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It is often suggested that if a an imminent crisis was about to occur such as a huge comet strike or Yellowstone erupting, that all the rich people could buy their way into special bunkers to protect them from the fallout etc. Or if it was far in the future, rockets to take them to the next planet.

I would like to discuss the plausibility of this considering money will be worth absolutely nothing after such a crisis. Now that I think about it, even the clever people who are valued for their skills may be pretty redundant in a post-apocalyptic situation.

My question is, how can you buy your way out of the Apocalypse? What assets can you provide (apart from the fallout bunkers / rockets themselves) that will:

  • make people want to protect you despite not being related to them
  • make people happy to die for you to go in their place
  • allow you to maintain your social status and importantly, wealth post-apocalypse

Bonus points for anyone who can think of a way to make your money still worth something after the apocalypse.

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    $\begingroup$ Just gather tons of bottlecaps! $\endgroup$ – Kevin Sep 10 '15 at 6:37
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Money as a Delusion

In a way, those little pieces of paper with numbers on them, or plastic cards to access bits and bytes, have value because everybody who counts has agreed to use them as a common benchmark for barter trades. You swap your work for money, and then you swap your money for goods and services. Market mechanisms and/or government intervention set the rates for the swaps.

So even if there is an incoming apocalypse, money will retain value as long as people have hope that things will return to normal and that the old economy gets restored. Depending on how things get going again, they might even be right. Or keep the lawyers busy for a long time.

Leadership Skills

You won't find the best engineers and scientists running a company. Talking to stakeholders, balancing ressources, etc. is an important skill for self-made rich. It could remain an important skill during and after the apocalypse.

This doesn't apply to heirs, of course.

Nobody hoards Cash

Rich people will not just have money, they have things which might retain value. Houses. Cars. A full pantry and wine cellar. If the apocalypse does not lead to looting, people might be willing to trade for them.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's safe to assume there will be no looting. We have looting when natural disasters strike - either by opportunists or by people who just want some food. You'd need to ensure your loot hoard was kept safe from this eventuality. (e.g. by building a bunker in advance) $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Sep 9 '15 at 14:31
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We don't have to indulge in wild speculation. While there haven't been any crises that wiped out the entire world since the Flood, there have been plenty of lesser crises that wiped out a nation, like invading armies or particularly large natural disasters.

And what happens? There's no reason for money to still have value, as the government that backs it is going down. But in practice it doesn't become worthless, but prices skyrocket. Some number of people will still accept money in exchange for something that will actually help you escape, but they demand huge amounts of money. I guess this makes sense if you assume that the probability that the nation will be destroyed is not 100%. If you think there's some small chance that the nation will survive and money will still have value, then it makes sense to still accept money, but the smaller you think the chance of the government surviving, the less the money would be worth.

Rich people have not just cash in the bank but things: cars, planes, or boats that can be used to escape, large tracts of land to hide, shelters, etc. Sure, a mob could attack and steal these things, but the rich person has the advantage that he's holding them now. For someone to steal it, they have to know that he has, and they have to know where it is, and they have to overcome whatever effort he makes to defend it.

If I was rich and I saw a global disaster coming, I'd start immediately on building a shelter or escape rocket or whatever. As long as the disaster is far enough away that people still have lives to lead in the meantime, money will still be of value to them. And as long as there is some question about whether the disaster will really happen, people who doubt it will gladly accept money to help build your shelter. After all, there have been many predictions of apocalypse over the centuries, and to date the world is still here, they've all proven false. So depending on the nature of the disaster, there may well be plenty of people who will doubt that it will really happen. In the movies, of course the disaster really does come, and the doubters are all shown up as fools for failing to listen to the warnings while they had the chance. But in real life, usually the disaster does NOT come, and the people who sold everything they owned and fled to a shelter in the wilderness are laughed at. As long as there's doubt, money will still have value.

