Say you're an immortal, who's seen civilizations rise and fall around your ears; and you've decided to ride the wave, the next time the barbarians are at the gates. You've had to keep your head down to remain anonymous, so you don't have resources beyond whatever is average for the time; but by virtue of sheer experience you are quite savvy in most fields.

Society is starting to show its cracks once more, you know the signs; how best can you position yourself for wealth/influence/power on the other side of the crest?

For the purposes of the question, assume modern society, but bonus points for an answer that can apply to historical (or historical-ish) times as well.

  • $\begingroup$ "Barbarians are at the gates" [of] "modern society". Who is the "modern society" (is it the U.S. of A., is it the P.R. of China?), and, extremely importantly, who are the barbarians? How to position oneself for wellness and prosperity in the next new world depends quite heavily on what the next new world is to be. For example, when the Soviet Empire fell, it was a very good idea to have been a middle manager in the state security services, with a network of loyal colleagues and sleazy criminal informers. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 9, 2018 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ Do I understand it correctly: You are looking for a one-fits-all solution to a problem (I will get to that part) throughout the ages? I don't know if it exists, but if it does, how do you use it in your world without it getting boring? Anyhow, could you be more specific as to what those cracks are? "Barbarians at the gate" - is that really the cause or a symptom or perhaps just someone looking down on their invaders. It's also not something that occurs today. Do you mean a stock market crash? Modern society = there are 200 countries on Earth, some very different $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Oct 9, 2018 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ This question feels more about the actions of a single character than the world in which those actions occur. Voting to close as too story-based. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Oct 9, 2018 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Prepping for the Apocalypse IS short selling the current society. Which presents the possibility that among all the tinfoil hat wearing, bomb-shelter building, bug-out bag wearing extremists, there is at least one ancient immortal who really knows that the end is near. That sounds like a story I would not only buy but also jump to the top of my reading list. Sorry we chose to close this one. I would have really enjoyed reading the answers. $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2018 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ Normally the way to go when facing a crisis is precious metals or raw materials. In your scenario of a real crash of society I´d recommend knowledge (Books on farming, engineering, chemistry, physics, manufacturing etc.) also food, seeds and tools. As they say in finance.se though: You should not try to time the market. I would argue you´d have a real problem to predict when exactly it´s going to crash. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:29

2 Answers 2


The principle of short selling is that you borrow an asset, sell it, wait for the price to fall then buy a replacement and return it to its owner. It's a bet that the price will go down and you're not going to lose money before having to return the asset.

Naked short selling skips the part where you borrow it first. There's an old joke; selling something you have to someone who wants it, that's not business, selling something you don't have to someone who doesn't want it, now that's business. It's also naked short selling.

Short selling is for people with short lives who want to make lots of money quickly, it can have high returns but even higher risks. There's absolutely no reason for an immortal to mess around with such messy strategies. You also have to remember that when a society fails, so does its currency. All the money in the world becomes just a lot of numbers in a computer and scrap paper when the society that backs it collapses, what's going to matter is hard assets.

What an immortal should be do is wait for the market to hopelessly crash and buy up land, especially good farming land, building land (cities tend to stay in much the same places for reasons previously discussed), and land with resources like iron and copper.

Perhaps it's not so fast, or so flash, but it will work almost every time, and time is something you have in abundance.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem with any contract (as a claim to land ect.) it is only valid as long as society holds. The barbarians may just laugh about your precious deeds and build their own castle there instead ... $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel, they may do that, but they will certainly strip you of any gold, usable coinage or other easily transported items. They'll probably lay claim to any large houses on the land as well, but they won't initially steal vast acreages of farmland. So the chances are you'll lose some land, nobody is getting out of total collapse completely untouched, but far from all. You have to have a good relationship with your tenants though, they must know that you own all the land between the river and the sea and whoever the new overlord is, they'll likely leave you alone if you pay your new taxes. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ Gold you can hide. We are still uncovering new stashes from the Vikings and Romans today... $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel, didn't work so well for the people who hid it then did it? ;) $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 9, 2018 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ No, they weren´t immortal ... $\endgroup$
    – Daniel
    Oct 9, 2018 at 14:40

@Separatrix Did a good job of explaining what short selling is. However, I can see a better option for short selling.

First of all, when your society crumbles, its currency will crash, and the worth of the currency will be zero. That means any cash you happen to have on hand will be only worth as much as the raw materials inside of it.

You need to get rid of all of your cash quickly. You could buy stuff, but it's cheaper to rent it. Picture you renting a horse for a couple coins. When society crashes, just leave the country. There will be no police or military to stop you, and the owner will be too busy finding food and staying alive to come after his horse. Buy or rent boats, animals, tools, and whatever useful supplies you can find. Make sure you get plenty of food too, because there might be a shortage. Don't buy land yet, because individual armies will try to take over the land for themselves, and without a government, anyone could commandeer your land. You also need to be able to move around at this point.

Travel to a budding civilization. If there isn't one yet, there will be soon. That new civilization will need all sorts of supplies to grow. By trading all of your stuff for land, you will infuse the civilization with the goods of a developed nation, speeding up technology and encouraging faster growth. When the small civilization becomes an empire, you will be a wealthy landholder. When that civilization starts to show the signs of crumble, you know what to do.

  • $\begingroup$ Rare is the revolution that expropriates land, certainly marauding armies won't do it, though they will steal anything they can carry. There's something special about land ownership, distinct from who's collecting taxes, that leaves it a relatively safe investment. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 9, 2018 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Qin Dynasty China? $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2018 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JavaScriptCoder, yep, along with basically just the communists $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 9, 2018 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Looking at the Middle Ages or the crumbling of Ancient Rome, I would think the warring armies would be constantly fighting for land. Land means agriculture, which means food to feed your subjects and armies. $\endgroup$
    – John Locke
    Oct 9, 2018 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but there's an interesting game here. Are they fighting to farm the land themselves or to control the land and the people who farm it? You, the landowner, are merely an intermediary between the peasants who farm and the lords who collect taxes. But neither lord, nor peasant, yourself. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 9, 2018 at 14:33

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