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Economics for a Fried Planet


How to turn the climate collapse into retirement bliss

In this financial freedom update, I’d like to tackle the question of your optimal retirement lifestyle. Over the next decade, the failure to engage in real emissions reductions will contribute to cascading, horrific effects on the natural environment. In theory, we have about twelve years to get things right before the whole biosphere falls apart.

You and I can look at the news and know that’s not happening, which is why you’ve already got yourself a stockpile of the basics: a small gasoline tanker; a few surplus Army jeeps; shelf-stable food; an arsenal; some sturdy motor homes. You’ve probably already identified neighbors and friends who can play roles in your gang, whether as medics or cooks, and you’ve come up with your Power Arguments about why they need to obey you. But I’ve got some extra tips and tricks that can stretch your budget even further.

First off, drop the idea that you’ll be able to carve out an idyllic future in some remote location, blissfully unaware of the collapse of civilization. Trade is a timeless feature of human life, and you’ll need connections with other survivors to fill the gaps in your resources. Beyond that, your compound of a few dozen needs to get out there and meet other people. Total isolation for decades would drive you insane, and that’s costly. It would be a miracle if your enclave didn’t turn into a sex cult or descend into murderous feuds.

But don’t take this need for socializing too far by merging your party with one of the warlord’s. With allegiance comes debt, and with debt comes a loss of independence. Your consumer credit score won’t transfer over to the climate apocalypse. Warlords expect you to produce—they want plunder from raiding, and they won’t accept coming up short. They’ll take your vehicles and your compound, and that will be that. And do you really trust the warlords? Even the guy who was a health insurance executive and now carries two AK-47s? Get real. The only “payment plan” that guy understands is digging trenches until you collapse. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to borrow from the warlords.

Instead, find something you’re good at and do it well. Do it so well that other people come to you. That’ll be your competitive advantage. Maybe it’s a rudimentary water filtration system, or a hydroponic garden. Think of a niche that allows you to trade with others on your own terms. Then you can move up the value chain—diversify your compound with a real division of labor. Don’t fall for the old Robinson Crusoe story about trying to do all the work by yourself. You’re a manager, now, and you’ve got to match talents to needs.

Really, we’re talking about incentives. Incentives teach your gang members how you want them to behave on the compound. Remember your Chomsky: you need to manufacture consent. Your intellectual hold over your gang members is just as important as your mastery of handheld weapons. The warlords will use brute force, but that’s a poor motivator for the long term.

A best practice is to let your people keep a share of what they produce for the collective. Giving your gang members a stake in production—as well as ranks and special awards—helps them learn that you want them around. If you filter water, make sure your gang gets first dibs on a drink before you sell off any remainder to the warlords. If you make weapons out of salvaged metal, give your gang the best pieces before heading down to the market point. Respect is a form of social capital you should cultivate.

After production comes consumption. Map your resources and chart out a sustainable path for your community. Sound easy? Well, think about why you’re on the compound in the first place: sustainability is easier said than done. Take extra care to impose a rational plan for using up your limited resources, however “too little, too late” it might seem.

The best tip I can give is to steel yourself for a mean new world. There’s no ethical consumption in a climate apocalypse. Your individual behavior, like exiling a gang member that steals from you, will often feel at odds with the norms of justice. That’s okay. Think like an economist and you’ll be all right.

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