MONTAGUE, Mass. – Chris Martenson is not your average prepper industry business owner.
For starters, Martenson is not focused on the world of bug out bags, firearms and food storage. Instead, he spends his time thinking, and writing, about derivatives, macro economics, energy composition, the environment and personal development.
More importantly, he isn’t really selling anything either. His business is information, and he is someone all preppers need to pay attention to. In fact, he may be the Survival Industry’s most prominent predictor of The End Of The World As We Know It.
As founder of Peak Prosperity, and the author of two books – “The Crash Course” and “Prosper” – Martenson, along with his business partner Adam Taggart, spend their time using the website to offer a unique view that survivalists can’t get anywhere else.
He is primarily an economic researcher, and a data junky that forecasts trends.
He spent many years working as a vice president for Fortune 300 companies like SAIC and Pfizer. But in 2005, when he figured out that the financial system works in ways they don’t teach in business school, he got worried.
That’s when he launched his first blog, that led to ChrisMartenson.com, and started writing about the problems he saw in the housing market. What followed is now the stuff of books and movies like “The Big Short” which chronicled the end of the housing bubble and the start of the 2008 worldwide economic collapse.
It’s information that comes at you from a 30,000 foot level that sometimes seems more appropriate for a board of directors meeting than a prepper website. And that’s what makes it critical to any reading list.
Unlike many of the “experts” that trouble millions of people by speculating as to why doomsday scenarios may happen and what the results may be, Martenson chases data. He doesn’t deal in hypotheticals.
“I don’t do that shit,” he said, harkening back to his days as a scientific researcher. “Once you stray into the ‘why’s’ instead of the ‘what’s,’ you’re either right or wrong, and you’ve lost people. So I think that is part of our success. We’ve been careful about letting the information we present tell the story on its own.”
But don’t be confused. Martenson’s website doesn’t offer some version of an economic Drudge Report. He digs, he verifies, he pulls in other accomplished contributors, and he presents a full data-driven picture with a 360 degree view of the world that helps readers understand what makes our systems succeed or fail.
Yes, he is studying the financial markets because if anything big breaks, he’ll see it in the financial data. He looks at stocks, bonds, gold and paper currencies. He also reviews the usual news aggregators like Zero Hedge and Reddit, but he often indulges his eclectic taste with sites like Fark.
“Finding what’s happening next in this complex system requires a really broad view,” he said.
As one might expect, his diligence and devotion to data is getting noticed. He is regularly invited to speak at large gatherings of the world’s wealthiest people where he attempts to convince them of the problems facing our current financial system. And viewers of national news programs will recognize Martenson in a Lear Capital commercial where he is a subject in the advertisement, though his office makes it clear that he is not a spokesman or representative of the company.
Of course, getting to this point was not easy. As an executive for major corporations, the idea of convincing his family to leave the suburbs, the big house and the pool, to become a homesteader, and homeschooler for their three children, was a real challenge.
Approaching Becca, his wife of 20 years, took patience. He could not get her on board if he let the fear he had developed about the world’s systems control his approach. You have to match energies, he said. If you approach someone in a frantic way, and they aren’t scared, they’ll recoil.
Over time, she learned what he learned, and their vision of the troubled world was shared. Now, years later, they’re living in western Massachusetts. Becca manages the kids’ homeschooling, and she serves on the board of the Vermont Wilderness School often teaching people to make positive change in their lives.
And outside his home office, Martenson can look at his huge vegetable garden, and bee hives, and revel in his resiliency.
Paratus Business News: I want to start with politics. We just ended an excruciatingly long presidential campaign season, and yet emotions are running high. I think everyone is still looking through that political prism. Anyone reading the Peak Prosperity newsletter, “The Crash Course” or “Prosper” books, or listening to your “Off The Cuff” podcasts will figure out quickly that politically you don’t fit the mold. You champion ideas that work for Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, a little bit of Bernie and other political ideals. So, what are you? A Republican, a Democrat, a hybrid?
