Mind the Gap

The fatuous folly of the super rich and their plans to escape the apocalypse in New Zealand

Running off to their bolt-holes on the far side of the world won’t help them escape the end … they won’t have time to get there

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 February, 2018, 9:04pm

Understanding what inspires or scares billionaires to build post-apocalyptic survival estates and retreats requires comprehension of what worries people at this level of wealth. It is no longer enough to protect their families from the usual security threats against rich people – robbery and kidnapping. Today, security includes end-of-days scenarios, whether or not you believe in the biblical or agnostic apocalypse.

New Zealand has recently been highlighted as a beautiful retreat near the edge of the world, making it almost perfect for living when the world comes to an end.

Private bankers to the ultra-high-net-worth crowd tell me that personal priorities change, especially for the newly wealthy, after about five years of fully indulging the luxury lifestyle. Many seek more purpose and meaning in their lives through philanthropy. Some want to defy mortality by living longer.

And what if you don’t think you are Christian enough to be included in the “Rapture?” For someone with a billion dollars, you can’t afford the risk of being a victim of the vengeful mobs or zombies. Building a safe room in your main residence is a common safety plan, but it isn’t enough nowadays. You need a great escape, in a faraway land, far away from Marx’s description of capitalism’s end game – the persecution of the bourgeoisie.

Surviving and prospering from “The End” has become a cottage industry. As one lawyer told me, “the best clients are the rich and scared.” Finding themes that hype the mythologies of dystopia, especially the end of civil order, is easy in today’s tumultuous information society.

Mainstream media and the internet not only report on, but feed our current cultural anxieties: climate catastrophe, erosion of the traditional political order, a return of nuclear cold war. And don’t forget how social media relentlessly fuels conspiracy theories and annual Nostradamus predictions heralding the end year … year after year. All of them manifest themselves in apocalyptic visions regardless of your religious persuasion. But it’s different if you are a billionaire.

Last year, Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, pronounced New Zealand to be “the future”. Thiel’s own bunker takes the form of a 477-acre former sheep station.

Then, Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of PayPal and LinkedIn, observed in a New Yorker interview that “saying you’re buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.”

Perhaps tech elites display more furtive, science fiction imaginations than old or traditional industry money. Wild imaginations about dystopia coupled with too much money translates into real world action. Acting on these dark visions may not have affected Chinese billionaires yet. Perhaps their escape route only leads to Vancouver, New York or London.

The entirely fatuous assumption they all make is that they can actually reach New Zealand in the event of an outbreak of nuclear war or environmental cataclysm. I have worked alongside NGOs in numerous disaster zones and I can attest to how panic and paralysed logistics render both the rich and poor helpless victims.

Both kinds of events are hard to detect and when you do it is too late. The outbreak of nuclear war is unpredictable and war can escalate quickly. Ask the frenzied citizenry in Hawaii, after their mobile phones alerted them to an incoming ballistic missile. No one was able to make it to their private jet. And in the event of a disaster of end-times proportion, your pilots and security team will desert you as they would rather spend what’s left of their lives with their families rather than serve you caviar on a 20-hour Gulfstream flight to New Zealand.

It’s as if a strange and disturbing ideological dimension has evolved. Our leading entrepreneurs and wealthiest businesspeople are thinking about how they will prevail through the end. Then they will emerge intact and victorious from their bunker mansions, ready to resume their roles as feudal lords in a post-apocalyptic world.

Peter Guy is a financial writer and a former international banker