I read an article on Medium recently claiming that the super-rich have such a dim view of the world’s future that they’re building bunkers at an alarming rate.
The author begins by setting a clever image of tycoon George Pullman lying in a lead-lined, concrete-covered vault.
Pop history paints Pullman as a cold, heartless tycoon who was behind one of the most controversial worker strikes in American history. He’s remembered for reducing wages and laying workers off during the financial panic of 1893.
But was he buried in his bunker for fear of disgruntled workers desecrating his grave?
Pullman died four years after the events that tarnished his reputation. Yes, he did fear grave desecration, but long before 1893.
His burial wishes were made decades before and expensively carried out according to his instructions — and the people who did the work were his employees.
How evil a tycoon was he?
He was a humble engineer who developed the country’s first comprehensive sewer system, which quite literally raised beautiful Chicago from a bog.
He designed the Pullman railcar that changed unpopular open-air train travel into a luxurious covered ride.
When he got into the railroad business, he followed the spirit of Lincoln when he offered jobs to freed slaves. The Pullman Company soon became the largest employer of African Americans in the country.
In fact, he used such a sleeper car to transport Lincoln’s body across the country and share the great man with millions who lined the route to pay homage.
Hmm… these don’t sound like the works of a cold-hearted tycoon.
Though accused by some of paying starvation wages, he actually paid the same rate as other industrial systems, but he had to lay people off in the depression as all businesses do.
He also built a planned community that featured housing, shopping areas, churches, theaters, parks, hotel, and library for his factory employees.
The 1300 original structures were entirely designed by Solon Spencer Beman. The centerpiece of the complex was the Administration Building and a manmade lake.
Pullman believed that the country air and fine facilities — without agitators, saloons, and city vice districts — would result in a happy, loyal workforce.
It attracted nationwide attention.
The national press praised Pullman for his benevolence and vision.
According to mortality statistics, it was one of the most healthful places in the world.
A financial panic in 1893 plunged America into depression. Depressions mean shrinkage. Companies that don’t cut their cloth go out of business and it serves no one.
Pullman’s employees went on strike and he refused to meet them even halfway…
And, with that, his image and prestige disappeared.
He was ostracized by his fellow tycoons who thought a man who wouldn’t meet his employees halfway was a “God-damned fool.”
Clearly, history shows he was in the wrong in this event, but it doesn’t eradicate all the good he did.
It’s easy to take up pitchforks against the rich, but it’s a road strewn with, well, just that — pitchforks
I know a few billionaires and they’re all likable. They’re self-made, humble, and philanthropic. And they’ve all made a major impact on how we live and work.
None of the ones that I know have invested in bunkers (unless we include the man-caves that we all have to satisfy the little boy in those of us who are male : ).
I suspect many multi-billionaires don’t have time to think about these things
Interestingly, Forbes’ 35th annual ‘Billionaires’ list revealed there are a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires in the world in 2021. That’s not so many, really, is it?
I seriously doubt, however, they all have bunkers.
I also seriously doubt that they see a world of doom either. I certainly don’t, and I consider myself on my way to joining their ranks.
I see a world of unprecedented opportunity.
Every wealthy person I know views the future with childlike giddiness and wonders at the inventions that will come our way from AI, quantum computing, blockchain technology, and decentralized finance.
Every wealthy person I know spends significant money and time trying to improve the world with things like water treatment plants, solar-powered solutions for hostile places, cures for once incurable diseases (the world I’m mostly in).
This is a new golden age, the great age of transformation with decentralization bringing opportunities to those who previously had none because of where they lived or their position in society.
Bunker building is not just for billionaires
So are bunkers in unprecedented demand?
Are only the wealthy buying bunkers and moving to New Zealand?
Not so much as it turns out…
The best-selling bunkers are $150,000, six hundred square feet… and sell to mostly America’s middle class.
The truth is that bunker builders have been doing their thing since before WWII when bombs first started falling from above (instead of in front).
This is nothing new.
I’m old enough to remember my next-door neighbors building nuclear fallout bunker kits in their back yards in the 1970s. My parents had a wooden shed and, with my father testing the strength of the lock, announced to their three terrified children that it was strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast.
Lots of people are paranoid, not just the wealthy
Unlike the average person, however…
Studies of the habits of the wealthy show conclusively that they don’t spend their time watching non-stop TV depicting mass shootings, fires, floods or other sensationalized coverage.
No. They watch none of this stuff.
The wealthy do things differently
Most shun the media because it’s not a source for the truth.
They switch off the doomsday headlines and do something creative — which means jobs, houses, security for others.
The wealthy spend on average more than 4 hours a day reading quality material… we don’t waste our lives watching doomsday headlines.
I went to a state school. Like more than 3/4 of billionaires, I got no handouts. My mother died of cancer. My father was permanently unemployable. I scrambled. I created. I crawled out of my quicksand.
And here’s the thing about that…
There will always be people (they often like to write articles bashing the wealthy) in the world trying to call you back like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey.
“Come back into the quicksand,” they sing enchantingly.
These are the people who complain and vent and gather to one day pitchfork the super-rich because, well, because they’re not super-rich.
They prefer wallowing in the quicksand complaining than actually creating a better world.
At the end of the day, we might all do well to do a deep dive and ask ourselves honestly
Would it be a better world without Bill Gates Windows or Musk’s Tesla?
How about Pullman’s rail cars or Carnegie’s steel?
Would we really prefer mud huts and walking the 20 miles, instead?
A version of this blog post has also been published on Medium.com