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In this scenario, the character is, as the only person, aware that in a few days the whole world economy will fall apart. He is likely to lose his home and probably has to flee to another country because of war activities. These war activities will also cause the economy to break down, meaning all currencies and all virtual assets lose their value. However, only a very small percentage of actual production, agriculture, etc. is destroyed during the war, and can be used by their new respective owners.

As I said, the character knows about this a few day in before, and currently has about 5 million dollars. He wants to invest this money in something that should at least keep its value after the big breakdown. However, as he is bound to flee, and doesn't know yet if he will have a car or any other vehicle available, he can't just buy barrels of oil with his money, as this would be rather painful to transport over a longer period of time. So what could he invest his money in?

Edit: Wow, thank you very much for all your answers. I think like I should clear things up just a little bit, as many comments suggest things that would not be possible / advisable in the characters situation. I try to explain a possible scenario which the character could be in:

The world is split in a few (maybe 4-8) major forces. Looking at todays world, I would think of a scenario with the USA & Canada, a south america coalition, the EU, extremists controlling Africa and some european / asian countries, and an asian coalition. At the top of every of this groups are very extremistic people, and there are no alliencas between the different groups, and all of them have about the same strength. Think of it as somewhat similair to the 1984 scenario (only in terms of power and strength of the different groups).

The character could f.e. be european, living in france, and it's very probable that his town will be taken over by another of these groups, and he doesn't really know how the situation will be after the escalation. So he has to flee, maybe even go to more than one of the territories hold by the descibed groups, and find a place to settle down again. Or maybe he will be on the run for several years. He simply does not know in before. So all options like farming or hiding his stuff are not possible. He has to take it all with him, and be able to transport it for a longer period of time, in which he will no always have a car or transportation vehicle available.

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I'd suggest a farm. Post-crash it will have immediately usable value (food and water will be prime resources). – Draco18s Jan 15 at 17:02
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Part of the answer to this question would be a better understanding of what causes the economies to break down. Breaking down world economies is not a small challenge. Breaking them down while leaving everything not-currency-based in great shape, that's actually a spectacularly difficult line in the sand to draw during peace time, much less war. – Cort Ammon Jan 15 at 17:51
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There's no such thing as "war activities" that can destroy the value of all currencies worldwide while leaving the infrastructure largely intact. Pick one: either money keeps its value except in countries that lose the war, or the infrastructure gets totalled. – Mike Scott Jan 15 at 18:46
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Agriculture and similar activities that can continue in a collapsed economy are just a couple percent of the total production. If only that remains, 90+% of production is gone. Even if we're talking about only the human-food-oriented part of agriculture, then a global economic collapse (e.g. if suddenly you can't acquire large quantities of fuel, fertilizer and other chemicals, heavy machinery and parts, and transport & refrigeration to prevent spoilage) would remove most of global food production, not just a few percent. "Traditional" nonintensive agriculture can't feed 7 billion people. – Peteris Jan 15 at 20:45
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If I were him I'd get a couple kilos of heroin and or cocaine. Excellent combination of value density and immediate desirability in trades: when the apocalypse hits, people will do a lot to actually be happy for a couple hours – QuadmasterXLII Jan 16 at 4:17

If the person in question doesn't have any moral qualms, he may wish to invest in guns or other items which allow people to have more power than other average citizens after taking away society's security. Of course, this also depends on the society - if everybody already has guns he might only need to invest in ammunition.

  • Say he invests in diamonds and ends up in a situation where he needs to trade them for food, but the people who have food won't trade it because they need it.

  • Or say another person comes along with a gun and wants to take whatever he invested in.

A gun would provide power in situations where he otherwise wouldn't have any. And if he is a moral person, he could trade that essential security for food or whatever else he needs.

In situations where power resolve differences, firepower might be the best thing to invest in. (Note that he could invest in his own bodyguards or personal "army" as well) The real problem is whether he can legally, and therefore practically, attempt this within a couple days... Suddenly buying tons of weapons or ammunition, and hiring people to wield them, looks a bit sketchy.

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Seems like a good answer if you're willing to survive. Guns and a few loyal friends to hold them can buy a lot in a post-societal world. – Avernium Jan 15 at 19:08
    
Agreed. Weapons, mercenaries, ... When law enforcement disappears, "Strength makes Right". – Matthieu M. Jan 16 at 15:15
    
I dislike and dispute the implication made here that owning guns is somehow immoral. – Michael Hampton Jan 16 at 15:37
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@MichaelHampton sorry if it was unclear - the part that some would consider immoral is taking things from people with the threat of violence (which the guns allow more easily), or possibly selling guns or ammo to people you know are going to use it for such - owning a gun just for self protection is obviously not immoral. – DoubleDouble Jan 16 at 15:51

The same things which everyone else in his shoes has invested in historically: gold and precious stones.

