The End is Near Inc.
Chris Martenson quit corporate America to craft an unusual life of financial readiness — in case the economy really implodes — and now thousands of Internet followers are buying the message. Literally.
with the words, "I’m a trained research scientist, and a former Fortune 300 VP. Most importantly, though, I’m a concerned citizen." There, he at first seems to be just another brainiac, one who illustrates his theories with audio-visual aids of doom. At home in Montague, the man behind the movement dresses not very differently, in khakis and a button-down shirt, like an executive on a long vacation – only this vacation involves mulch, apple saplings, and home-schooling his three children. With his soft face and rimless glasses, he’s the last guy you’d expect to be prepared for a Mad Max future.
It’s a strange moment in America when the insiders – the very men who rule the world – are building bunkers. Martenson is aware of the paradox. "These are wealthy people who seemingly are in complete control of their lives and destiny," he says. "But they feel they’re on the outside now."
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In their old life, the Martensons lived in a 4,000-square-foot house on the waterfront in Mystic, Connecticut. The kids roamed through sea puddles and inhaled wild wind. Chris and Becca chose Mystic because they loved its gleaming inlets, and because they could afford it.
But in 2003, with the country going to war with Iraq, Martenson felt queasy. His lavish neighborhood – where automatic sprinklers dripped diamonds onto lawns – began to seem like a movie set. At cocktail parties, everyone buzzed about buying condos in Florida. And yet the U.S. had entered a war that would cost billions, even trillions, of dollars. On weekends, Martenson spent hours spelunking through websites as he studied monetary policy and the Federal Reserve. He started to feel as if he could peer through the facades of McMansions to the ugly lurking mortgages. He scrawled "Read this" on economic papers and left them on Becca’s pillow.
"Chris was really angry," she says. "He was ranting a lot." She had no time to read about the Fed. "I was changing diapers and nursing babies. I was full of young children." But finally, she plowed through the literature and soon felt that she, too, had X-ray vision.
"I was looking at the wealth around us, starting to understand what that wealth was made of," she says. "I started thinking, How much do those wealthy neighbors have as debt?"
This is what Chris Martenson calls their "heavy" period. He compares his state of mind back then to that of a man who had just survived a heart attack. "This is not a dress rehearsal," he told himself. If they were to live more simply, he realized, he would have to quit his job as vice president of the life sciences division of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a Fortune 500 R&D company headquartered outside Washington, DC (the position paid $250,000 a year, but required him to spend half his week in airports and hotels).