Wall Street Apocalypse: The World of the Doomsday Investors
by Bruce Watson
of the end of civilization are nothing new, but the direst prognosticators
have, traditionally, existed on the fringes
of society, where their dark visions can be comfortably attributed
to an excess of libertarianism or a shortage of Prozac.
In the last
few years, however, something strange has happened. While there
is no lack of survivalists stockpiling cat food and rifles, some
of the direst thinkers are now working on Wall Street, where a combination
of fear and foresight has many of the country's money men contemplating
their escape routes.
of Dire Predictions
saint of the Wall Street apocalypse society may be Barton Biggs.
The leader of Traxis Partners, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund,
Biggs has gained a reputation for his dire predictions, particularly
those of his much-quoted 2008 analysis of World War II, Wealth,
War and Wisdom. At the end of the book, Biggs offers his
conclusions from his brief study of history, suggesting the likelihood
of a future era in which "People with wealth" will face
"another time of cholera when the Four Horsemen will ride again
and the barbarians unexpectedly will be at their gate."
some interesting advice for hedging the apocalypse. In addition
to prescribing a highly diversified portfolio heavily invested in
equity instruments, Biggs also advises that his readers buy farms
to which they can retreat when the hammer drops. The hedgie touts
the joys of the natural life, noting that "landowners seem
to find considerable psychic satisfaction just from the knowledge
of possession. There are few things as fulfilling as having drink
[sic] in the sunset and looking at your fields and cows."
perspective seems to owe more to Little
House on the Prairie than to any actual experience on Biggs's
part. Although the author briefly worked as a schoolteacher and
a semiprofessional soccer player, his New York-Yale-Wall Street
career track doesn't seem to have left much time for tilling fields
and milking cows.
Like Food, Medicine, Wine...
But this doesn't
stop Biggs from telling his readers what they need to do in order
to wait out the end of the world: "Your safe haven ... should
be well-stocked with seed, fertilizer, canned food, wine, medicine,
clothes, etc. Think Swiss Family Robinson." He goes on to suggest
that, when the post-apocalyptic hordes attack, the survivalist money
man should shoot first and ask questions later: "A few rounds
over the approaching brigands [sic] heads would probably be a compelling
persuader that there are easier farms to pillage. Brigands tend
to be cowards."
to contemplate Biggsland, where starving gangs of "brigands"
can be frightened away by a shot from his boom stick and precious
food space can be taken up with wine. For that matter, while it
isn't hard to imagine Barton gazing upon his fields and cows, the
image of the soft-palmed money man slopping out stalls or picking
cabbage stretches the imagination.
and Jim Rogers
dark suggestion that wealthy people build rural fortresses, he references
another popular Wall Street touchstone: Ayn Rand's Atlas
Shrugged. Towards the end of the book, as frightened mobs
become feral, one of the "looters" runs away: "'[Chick
Morrison] has a hideout all stocked for himself in Tennessee,' said
Tinky Holloway reflectively, as if he, too, had taken a similar
precaution and was now wondering whether the time had come."
While Wall Street's objectivists don't see themselves as villains,
many seem more than willing to follow the lessons of Rand's demonic
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