Apocalyptic Economics: Whether Zombies or Rapture, Be Prepared

Just in time for the Rapture this week, the U.S. Center for Disease Control has released an important new emergency preparedness and response bulletin. It's titled: "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." In it, the CDC explains what actions Americans should take to get ready for a zombie attack. It also assures the public that the government is ready to deal with this civilization-threatening problem if and when it arises. But the bulletin does not discuss the economic side of apocalypse. Since doomsday may come this very weekend, now is the time to prepare from all angles. What will happen to money and commerce?

Before getting into the business side of the apocalypse scenario, it's worth first highlighting some if the tips provided by the CDC for when the zombie apocalypse strikes. Here's one of the government agency's important tips:

Once you've made your emergency kit, you should sit down with your family and come up with an emergency plan. This includes where you would go and who you would call if zombies started appearing outside your door step. You can also implement this plan if there is a flood, earthquake, or other emergency.

And in particular:

Plan your evacuation route. When zombies are hungry they won't stop until they get food (i.e., brains), which means you need to get out of town fast! Plan where you would go and multiple routes you would take ahead of time so that the flesh eaters don't have a chance! This is also helpful when natural disasters strike and you have to take shelter fast.

This is all good, solid advice from the CDC. But they don't get into commerce. Here are a few additional tips that I would add, whether it's Zombies, another Noah's Ark-type flood, the sun exploding, the Second Coming, or any other end of days-inducing disaster:

  • Empty your bank account immediately. When people realize that the end of the world is near, they'll want to live their last hours to the fullest. This will cause a run on banks. Since they won't have enough deposits to satisfy all customers, those who get their too late will just be out of luck. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation's response will not come before the human race is extinct.
  • Max out your credit cards. Your credit history might matter a lot as long as life continues, but if there is no future, then you don't have to worry about your credit score or bill collectors. Doing this early will help here as well. As soon as banks hear that the end of the world may be near, they'll begin cutting credit limits to prevent exactly this sort of behavior. 
  • Barter for any goods and services you intend to purchase. As people begin to loot, merchants will likely be happy to get anything for their products. That means deep discounts will be available. 
  • In fact, spend all of your money. Some sellers may try to take advantage of consumers as scarcity arises, but don't feel too bad about spending too much on an item: remember, money won't mean much after the world has ended. The wisest people will die penniless. 
  • Spend your money to prioritize happiness while you're still here. That probably means you should use your money for instant gratification. Often, this means paying for experiences instead of material objects. Experiences often produce more happiness immediately than objects. So fly to Florida to visit your parents, see the pyramids, or eat an authentic Neapolitan pizza. That new Rolex will only look good on your wrist for a short time.
  • Be prepared to defend what's yours. Property laws will likely begin to break down as soon as people realize that the world is ending. Moreover, the police force will become unreliable, as the few that continue to show up for work will be overwhelmed by looters. So you will likely have to take responsibility for the security of your belongings. 
  • Donate a significant portion of money to your religion of choice. If you turn out to be right about God, and there is an afterlife, then that donation could pay dividends.

As apocalypse nears, the regular laws of economics will break down, because people will no longer act rationally. Instead, they will act obsessively, putting specific important personal priorities above all else. The key to dealing with this sort of market is to have as much flexibility as possible. That means have lots of liquid cash resources. And remember, if a zombie suddenly sneaks up on you and takes a bite out of your head, it will all be over. So spend it while you've got it.

Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.

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