Chris Martenson: You won’t be able to pin me down politically. That’s part reality and part strategy. I have a very broad message I’m trying to reach people with, which is not ecumenical. It’s nondenominational, it’s not partisan. And I feel that if I reveal an overly partisan stance, it would work at cross-purposes to my efforts to reach people.
I’m really proud of the fact that we have over 1,200 websites who link in to Peak Prosperity. “The Crash Course” has drawn them in, and they’re ideologically from all over every religious and political map. Each party, individual, or group organization is able to say, “I see the same thing that he’s talking about, and I can use that to talk to my people about things that are important.” The larger data of what’s happening here is going to be very hard to pin down politically.
This thing that just happened (the election) is very divisive, but everybody has been talking about it from the wrong way. They’re view doesn’t make sense to me. This isn’t about misogyny, racism, or all this other stuff. You look at the map of what just happened on a county-by-county basis, and basically it was rural people versus urban people. Period. The rural way of life has been under assault for a very long time. It’s not, “we’re going to shove gay marriage down your throat.” I mean economically under assault.
(With current) free trade policies, we’re going to let China compete with us, but (American businesses) still have to live under all the rules that Washington is going to pass. You have to follow environmental regulations, disabilities act regulations and hiring discrimination, etc. To be a business owner in this country, there is this mountain of regulatory things that you have to climb over. And hey that’s fine, we made that decision. We all agreed those are good rules to have. But you can’t say, we have to follow all of those rules, and then we’re going to level the playing field so you have to compete with people from China who have none of those rules.
When that fails and the factory closes down, we wag our fingers at the rural people and say “Y’all are just not skilled enough for the modern workforce. Shame on you.”
Oooh, that’s anger making, right?
I look at all of these big trends, and I look at everything that’s transpiring, and I say we have a series of predicaments here that neither party is addressing well. So, I do find fragments of what Bernie said, and fragments of what Libertarians say. And Republicans and Democrats both have their heads up their asses. (laughing) So there are things happening here that we need to address that very few people are willing to talk about, but those pressures are coming.
And with these things that are happening, when they finally break, they are going to really be extraordinarily destructive. They are going to really upend this country in a very big way. And the extent to which people don’t have the context to understand what’s happening defines the extent to which they will be easily manipulated emotionally, overly distraught and unable to function well when things don’t go their way.
I’m all about the context. That’s why you’ll find I am a grab bag of political positions. If somebody makes sense, I like ‘em. I find people making sense here and there. But no party has a block on that. There are dumb asses all over the place.
So really instead of Left versus Right, or whatever horizontal spectrum you can find, I’m organizing and finding people who are on an up-down spectrum. I hate to put it this way, but it’s like if Left Right is going horizontally, it’s almost like Right Wrong is going up down. And there are really wrong ideas out there now. And there are much better ideas that fit with the reality of the world we’re in right now.
PBN: So who did you vote for? Trump or Hillary?
CM: I did vote, but I can’t say. Nope that would be at cross-purposes with the rest of my mission in life.
PBN: I read your post the day after the election, and your themes regarding President-elect Trump indicate that you feel like his worst behavior on the campaign trail is a real dangerous indicator for what his behavior will be like as a president. I personally struggle with that because I can’t believe guys like Peter Thiel (the openly gay, billionaire that was the first professional investor in Facebook, and cofounder of PayPal) would represent Trump if he weren’t likable. I can’t believe Trump could succeed if his back room, behind-the-scenes personality is the same as his public personality. So I’m struggling with the idea that this simplified, petty, vindictive, and uncontrollable Campaign Trump is the same as the behind-the-scenes Deal-Making Trump, and I’m not convinced that is going to be the President Trump. Is he really as bad as his campaign, and the media indicates? You’ve heard his acceptance speech. Pretty magnanimous. The last few days you’ve heard from his campaign leaders, and those that are likely to be his cabinet members. (This interview took place prior to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus being named White House Chief of Staff.) You’ve heard some reports, or at least the trial balloons, that he may dissolve The Federal Reserve; the peace-making messages we’re hearing from Russia; and so on. What’s your assessment of the Trump presidency today? And what’s it going to be like based on what you’re hearing today?