Oh, rich people often have one other asset: leadership skills. When everyone is in a panic, someone can often walk in and take charge. If you can put on an air of authority, act confidently, and have the competence to do it, people will listen to you. Lots of people throughout history have managed to convince armies of people -- and literal armies -- to follow them using the shear force of their personality.

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"If you want to get rich, start a religion."
- L. Ron Hubbard

It is true that after the nukes drop/the space locusts attack/zombies eat all the brains/the new Ice Age hits/the Velocirapture happens/(insert your favorite apocalypse here), your money is worth next to zilch. So, you need something else to give to people. Something that makes them trust you, want to do things for you, makes them like you and look up to you...

So in short, either start a religion or continue one. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Convince them it was God's will that all other humans were eaten/vaporized/nuked/kidnapped/turned to custard, and that you know how to keep your followers from suffering the same fate.
  • Tell them that you received visions of the impeding apocalypse and that while you could not save all of humanity, you hand-picked a few chosen ones who would and inherit the earth.

You see, the problem with apocalypse cults is that the leader has to eventually deliver with the world's end or look like a tosser. But when you preach the apocalypse, and it actually takes place and you help people survive? Well, that's some massive kudos to you. It makes people believe and trust you, and by leading them you can help them grow and become the chosen ones. And you know what's one of the bonuses of being a cult leader? You can get your followers to make money and gather resources for you. So why on post-apocalyptic Earth would you spend money to survive the apocalypse when you can make money during it?

As for using your existing money... well, you could use it as kindle, or if it turns out the aliens are actually communists and they're allergic to the ink used in paper money. Hit them with a hand full of bountiful Benjamins and they keel over dead. Capitalism, ho!

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People will believe anything they want to believe. If you convince them that by helping you they get a possibility to survive, they will help you.

An example could be setting a lottery between your underlings, those who win a ticket (and their more close family) get a place inside the refugy (after all, someone will have to scrub the toilets, won't they?). A few points to note:

  • Get a way to become indispensable, so you do not have to get to the lottery. For example, as owner of the tools / truck / terrain needed for the site, direction of the project, witholding supplies / access key.

  • Get a few people with big guns to keep order. Of course, they are granted a place inside too.

  • Try to avoid your subordinates to cooperate. Avoid hiring all the people from a small town; hire people who do not know each other and so, even if they have an incentive to cooperate against you, they do not trust each other enough to proceed. If you can stage construction so not many people is in the building site at once, better yet.


An even more cynical politic would be making public overoptimistic plans, so you convince them that you are not building a shelter for yourself but a lot of shelters for everyone of the people building them. Of course, you only care about the finalization of the first shelter, to which you have the only access keys.

As doomsday approachs and it becomes clear that time will not be enough for all of the shelter, you bid for your time and hole in. Make sure to sabotage all heavy equipment that the people outside could use to oust you from your new, cozy home. Even better if you can demolish a bridge or something so they cannot even reach the site.


Of course, those are not exclusive. A winner combination would have you begin with strategy 2 (is more atractive to people) and, when delays become evident, use the lottery system to win a little more time. Then, when the time is right, you just hole in with only the people you can made use of (a physician, a cook, some handyman, a couple of hot bunnies...).

Just made clear to them that there is a "dead man switch" that will cause a catastrophic failure if something bad happens to you (of course, it will sound better if you blame some "bad design decision" for it).

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    $\begingroup$ If you avoid holding the lottery until the last possible moment, you keep everyone motivated to keep working building the shelters or escape rocket or whatever. If people are convinced the lottery was fair, many will accept it and consider themselves honor-bound to abide by the results. Presumably some number will say "screw this" and try to force their way into the shelter (or whatever), so you'll need some way to defend yourself and the winners. $\endgroup$ – Jay Sep 9 '15 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Jay that is what the "Get a few people with big guns" line meant. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Sep 9 '15 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, I wasn't disagreeing with you there. $\endgroup$ – Jay Sep 9 '15 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ I like this. I touched on it in my answer as well. Actually you want to build as many shelters as possible - your followers will be the base of your power in the post-apocalyptic world. And of course everyone will know that even if their shelter did not get build in time they saved YOU and when YOU rebuild the world they'll be remembered as heroes! $\endgroup$ – ventsyv Sep 9 '15 at 20:24
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Money is a transaction in trust. I trust the issuer that the money is worth what they say it is worth. As long as everyone trusts a dollar is worth a dollar, this works as a means of exchange.

