The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely," says Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee and the CEO of Reddit from 2012 to 2014, to The New Yorker.
"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 also underwent "eye surgery for survival purposes," reports Osnos.