On a cool evening in early November, I rented a car in Wichita, Kansas, and drove north from the city through slanting sunlight, across the suburbs and out beyond the last shopping center, where the horizon settles into farmland. After a couple of hours, just before the town of Concordia, I headed west, down a dirt track flanked by corn and soybean fields, winding through darkness until my lights settled on a large steel gate. A guard, dressed in camouflage, held a semiautomatic rifle.
These days, when North Korea tests a bomb, Hall can expect an uptick of phone inquiries about space in the Survival Condo Project. But he points to a deeper source of demand. “Seventy per cent of the country doesn’t like the direction that things are going,” he said. After dinner, Hall and Menosky gave me a tour. The complex is a tall cylinder that resembles a corncob. Some levels are dedicated to private apartments and others offer shared amenities: a seventy-five-foot-long pool, a rock-climbing wall, an Astro-Turf “pet park,” a classroom with a line of Mac desktops, a gym, a movie theatre, and a library. It felt compact but not claustrophobic. We visited an armory packed with guns and ammo in case of an attack by non-members, and then a bare-walled room with a toilet. “We can lock people up and give them an adult time-out,” he said. In general, the rules are set by a condo association, which can vote to amend them. During a crisis, a “life-or-death situation,” Hall said, each adult would be required to work for four hours a day, and would not be allowed to leave without permission. “There’s controlled access in and out, and it’s governed by the board,” he said.
The conundrum of owning stock is that it serves as a hedge against inflation only in an otherwise viable economy. At the first sight of serious economic trouble, the premiums paid on corporate stocks take a nosedive and not recover for months or years; in a genuine downturn, the intrinsic value of many companies will also shrink. Since a downturn is probably the time when you will need your rainy-day money the most, it's important to play it safe. Putting somewhere around 30-40% of your emergency stash into the stock market may be a good call. Going all in is a very risky bet, since in an economic crisis, it's not rare to see stock indices plunge 50%.
Now, when asked about the best way to make a residence burglar-proof, most people would probably mention getting an alarm system. But alarm systems are fairly weak deterrents against theft; most statistics suggest that they reduce the likelihood of a break-in by around 50%. So, do the math: take the costs of installing an alarm system (probably around $2,000 for a comprehensive solution), plus the ongoing monitoring fees (easily $200-$500/year), and then contrast these numbers with the likely loss in case of one or two break-ins over the next several decades. Keep in mind that even if the numbers are favorable, a high-quality safe ($500+) may still be a more cost-effective approach.
To Levchin, prepping for survival is a moral miscalculation; he prefers to “shut down party conversations” on the topic. “I typically ask people, ‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?”
The growing foreign appetite for New Zealand property has generated a backlash. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand—opposes sales to foreigners. In particular, the attention of American survivalists has generated resentment. In a discussion about New Zealand on the Modern Survivalist, a prepper Web site, a commentator wrote, “Yanks, get this in your heads. Aotearoa NZ is not your little last resort safe haven.”