When this doesn't happen, money ... rapidly becomes worthless. Because it is, pretty fundamentally, just a piece of paper (or piece of metal). Even the ones backed by 'rare stuff' - back when we had a gold standard - gold isn't particularly useful in the grand scheme of things. (The irony of it being really useful for computer components and space age stuff isn't lost - but that's a moot point when the apocalypse comes).

So I believe it would depend on how inevitable the apocalypse looks. If it's obvious to everyone that it's coming - you couldn't, because there's nothing you can offer that isn't survival.

If however, you use your wealth to prepare before that point, then it's viable. You could build yourself a bunker, and stock it up - much like survivalists do today. You would then actually have a fairly good incentive to offer for assistance - a place in your already built bunker.

If you have any brains at all when you do this, then you also stock up on things that are worth having during/post apocalypse. Guns, ammunition, fuel, food, medicine, tools, equipment (like generators, water purifiers), solar panels, blankets, etc.

These too might be currency for apocalypse day, but you need to be a bit careful, because your hoard risks becoming a target for looters.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not going to downvote you but I did say in the question "apart from the fallout bunkers"! $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 9 '15 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I know. But that really is the biggy. I've offered suggestions as to things you'd store in them for offering to people though :) $\endgroup$ – Sobrique Sep 9 '15 at 15:01
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You want to ensure your assets survive the apocalypse and are tangible, useful things, that will give you power over any other survivors. Obviously, surviving yourself is paramount; by the virtue of being one of few survivors, you get to control large portions of the planet. You want to have provisions - food, medicine, and above all long lasting, reliable energy source. Any high tech that can be used - radios, transports (ground, air, etc), arms, medical equipment, manufacturing capacity. If you have all that, with a small number of supporters you can lord over the whole planet.

So how do you do it? If the apocalypse is not widely known, people do not believe it will happen or believe it will be averted, or is just too far off in the future, you can just restructure your investments - get rid of any cash or paper investments, real estate etc and start a high tech company. You can imagine something along the lines of the Google campus, with high tech manufacturing, research, but fortified and well stocked. If you are well liked, once the doom is near, you can pick your hand groomed employees (and maybe their families?) and offer them sanctuary. That way, if you survive, you are set to rule the word.

If the doom is near, it's effects are readily visible to everyone and it's widely accepted that this will be the end of the civilization kind of event, the best strategy is to start a religious cult. People who are scared and desperate will look for some hope, so it should be fairly easy to get a good amount of followers. You can preach on TV, give out money (which soon will not be worth anything), and just give people hope in general. By virtue of your influence and prominence you'll probably be able to secure your own survival if there is some sort of government program. If not, you can probably use the crowd to muscle your way in - people who are sure will soon die, might not value their lives very much and might be willing to give them for the greater good, out of devotion, or simply as appreciation for the kindness you gave them. I can easily forsee a scenario where a religious leader leads a riot, overthrows the government and takes control of what's left. That way, you can save some of your followers and use them to rule the post apocalyptic world.

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How can you buy your way out of the Apocalypse?

Preparation.

Once the apocalypse has happened, you are right, before long money will be useless, and in a post-apocalyptic world being a rocket scientist wont mean much if there are no more working rockets.

However, if you know the apocalypse is on its way, then being stupidly rich and powerful will give you an edge.

So technically, you can't buy your way out of an apocalypse, but you can buy you way out of an impending apocalypse.

You mentioned at the beginning of your question "It is often suggested that if a an imminent crisis was about to occur such as a huge comet strike or yellowstone erupting that all the rich people could buy their way into special bunkers to protect them from the fallout etc. Or if it was far in the future, rockets to take them to the next planet."

