Friday, 2 October 2009

Post PE Insurance

Getting a liferaft up and running is a big job. It takes a lot of time, energy and resources, it involves a massive commitment and great changes. It's something that's obviously not for everyone, for a start there are many out there who don't really believe that this great edifice we've created, civilisation, will do anything but continue on it's merry way, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The belief in the magic of science, so often discussed in the pages of the Archdruid Report, soothes people's anxiety and allows them to continue on in the day to day drudgery of modern life.

One only needs to take a look over at Factor e Farm to see how hard it can be to get lifestyle changing enterprises off the ground. They solicit funding for their work in designing replicable technology that will hopefully assist people on the downslope of the resource consumption curve, and they have a job getting enough to do the work.

When it comes to less world-changing enterprises it's even more difficult. Most liferafts aren't intended for general consumption, the public perception is that you're looking after yourself and your family, and that you are operating from a defensive position against all of the consumers "out there".

As I've stated before, my vision is for a different kind of liferaft, one that is actually the seed for a future community.

Obviously if you are floating in the sea on a plank of wood after a maritime disaster you cannot fit all of the passengers onto your one piece of wood, but within reason a person would help as many as possible to survive. Sure, tough decisions would need to be made, but it's also obvious that selfishness inevitably leads to self destruction.

So it occurred to me this morning that perhaps there is a way forward for "liferafters" who share a similar train of thought, and who are resource constrained and feeling pressed for time. Liferafters are preparing for the worst, and the various shades between that and the best. They are unique in society in that they have the strength of conviction and belief in their understanding of the world situation sufficient to actually make changes to the way they live. The majority of people do not fall into this small demographic slice of pie.

No doubt we all have friends, family and acquaintances who, whilst concerned, do not share the same level of conviction, or the same feeling of impending doom. They are basically betting that things will continue on the way they are, at least for their lifetime.

Then there are those who are more serious, but are weighed down by the fact that in order to survive today they must exist within current society, must hold down jobs and work for a living. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can hold down a job and work on out liferaft from a suitable location (I try to thank my lucky stars as often as possible!)

So what's a citysider, who seriously believes that we are headed downhill, to do?

Enter Post PE (Peak Everything) Insurance.

Now, without a doubt, most of us are generous enough that when the chips are down we will take in any friends and family that straggle in from the cold. The only problem with this approach is that the resources on the liferaft would then be strained in proportion to the number expecting succour, and so everyone's chances of survival are reduced. What if there was a way that our city dwelling friends and family could contribute to the day-to-day development of their future salvation?

As we all know, insurance is a means to bet on the prospect of future disaster. What greater disaster do we face than the decline of civilisation?

If our city brethren were to enter into an agreement with a country liferafter whereby they contribute a small amount on a monthly basis as insurance against future problems, they would be covering themselves against disaster. This contribution would facilitate the advancement and preparation of the raft at an increased pace and level. I'm dubious about the potential for people to be able to sell off their city homes in times of crisis and buy into intentional communities at the last minute. Once the crisis hits such courses of action will be mostly unavailable. This offers a backup plan for those hoping to one day escape the rat race for their own piece of paradise.

Obviously there are a range of technical issues. For a start, what are they guaranteed to get on policy payout day? How is the trigger of the policy defined? How much should be charged, and what happens if they have a change of heart? What happens if they make it onto their own raft? What happens if they cannot make it to their chosen destination? What if you decide to pack up and leave the ranch prior to collapse?

The idea is in it's formative stages, but some of the following ideas may be headed in the right direction.

What do they get?

The most basic answer would be survival. Food, water and shelter. Any good liferaft will have systems in place for this, so the insuree would be guaranteed a share of these resources upon arrival. Shelter may be the most problematic, but a simple solution would be for the raft manager to keep a collection of tents, one for each family subscribed. Some form of communal housing might be more appropriate if the subscribers are generating a sufficient inflow of resources. In a crunch many peoples of the world pack more than three or four individuals into a single room, much less a three or four bedroom house...

