A doomsday plan is hatched in Silicon Valley

September 6, 2018

Years of doomsday talk at Silicon Valley dinner parties has turned to action. Seven Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have purchased huge steel underground bunkers from Texas-based Rising S. within the past couple of years and planted them in New Zealand At the first sign of an apocalypse — nuclear war, a killer germ, a French Revolution-style uprising targeting the 1 percent — the tech giants plan to hop on a private jet and hunker down, according to a September 5 report by Bloomberg.

“New Zealand is an enemy of no one,” Gary Lynch, the manufacturer’s general manager, told Bloomberg in a recent interview from his office in Murchison, southeast of Dallas. “It’s not a nuclear target. It’s not a target for war. It’s a place where people seek refuge.”

The isolated island nation, located 2,500 miles south of Australia, has a population of nearly 5 million (4.8 million) people—and six times as many sheep. It has a reputation for natural beauty and not much else, which makes it the perfect place to disappear. The nation allows emigres to essentially buy residency through investor visas, and rich Americans have poured a fortune into the country, often by acquiring palatial estates.

Indeed, the news outlet reports, the Investor Plus Visa, which requires a minimum investment of NZD$10 million ($6.7 million) over three years, attracted 17 U.S. applicants during fiscal 2017, after President Donald Trump’s election. Previously, it averaged six applicants a year.

Billionaire hedge-fund honcho Julian Robertson owns a lodge overlooking Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, the South Island’s luxury resort destination. Fidelity National Financial Chairman William P.Foley III has a homestead in the Wairarapa region, north of Wellington, and Hollywood director James Cameron bought a mansion nearby at Lake Pounui.

More than ten Americans from the West Coast have bought multimillion-dollar properties in the Queenstown region in the past two years, said Mark Harris, managing director of the local Sotheby’s real estate office.

“It’s become one of the places for people in Silicon Valley, mostly because it’s not like Silicon Valley at all,” said Reggie Luedtke, an American biomedical engineer who’s moving to New Zealand in October for the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship, a program created to lure tech innovators.

Luedtke, 37, told Bloomberg’s Olivia Carville that people in California have asked him if he’s relocating as part of a doomsday contingency plan, because “that’s what the country is known for.”

“It’s known as the last bus stop on the planet before you hit Antarctica,” former Prime Minister John Key told Carville in a phone interview. “I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they would like to own a property in New Zealand if the world goes to hell in a handbasket.”

But now, the remote nation may be pushing back on the sudden influx of anxious Americans. In August, partly in response to Americans gobbling up swaths of prime real estate, New Zealand’s government banned foreigners from buying homes, with the restrictions set to take effect in coming months. Legislators are trying to keep New Zealand real estate affordable for its own population.

Indeed, as early as October 2017, current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden told Bloomberg, “Foreign speculators will no longer be able to buy houses in New Zealand from early next year. We are determined to make it easier for Kiwis to buy their first home, so we are stopping foreign speculators buying houses and driving up prices. Kiwis should not be outbid like this.”

But will those who go underground also be affected? Better to be “sight unseen” is their philosophy.

For their part, the New Zealand locals find this both crazy and amusing, but the former PM thinks that the tech flight might be a good idea: “We live in a world where some people have extraordinary amounts of wealth and there comes a point at which, when you have so much money, allocating a very tiny amount of that for ‘Plan B’ is not as crazy as it sounds.”

Robert Vicino, founder of the Vivos Project, a builder of massive underground bunkers, told Bloomberg that Silicon Valley elites discussed detailed plans to flee to New Zealand last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He said they foresaw “a revolution or a change where society is going to go after the 1 percenters.” In other words, them.

New Zealand isn’t the best solution, he said, because a tsunami caused by an asteroid strike in the Pacific could submerge the island’s highest point. But Vicino is a businessman, and demand dictates he get to work on a bunker on the northern tip of the South Island that would accommodate about 300 people. The price: $35,000 a head.

That’s a bargain compared with the most expensive bunker Lynch’s Rising S has shipped to New Zealand — $8 million, according to Bloomberg.

It takes about two weeks to excavate the land and bury the average bunker. It’s all done very discreetly, so local residents aren’t aware. Once installed, passersby would have no way of knowing it’s there. And that’s just fine with the Americans.

Research contact: @livcarville

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