Business elites are the most mobile people there are, and they have become especially mobile in recent years. For the truly wealthy, changing countries is at worst a paperwork headache (someone else’s paperwork headache, mostly).
So it’s not a good sign when a country’s business leaders show signs of packing up and heading for the door. They probably aren’t bluffing.
The U.S. isn’t quite there yet, but evidence is mounting that a growing number of America’s wealthiest traders and entrepreneurs are planning for the apocalypse — sometimes literally.
Evidence is mounting that America's business elite are planning for a worst-case scenario, amid concerns about social tensions, climate change and economic uncertainty. (Photo: Getty Images)
According to Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker, many are stocking up on weapons and gold coins. Some are building underground bunkers, and many are buying homes outside the U.S., and ensuring they have their own transportation to leave the country, should crisis come to pass.
“I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system,” the head of an investment firm, who was not identified in the story, told Osnos.
The person is reportedly a member of a private Facebook group where wealthy survivalists “swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change.”
The person added: “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
Steve Huffman, co-founder and chief executive officer of Reddit Inc. told The New Yorker he got laser eye surgery because "if the world ends — and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble — getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass.” Huffman is one of a growing number of America's top business elite who are becoming engaged with survivalism. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
A growing trend
This trend didn’t begin with the Brexit vote or the election of Donald Trump. Many of the world’s wealthy have grown concerned that rising inequality, and/or climate change, is going to cause social unrest.
“I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” former hedge fund manager Robert Johnson said in 2015, as quoted at The Guardian.
“A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
— Unidentified head of an investment firm, as quoted in The New Yorker
Johnson was speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where, a year later, some of the world’s top business leaders argued that the very nature of capitalism needs to be reformed if the world is to avoid a wave of populism.
Already happening in some places
As the world’s wealthy become increasingly mobile, they are also becoming more reactive to circumstances at home.
According to research from New World Wealth, recession-riddled Athens lost nine per cent of all its millionaires to emigration in 2015 alone. (The study defines “millionaire” as someone with a net worth of US$1 million or more, not including their primary home.)
Those who left Athens told the research firm that Greece's economic crisis and an influx of migrants and refugees were behind their decision.
Sunset over the Champs-Elysee and La Defense in Paris. The city lost 6 per cent of its millionaires to emigration in 2015, according to a survey. (Photo: Getty Images)
Meanwhile, Paris lost six per cent of its millionaires in 2015, the year of the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks. Those who left cited rising religious tensions and a lack of opportunity for their decision to leave.
The New World Wealth report calls it a “bad sign” when millionaires emigrate, because they “are often the first people to leave. They have the means to leave, unlike [many] middle-class citizens.”
The report notes that a flight of wealthy out of a country can have serious economic consequences. They take large amounts of money with them, which drags down the country’s currency, stock market and land prices.
There is also job loss, as 30 to 40 per cent of millionaires are business owners, and a “brain drain” as these people tend to be educated and are often innovators.
China has it worst
China's wealthy have been moving cash offshore for years, in an attempt to diversify their investments away from the Chinese yuan. But that outflow of cash has caused the yuan to fall, further convincing the wealthy to get their money (and themselves) offshore.
According to the South China Morning Post, 60 per cent of China's richest people plan to move money offshore and buy a home abroad in the coming years.
Interestingly, their top destinations are Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. So while the U.S. risks losing some of its home-grown elite, it could yet become a second home for China's.