Many a refugee fleeing a war torn area has been found with precious stones sewn within coat linings.

Gems are small and easy to hide, light and effortless to transport, yet have historically retained their value.

Other objects such as pieces of art would be far less practical, as you'd need a way to transport, or store them.

Interesting (& Morbid) Fact: When executing the Russian Royal Family (the Romanov's), their communist murderers stabbed some of them to death after bullets were stopped by gems hidden in their clothing.

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Do you have a reference to the gem-stopping bullets thing? That seems a bit unbelievable. – Frostfyre Jan 15 at 17:07
    
@Frostfyre - I'm at work so I can't Google this right now, but it should be pretty easy to find, as it was a major article and one of the top Google hits on the subject of their execution. There was mention that on opening fire on them a pillow which one of the governesses (I believe?) was hugging to her chest ripped open to spill many precious stones, for example. That pillow had served to protect her from the first shots. It mentioned some other things as well. – AndreiROM Jan 15 at 17:13
    
@Frostfyre Wikipedia also mentions this and cites page 8 of The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. It seems that diamonds in a daughter's corset did offer (some) protection from the first round of gunfire. – Avernium Jan 15 at 17:23
    
Fascinating, but true; see page 8 of this – Frostfyre Jan 15 at 17:24
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Refugees are typically fleeing to places where there is still an economy, I doubt people would bother with such things if they knew for a fact the world economy had collapsed, shiny rocks may not regain their value within your lifetime (which has probably just been reduced by the health system collapsing too) – MrLore Jan 16 at 2:28

What do you need?

If the answer is food and shelter, buy a farm in your new country. Try to get there before everything collapses.

If the answer is something that travels well, buy jewelry. But expect it to fall in value. You won't be able to trade it for five million dollars worth of food. People who aren't traveling will be able to provide more valuable things (e.g. your barrels of oil), because they can store in bulk.

Something of a compromise answer would be a solar-powered sailboat with fishing gear. If you want to travel a distance, you can use the sail. You can catch food with the fishing gear and trade your surplus for other goods. You can also trade electricity (at least if the sun is shining) or transport. The boat also provides more storage, so you can store more bulk. Also consider adding weapons for when someone tries to steal your boat.

If you don't know anything about sailing or boating in general, you might have to hire people to join you. They provide expertise while you provide the funds.

All this assumes that the world economy really collapses. Not just a recession or even a depression. A collapse. Anything short of world collapse, just find somewhere that is not collapsing and convert to their currency. Money is going to trade better than goods unless things are so bad that money is no more than colored pieces of paper. Money is good because it provides a variety of goods. Without money, you want to collect a variety of goods.

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If "all virtual assets lose their value", a title deed to a piece of land can probably also be seen as a virtual asset. In such a scenario, together with the real estate, one would also probably need to acquire the means (barriers, weapons, ...) and personnel to by physical force retain possession of the land. (Might it thus be more efficient to just use all the funds to acquire more of the latter, and use them to acquire as much of the former as possible?) – fr13d Jan 16 at 9:19
    
I like this answer very much, thanks. The only thing I wonder is: the character also wants to be "as rich as before", and it's questionable if such a ship could be worth 5 million dollar after everything slowly starts to settle again. – Michael Kunst Jan 16 at 20:32

People. A good model to look at is Niven and Pournelle's "Lucifer's Hammer", in which one guy sets up a ranch to be self-sufficient in the wake of a disaster. Besides obvious goods like guns, seeds, clothing, how-to books and fuel, he starts taking on people with valuable skills. He continues doing so after the disaster, asking people who want to join his little settlement, "What can you do?" Hiring a doctor, a mechanic, a horse-rancher and so on is one of the best possible ways to spend some money in a hurry. Portable, too.

Granted, your scenario doesn't have civilization being smashed by a meteor, but having all the money somehow becoming valueless would cause so much disruption that it would be very helpful to have a self-sufficient and well-guarded village be ready to fend off looter gangs. Better, in other words, to have a dozen or so talented employees/allies at your side than to be alone in a bunker, even with a good stock of guns and food.

Having some excess emergency goods to give away -- like bottled water and blankets -- would also be helpful when some government agency shows up to take control of the camp "for your own good".

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", but having all the money somehow becoming valueless " in this scenario how could you pay people? – NPSF3000 Jan 16 at 16:29
    
@NPSF3000: With food? – celtschk Jan 16 at 16:54

While things might have a certain amount of "density" of value today, this might not necessarily be the case in a post apocalyptic landscape. Imagine you have $5 million in diamonds in your pocket after bribing your way through customs and making your escape to a distant refuge. On arrival in the Galapagos Islands, you are safe from nuclear war, plagues, bands of marauding Road Warriors etc., but have a bunch of rocks in your pocket. Better brush up on your trapping skills so you can at least eat the local wildlife.