CM: I could be wrong, but my opinion is that there is not a lot of daylight between his public and personal opinions. And I think that is a feature, not a slam. The feature is because for almost everybody in politics what they’re saying in public and what they’re saying in private, nobody trusts that. If we have any trust at all, it’s that a politician will say one thing and then do another. So it’s actually a feature in Trump’s sense in that I think he doesn’t seem to have a really good filter between his brain and his mouth. And that is actually a feature for me because I’d rather know what somebody is about, rather than that be grey territory.
But, be that as it may, the presidency is not about any one individual. It’s about the team they assemble. I’m going to hold a little judgment back to see what kind of a president we might have until I see what his team is. If it’s the people being pre-floated already – (former New York Mayor Rudy) Giuliani and (New Jersey Governor Chris) Christie – these are not people I have a lot of faith in personally. That would not be my all-star team by any stretch at this point in time. We’ll just have to see.
One issue I opposed from Hillary Clinton was when she said openly said she would impose a no-fly zone over Syria, which is an act of war against Russia. I’m a single-issue voter against nuclear war with Russia. And my assessment – with a lot of data behind it – was that Hillary was not only more likely to go to war with Russia, but actually indicated clearly that she wanted to and was ready to. I thought that was a bad idea. She talked about how Russia was trying to derail her presidency by hacking, none of which has been proven by the way. And I don’t think ever will be. It’s a supposition as to where those leaked e-mails came from.
So I saw this machinery that was larger than Hillary, but was arrayed underneath and around her saying, “We’re just about done with the terrorist bogeyman, we need a new one, let’s make it Russia.” I think that is a shitty idea. Terrible.
For me, the idea of potentially getting into a hot conflict with an armed super power was a non-starter because I’m personally sick of driving over crumbling bridges, losing cellphone reception, and suffering with one-fifth the Internet speed that other countries have because we’re spending so much of our time fighting bogeymen that nobody can tell me why we’re fighting them. What’s the big beef with Russia? Who cares?
Trump saying that he was going to negotiate with Putin instead of saber rattling with him was a plus. And that was really a very strong issue for me. Now if he ends up surrounding himself with the same neocon cast of characters that we can’t seem to get rid of, I will be changing my view again very rapidly.
My opinions change with the data. And the data is going to rely heavily on who he picks in key positions. I’ll be watching that carefully.
PBN: Another theme you talk a lot about in your publications is the damaging principle of constant growth. You say that unending growth is actually bad for us. Trump has promised four percent growth in 2017. Does the concept of a president today trying to fuel more and more growth worry you?
CM: He, of course, is going to surround himself with all usual economists that are servants of the banking system. But let’s be clear. You and I don’t need growth, but banks do. And so, I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t try and pursue the same paths of endless growth. But look, growth is killing us at this point. It’s not helping. We have this meme inserted in our culture that growth is good. Nobody every questions it. Growth is not good. It’s neither good nor bad. If growth was great, Mumbai, India would be the most fabulous place in the world. It’s got a lot of growth.
We need different policies that really understand where we are at this point in human species development. Growth is something we need forward-thinking polices around, and I don’t think Trump is the guy that’s going to understand that.
He’s bought the Kool-Aid that says, “If we can just drill a little more and dig a little more coal up, this will make all things better.” It’s true if you understand that you only get to drill it once, dig it up once and then it’s burnt and gone.
So how do we want to deal with that? A good business person would say, “Well, we have this energy, here’s what we’re going to do with it. In 30 years, when it’s substantially gone, this is what the country will look like. We’ll have a strategy and vision or plan for how we’ll get there.” I haven’t seen that yet. I don’t think he’s got one.
PBN: If you were Trump’s chief of staff, and he did what you said, what would be your top three or four priorities?
CM: Absolutely number one would be to have an energy policy that was really forward thinking, and made a lot of sense.
That would require a significant investment that is very different from the one we’ve got today. And so from there, we would develop a strategy and a plan.
There’s lots of natural gas, lots oil still down there in the shale. How much of that would we dedicate to getting us to the next future? And what would that future look like? Paint that vision. If you have that vision, young people and people of all different persuasions would approve.
