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.
"post-petroleum" communities. The participants tend to be foodies, recyclers, beekeepers, and composters gripped with a sense that we have to kick the oil addiction soon, or perish.
A similar sense of urgency has taken hold among well-off boomers who live in SUV country. People in Facebook groups like "Suburban Survivalism" are discussing personal freedom, firearms, primitive wilderness skills. Forget Waco: The word "survivalist" now describes your aunt and uncle in Hingham who’ve just bought a 50-pound bag of millet and are nagging you to turn your IRA into silver coins.
Even the Martensons’ three kids – Erica, 16; Simon, 12; and Grace, 10 – are converts. Martenson tells me about the time the children received some bank stock as a gift from a family member. When the first dividend checks came in the mail, Martenson explained that each now owned a stake in a bank.
"What if the bank goes bankrupt?" Erica said. Simon said, "I don’t want paper, I want silver." Grace said, "I want silver, too." The kids all switched their investments to precious metals.
When I ask Martenson about the location of his own stash, he says that it’s in a bank deposit box. It’s clearly a faux pas to ask a man where he keeps his gold.
Yet he doesn’t mind talking about his faith in the commodity. Gold has been traded for 6,000 years, he says, and "if certain things happen, it becomes much more valuable." In a global monetary crisis, "the dollar will break or the euro will break. In those scenarios, I don’t know how to preserve wealth except to be out of the game." Gold could be swapped for useful things, he says.
Other Americans apparently feel the same way, because the gold market has been soaring, so much so that financier George Soros (who himself has been buying gold) has predicted that it could become the next bubble. Yet you won’t find many, or possibly any, economists who agree that it’s a safe haven, a kind of "battery for wealth," as the Martensons believe. Gold is simply a commodity that, like anything else, can become wildly overvalued, says Wellesley College economics professor Eric Hilt, who dismisses Martenson’s fears of hyperinflation and scoffs at the idea of stockpiling precious metals: "The current financial crisis, along with the measures taken to bring it under control, have spawned conspiracy theories along with predictions of economic cataclysm."
There is also the environmental and human cost of a bullion market: cratered mountainsides, poisoned rivers, and crippled miners in places like Ghana and Chile. According to one watchdog group, the amount of gold in a single wedding ring creates 20 tons of mine waste.
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