Things which will become valuable after an apocalyptic event such as a global crash are generally less portable. If you invested your money in a full set of machine tools, generators, "how to" manuals and most importantly of all, high quality stock, you will have an amazingly valuable post apocalyptic machine shop, but better have good relations with the local strongman, or be prepared to become the strongman yourself, since the shop and all the equipment aren't going anywhere.

Things like caned and dry goods will also retain or even gain value in the post apocalypse period, but this is a declining value as items get consumed, and eventually reach their expiration date.

The most portable and value dense item will be whatever knowledge that you have packed in your head, followed by whatever library you can salvage or pre pack. Sadly, much of our cultural heritage isn't going to make the cut (your books on 13th century French poetry or critical theory are going to be good for kindling, at best), while the SAS survival guide is going to become a "best seller"; especially since you were smart enough to have the only copy.

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I think its worth covering that the "cultural heritage" stuff would be incredibly valuable if you're willing to wait a very long time for it to pay off, for the very reason that it isn't useful directly for survival, so most of it is lost. Of course, it's very likely you'll be dead by that time. and it's hard to predict what the future society would be fascinated by in our time. In terms of knowledge, it would be best if you could safeguard some downloaded source and keep it available somehow, but I'm not sure how you might go about that while preventing from, say your harddrive failing. – DoubleDouble Jan 15 at 20:47
    
Much of the ancient Greek heritage was kept in monasteries and libraries in Byzantium, and it is thought that scholars fleeing the Arab invasions kick started the Renaissance by bringing copies of ancient scrolls into the West for the first time in almost 500 years. – Thucydides Jan 16 at 17:56

It partly depends on the the economic impact and location of things. Will this cause a worldwide economic collapse? Probably not, so I would be moving my money to a country not likely to be affected much, say Switzerland. Moving that kind of cash is hard to do, especially in any kind of physical presence.

On top of that, you would be hard pressed to first cash out $5M and then buy that much worth of something that will hold its value in such a short time. However, getting some cash and buying precious stones for immediate needs is certainly a worthwhile endeavour.

Edit: After reading the edit above, there seems to be a misunderstanding of how the world works. Let's take the EU as an entity. If one of the factions decides to take out France (as you suggested) the assumption is that the man will have to run from France. Fine. But why can't he move his fortune to Germany? or Austria? Does he know that his entire coalition is going to crumble? If so how does he know that and no one else? If he was a traitor then he should have some 'friends' willing to help out.

Once again, carrying around 5 Million dollars worth of stuff just isn't practical in any way shape or form. If you carry around a Picasso, it is bulky and easily damaged or destroyed. Or stolen from you. Also it isn't very useful for barter since you can't exactly make change. So one back to precious gems as the densest material that one can buy with a semi-universal value. This is a website that compares many things in dollars/lbs of material. High quality 1 caret diamonds are about $12M/lbs.

So as he fleas his town and country he can stop at every jeweler on the way having liquidated his assets into a single bank account with a charge card. He buys up all the decent stock at each place until he runs out of cash. Since he will be needing different levels of 'worth' he'll have smaller cheaper jewels as well as large one. So the jewels should weigh between 2-5 pounds. This could be carried in something against his body with just a few left out for commerce. But unless he goes to a very large jeweler he won't find that much stock available, and even a big one would be very suspicious selling that much stock to one person.

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Agreed if this is a catastrophic collapse of civilization, then you do not want gold & "precious" items. You should try to get anything that helps directly with survival both long term (e.g. heritage seeds & fertile land) & short term (food, water, & shelter). Anything that helps with protection (guns, knives, etc.) would be highly beneficial too. Eventually things may settle down enough that the survivors would re-establish currency but until that happens "you can't eat gold." – Jim2B Jan 15 at 17:46
    
@Jim2B But it's not a catastrophic collapse of civilisation, because the infrastructure is left largely intact. – Mike Scott Jan 15 at 20:07
    
Consider the situation in Earth Abides. Perhaps 1 in 1,000,000 (or worse) survive. The infrastructure may still be present but you have lost too much technical knowledge to keep it going. You'll need to do hunting & gathering & primitive farming until you can rebuild the population base enough to consider resuming a technical civilization. – Jim2B Jan 15 at 20:12
    
It's funny how, once again, switzerland as the only country is included to an answer on my question :) on topic: the collapse is worldwide, so just transfering your goods is not a good choice. – Michael Kunst Jan 16 at 20:36
    
@MichaelKunst Well in that case, you are just going to be 'broke' like everyone else. Buy a cabin in the woods and stock it with food and weapons. – bowlturner Jan 16 at 21:49

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