Once the policy holders start to trickle in the labour force on the raft is increased, so work on more substantial accommodation can begin. Of course pre-prepared dwellings would be the ideal, but most councils currently frown upon starting new villages on farmland unless the landowner is willing to jump through hoops ad nauseum and sign away their soul and that of their children 7 generations hence. Once any form of disruptive collapse begins, sufficient to trigger the policy, then it would also be anticipated (perhaps too optimistically) that governing power's grip on our lives would be relaxed a little through simple inability to police such matters in more remote regions.

How is the policy triggered?

Given that there are already portions of society who have lost their homes thanks to the current economic downturn, it's quite conceivable that the week after next someone from your group of policy holders could face hardship to the extent that they need a place to stay. I would say that in the end it will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, and will depend on the stage of development of the property, the current regulatory environment, and personal willingness. I'm guessing that if you're the kind of liferafter who is willing to consider such a plan in the first place then you would be thankful for a few extra hands working around the place anyway, if some early dispossessed turn up on the doorstep.

Once there is any major disruption to food, water or similar resources, then we're going to see the majority of policy holders turn up ready for work.

What to Charge and a Change Of Heart?

Latter first, the simple answer would be to treat it the same as any normal insurance. If you opt out, you get nothing back. Insurance is a bet on the future, not a normal investment. This would need to be made clear from the start. In this way it provides certainty of title to the liferafter who may otherwise be concerned over partners opting out early in the piece to take a Caribbean cruise for instance, but does not rule out future arrangements in that regard as times get tougher.

The goal would be to set premiums at a level that the person paying them feels the same as they would about normal insurance. Charging enough that the person would be better paying off a mortgage on their own block of land will not really be conducive to success in achieving your policy signing targets.

On the other hand you obviously don't want to charge so little that you cannot achieve anything useful with the incoming funds. $5 a month will get a lot of subscribers, but it's not going to go anywhere toward setting up infrastructure to support that mass of people if they all turn up in a year's time.

There is a very good chance that your policy holders will be friends and family, so the idea would be to set the rates at mutually agreed and acceptable levels. After all, you are entering into an agreement designed to benefit both parties. They should understand the need for the investment, that the better you fare in preparing the place, they better chance they will have if things turn out badly. This must be balanced by the depth of their belief in what is approaching. If they don't see the value, they're not going to pay a cent, but then I doubt you'll be discussing this with them in the first place.

You could also offer other benefits to go along with the policy subscription. Perhaps an annual camping trip or farmstay, or a permanent camping spot for whenever they feel like getting away. Depending on how close they are you could even share the products of the farm, half a lamb now and then, box of veges fortnightly, you get the idea. Insurance with a CSA box drop as a sideline, better than a homeloan with a holiday thrown in!

It would also be good to consider having working bees with all policy holders so they can get to know one another (if they don't already) and so they can provide a bit of extra labour towards some of those larger projects, or the ones you normally wouldn't bother with if not for the festive atmosphere a working bee generates. It would be important to make sure they feel included in the development of the liferaft, and get plenty of chances to check on their future.

You would need to be clear about how much input they could expect to have before policy payout. If it's going to be a dictatorship, let them know from the start. In most cases I'm pretty certain they'd be willing to accept that you're running the show, at least until everyone makes use of the policy, when different arrangements would most certainly need to be made. And I'm equally certain that if they had a particular fondness for Cornish Aromatic apples you're not going to object to them planning ahead and planting a couple of trees in the corner of the orchard.

What happens if they make it onto their own raft?

This is another that can be answered by saying "it's insurance, not an investment", but once again that would be simplistic given we are talking about people we have some care for. This one does have a relatively simple answer though, so long as they make it onto a liferaft within reasonable geographical proximity.

Part of maintaining a seed style liferaft is building up a stock of organic materials that can be used as a seed to set up other people. There's nothing to say those people have to be right next door, so the obvious solution would be to guarantee a good stock of starter plants and livestock to anyone that has invested and ends up going out on their own.