As long as Americans know where we’re going and why, and if we believe in it, we’ll do it. We’ll do incredible things. We’ll crawl through the mud to defeat Nazism if that’s what’s being asked of us because it’s the right thing to do. But if you just said we want you to crawl through the mud for no reason, most people will give you the middle finger and rightly so.
If I was chief of staff, he has to put forward a compelling vision that everybody can look at and say, “I see a role for myself, and grand kids yet unborn. It makes sense, let’s do that.”
That’s been missing. Status quo, more of the same, all the trends are shitty. Our pensions are more underfunded this year than eight years ago, or even last year. Our demographic problem has not gone anywhere. Our infrastructure is worse, not better. National debt is much higher. All these things are going to directly impact the future in a negative way nobody is talking about.
In that sense, I think Trump is the right guy because he’s Mr. Teflon, and he is willing to say what is necessary. As his chief of staff, I’d say we have to lay out a good description of where we are, and an even better description of where we’re going to go.
PBN: Would you get rid of The Federal Reserve?
CM: I absolutely would. But we have to be clear about this. The Fed is not some magic entity that is doing God’s work and wonderful things for this country. It is a private entity that mostly makes sure its main clients stay happy and healthy, and highly profitable.
I might not put a bullet in it right way, I’d say OK Fed now you have to compete like any other private entity. Go ahead and issue your money, but people will now get to choose between another form of money which will be actual notes directly issued from the U.S. Treasury. And maybe some other currencies can get involved as well.
As soon as the Fed has to compete, all of sudden they (the Board of Governors) have to think it through differently. When you have a monopoly, you can do whatever the hell you want. I would take away the Fed’s monopoly, and if the Fed can compete as an effective organization in a marketplace of ideas, in competition with another currency, then fine.
I’m not adverse to the idea of the Fed existing. I’m adverse to the idea of the Fed existing as the sole monopoly unanswerable to anybody. That doesn’t strike me as right.
PBN: Any other policies that would be top of mind for you?
CM: There are a million things we need to address. If I were Trump, here’s one that would be a game changer. I would take, pick a number, a billion dollars (Chris does his best Dr. Evil voice), and put that out there as a national X prize for anybody that can solve battery storage technology. Fundamentally changing battery storage. Taking it to the next level.
There’d be some criteria around that: this much power density, this much power per weight. If you can hit these marks using common materials, a billion dollars is yours.
You’d probably get $100 billion of private money chasing that billion-dollar prize because it’s such a tasty prize. But, if we can solve battery technology, everything changes in our energy story.
PBN: Wouldn’t there be a few billion dollars from monopoly utilities trying to stop that?
CM: Possibly. But, we’re going to have to be ready, willing, and able to put some bullets in some very sacred cows that exist out there. And the whole concentrated utility model is probably one of them.
I’m not thinking we’re going to have batteries the size of a small mountain sitting in Iowa that we feed into. They’re probably going to be sitting in every single house in a distributed way. The power density issues have to get solved
To do that we need real serious efforts. This should be the equivalent of an Apollo project.
Put some serious muscle behind it. And let people know we’re dead serious about it. Because if not, China is going to eat our lunch on this. China is already plowing ahead with Thorium technology to create the next generation nuclear reactor using a fuel source that could last 10,000 years. We’ve developed it and gave them the plan for free because we’re not interested. So there are a lot of things we could be doing, that would make huge impacts right now. And all of them would just make a ton of sense.
By the way, I loved Trump’s 100 Day Action Plan, or parts of it, where he started with a Constitutional Amendment for Congressional term limits. I almost jumped and cheered, “Yes, get rid of the career people!”
Blocking lobbying permanently for people who work in the White House so they can’t work for foreign governments. Blocking foreign countries from lobbying the U.S. government when those countries are recipients of foreign aid. And that wonderful rule he was proposing where, if you want to pass a federal regulation, you have to kill two that already exist, would be fantastic. These are all things that we’ve needed badly for a long time.
Without Hillary as a Survival Industry bogeyman, what is our next, most realistic threat?