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Apocalypse Now: A Checklist for the Fearful


Financial doomsayers tell how to prepare for the dark future.

It's never been hard to find a small group of Cassandras, so-called "doomers" who see the apocalypse foreshadowed in Mayan calendars, Nostradamus writings, and the Terminator movies. And the last year has given them some glimmer of hope.

Next to them are more reasonable dystopians or collapsitarians: back-to-the-land agricultural types against industrial farming; those who believe in peak oil and the crippling shocks that'll someday arrive in our oil-dependent society. (This is to say little of the peak carbon, peak fish, peak dirt, and, most recently, peak dollars crowds).

Since the collapse of the economy last year, there's been a new category of dystopians: financial professionals. Far from fringe elements, they're economists, hedge fund managers, and urban planners. They see the signs of collapse everywhere: major failures such as General Motors (GMGMQ) and Lehman Brothers; unprecedented intervention by the government and Federal Reserve; taxpayers on the hook for trillions; double-digit unemployment; a bankrupt Iceland; etc.

The list goes on. And taken together, they would've been unimaginable a few years ago. As Nassim Taleb, of Black Swan fame, said in a January New Yorker article titled "The Dystopians," it would be insane not to see how crazy the world really is.

Signs of recovery aside, their long-term argument is simple: The United States is bankrupt. As such, civil unrest -- a result of higher taxes or more bailouts or greater unemployment -- is not far away. Ben Bernanke's recent claim that the recession is probably over is simply empty rhetoric.

I spoke to several financial professionals who feel this way and have already made precautions for when the you-know-what hits the fan. The following is their doomsday checklist. This is not for the faint of heart or observers of green shoots.

1. Rural Property
This is the most important thing on the list. A small hedge fund manager who recently left downtown Chicago for rural Ohio told me you don't want to live in a big city once civil unrest starts. The property must be at least one acre, so that it can be put into production for farming and gardening. Those in the peak oil crowd see a return to agrarian ways when crude runs out.
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