Wednesday 25 January 2017

The Kiwi Option

If a silo in Kansas is not remote or private enough, there is another option. In the first seven days after Donald Trump’s election, 13,401 Americans registered with New Zealand’s immigration authorities, the first official step toward seeking residency—more than seventeen times the usual rate. The New Zealand Herald reported the surge beneath the headline “trump apocalypse.”

In fact, the influx had begun well before Trump’s victory. In the first ten months of 2016, foreigners bought nearly fourteen hundred square miles of land in New Zealand, more than quadruple what they bought in the same period the previous year, according to the government. American buyers were second only to Australians. The U.S. government does not keep a tally of Americans who own second or third homes overseas. Much as Switzerland once drew Americans with the promise of secrecy, and Uruguay tempted them with private banks, New Zealand offers security and distance. In the past six years, nearly a thousand foreigners have acquired residency there under programs that mandate certain types of investment of at least a million dollars.

Jack Matthews, an American who is the chairman of MediaWorks, a large New Zealand broadcaster, told me, “I think, in the back of people’s minds, frankly, is that, if the world really goes to shit, New Zealand is a First World country, completely self-sufficient, if necessary—energy, water, food. Life would deteriorate, but it would not collapse.” As someone who views American politics from a distance, he said, “The difference between New Zealand and the U.S., to a large extent, is that people who disagree with each other can still talk to each other about it here. It’s a tiny little place, and there’s no anonymity. People have to actually have a degree of civility.”
New Zealand could be an important part of any billionaire's apocalypse insurance portfolio, but they shouldn't put too many eggs in one basket.

If there were a zombie apocalypse that started anywhere other than New Zealand, it's hard to imagine a safer place to hide out than New Zealand. Zombies wouldn't be able to cross the oceans to get here. We'd probably need to have the coast guard watching out for derelict zombie ships running aground here, but that would be about it. Under most standard zombie scenarios anyway.

If they're worried about nuclear war, New Zealand won't be on anybody's 'let's bomb these jerks first' list, although it could be a useful demonstration project that might not draw retaliation in the same way that bombing other places might. North Korea could demonstrate their ability to hit the US by hitting us, and it's plausible that nobody would hit them back for it. Pretty low likelihood though. But if there were anything big, we'd be doomed by the ice age that followed. Maybe some folks in Rotorua would make it through, with greenhouses powered by pipes going down into the volcano.

For other apocalypses, your best defence is to be in a really wealthy place. Not just 'per capita' wealthy: New Zealand does well on 'per capita' wealthy. But rather substantial masses of resources ready to be thrown at bad things. A California earthquake, when it comes, will be terrible - but it's a rich state in a rich country. It'll sort. If an Auckland volcano blew, that would be distinctly not good. And while small places on the fringe of the world are great bolt-holes against terrorism, they're not so hot if the entire international trade apparatus falls over in a new round of nationalist protectionism. Bigger places can do near-autarky better than smaller places.

But it will be great for New Zealand to have some of these folks make the place home. Peter Thiel now has a New Zealand bolt-hole (he's been a fan for a while); I wonder what it'll do for New Zealand tech startups access to venture capital. Most of NZ Twitter (and Toby Manhire) doesn't seem impressed that Thiel's been granted citizenship; I think it's awesome. He's one of the world's most interesting people. You don't have to agree with somebody on every issue to think that it's excellent that he's moved here. And his early backing of Seasteading is particularly awesome.

Here's Tyler Cowen's talk with Thiel from a couple years ago.

HT on the New Yorker piece: Tricia Wood


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