In addition to that, one would hope that over the course of their insurance policy they've made a number of visits to your liferaft to pick up valuable practical skills they wouldn't have a chance to learn otherwise. In this way the policy can also be considered an educational subscription that has prepared them for their own adventure, all for a low subscription price with a free set of (hand forged) steak knives!

What if they can't make it?

We have no idea how things will turn out, and as always there are no guarantees. Perhaps it would be useful to formulate a plan to collect policy holders in the event of massive societal disruption. A number of plans might need to be put in place for various scenarios. A city locked down by the government to prevent unrest during times of food rationing is a different kettle of fish to one shut down by fuel shortages. The key here is communication, staying in touch with one another, knowing plans and sticking to them as best as possible. Further to that, knowing that if a person needs to deviate from the plans, that deviation will be along a predictable path so that there is a chance of meeting up is important. Arrange message hiding places, set CB frequencies in advance etc. In a nutshell, be prepared, but be prepared to be adaptive.

Most important of all, make sure they know you're going to help them out. I cannot imagine anything worse than sitting in the midst of a city gone mad, after investing hard earned money in salvation, thinking you'd been left adrift.

What if you decide to pack up and leave, before crunch time?

This one is a bit more difficult. We don't usually appreciate it when the insurance company holding our policy collapses and goes out of business, leaving us in the lurch. This will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, but I'd imagine some sort of reimbursement from the proceeds of the sale of the liferaft, if alternative arrangements cannot be made. After all, the property will have been improved in some measure by their inputs (combined with your own hard work, of course), so perhaps arrive at a mutually agreed termination figure to cover this eventuality. Remember, one day you might be knocking on their door for help...

If they put in $100 a month, then by the end of 5 years they will have contributed the princely sum of $6000. If you have 10 families subscribing, that's $60,000. As long as you haven't wasted that money you might realise at least 30% of it in asset-type improvement in value, or mortgages paid down, so could consequently offer that back. Remember, it's not about making a profit, it's about improving everyone's prospects.

In Conclusion, In Collusion

I'm sure there are many more issues to explore with this idea, but in it's initial form it offers a number of advantages to the socially isolated liferafter who has remote accomplices who are not ready to bail out on modern society. It's not quite an intentional community, and it's nothing like doing nothing at all. It's a way for those who really are concerned to make some concrete efforts to help save themselves. As mentioned before, you'd probably take them in anyway, but perhaps they will see some value in entering into such an agreement. For those that don't bother and rely on turning up when things turn sour, well, ultimately, you get to decide who does which job... be creative in your choices...

Conditions "out there" are getting more troubled. We might not have ten or fifteen years to get a place up and running, so added streams of resources would accelerate development and improve survivability for all involved. It's a win-win situation for those who are seriously concerned.

You're not going to take this idea to all of your friends and family, but if you're anything like us, you know a few firm believers who are just not in a position to make the move, so they may leap at the chance to make some concrete arrangements without having to give up everything they've got and head out bush.

I'd also advise only discussing it and entering into agreements with those who possess that inner certainty about our destination. None of us need legal battles or family fractures on the eve of societal decline, things that might arise by taking on people who don't truly appreciate the full spectrum of issues and potential futures. At the very least make sure they're willing to write off the loss...

Comments? Further issues? Extra ideas? All welcomed!!


Anonymous said...


I went through very much the same thing when identifying temporary lifeboats for a serious global pandemic. You can see this section of my book at;

Some places have already been through the liferaft shares business and have worked out charters and how life will be run afterwards;
(can't put my finger on it right now)


Geoff said...

Hi Will,

Thanks for those pages, great stuff. Did you put that whole site together? It's very impressive!

Let me know if you do put your finger on it. As things get worse over the coming years these issues will need to be revisited often, and it'd be great to have a collection of alternate approaches for people to consider, along with pros and cons.