I am trying to think of a scenario where one of these rich people tried to buy their way to safety after the apocalypse. Every scenario I can think of works on a premise of preparation - building the bunker/spaceships etc before the crisis, while their money and power still has value.

Am I missing something? Are you referring to a scenario where rich people try to build a bunker/spaceship after the crisis has happened?

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  • $\begingroup$ Well if the notification of the apocalypse is a few weeks in advanced, its hardly enough time to build a decent bunker especially when your assets have just become worth zilch. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 10 '15 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ yeah, 2 weeks notice isnt much at all - i think in that time span the best the rich and powerful could do is get themselves onboard the ISS, and wait out the apocalypse from there... $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Sep 10 '15 at 8:13
  • $\begingroup$ I think you might have missed the point to this question, how do you get yourself aboard the ISS? Money. What is money worth when society is about to collapse? Nothing. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 10 '15 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ I get the question - what I am saying is that there isnt any fictional scenario I can think of which applies to your question - every time the rich and powerful try to survive an apocalyptic event they always have sufficient foreknowledge in order to prepare... if they had no time to prepare, then your point is correct, their money wouldnt give them any opportunities to survive... however, having lived the life of a rich and powerful person might of given them the right connections they need to have an advantage in a post apocalyptic world... but that's a big "might"... $\endgroup$ – Jimmery Sep 10 '15 at 9:40
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I think you can buy your way towards preparing for the apocalypse. But like you say, once it comes, money isn't worth much. So the entire 'buying' part has to happen pre-apocalypse.

Once it happens, money will likely be less useful than brute strength...weapons, bunkers, etc.

That said, there would likely still be valuable commodities (such as fuel ala Mad Max). So perhaps part of the preparation is to transfer one's monetary wealth into commodity wealth for post apocalyptic trade economies.

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What about evolving ?

They are many things that suggest that we are living in a fake reality. I'll take the Matrix as an exemple. What if surviving to apocalypse, is just easy as waking up from a dream.

It's been prove in quantum physic that the material reality is created by the consciousness. Maybe the apocalypse is just a way for you to take awarness of this reality and make a step further. Everything is just a question of perspective.

They made an experience in genetic where a bacterie die by eating milk protein. They submurge the bacterie in a environment where they where only this protein to eat and were expecting the bacterie to die. But something else happen. The bacterie mutate to accept the milk protein and survive.

Humans never do something unless he's force to. We are to afraid or lazy to do so while it's not absolutely necessary.

So, i think that the one's who are really aware can make the step further and the other one will try to survive with the plan you mention above. The real question is : Do you want to live or survive ?

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  • $\begingroup$ It's been prove in quantum physic that the material reality is created by the consciousness. You seem to be confused about the idea that an object can be in a superposition of quantum states until it is measured. One way around that "paradox" is that a system in a superposition of states is constantly interacting with its surroundings (in this case), meaning that it is always in a certain state. Consciousness isn't privileged in quantum mechanics. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 14 '15 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer but it is pretty off-topic. You should avoid wild speculation and going off on tangents here in the world building stack exchange. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 14 '15 at 19:30
  • $\begingroup$ i mean that the matter is generates by the consciouness and not the inverse. It's not the matter that create the consciouness. I mean that consciousness create the reality as suggested in the documentary "What the bleep do we know". I tought is was the conclusion of the Double-slit experiment. $\endgroup$ – Mathieu Labrie Parent Sep 14 '15 at 19:32
  • $\begingroup$ So evolving is not a good way to escape an apocalypse ? I tought we were talking about ways to espace no matter how we do it ? There's not always 1 alternative. $\endgroup$ – Mathieu Labrie Parent Sep 14 '15 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ Even the title itself says "can you buy your way out of the apocalypse", please read questions carefully or your answer may be irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – Varrick Sep 15 '15 at 8:45

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