If you surf the Internet or watch much cable TV, you can't have missed the dire warnings of what is about to befall us in the near future. Warnings of economic and societal collapse seem to be everywhere.
It started a couple of years ago with the proliferation of ads for gold. Companies selling physical gold – bullion and coins – lit up the airwaves with suggestions that gold is the only way to protect wealth from a dollar that is on its way to being worthless.
There are also ads for free online videos with the ominous titles “End of America” and “New America,” warning that a sudden event this year will change our lives forever. Both are the products of two separate financial experts who warn of the same event – the default of the U.S. government and the inability to repay debt. That's pretty much what's trying to be avoided in Greece at the moment.
The free videos are, in fact, pitches for products – financial advice and investments designed to make money if the U.S. economy does, in fact, drive over a cliff.
Watching the videos isn't exactly easy, either. There are few visual elements to make them interesting and it is impossible to skip ahead to get to the end to hear the pitch – you have to listen to the whole thing.
On cable, the National Geographic Channel has entered the doom market with its new show, “Doomsday Preppers.” It's a reality series that profiles a number of people who are making preparations to live after the collapse of society. A panel of judges then offers opinions about whether the subjects' doomsday plans are adequate.
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it means you are old enough to have lived through the late 1970s. That was an era of despair over lines at gas stations, inflation and potential nuclear war. It spawned a similar “survivalist” movement and gold rose to a record high that stood until about five years ago.
A subplot to the growing focus on doom may be the fact that the Mayan Calendar ends on December 21, 2012, an indicator to some that the world will meet its fate on that date. When Hollywood made a movie two years ago about a small, undiscovered planet crashing into the earth on December 21, it prompted NASA to publicly dispute the idea. Dr. Robert Stencel, an astronomy professor at the University of Denver, found he was called upon to field a number of media questions about a possible end of the world event.
“This is not the first time, and it probably won't be the last, we've been promised something would happen,” Stencel said at the time. “I suspect it would be a safe bet that 2012 will come and go and it will be the least of our worries that the Mayan calendar flips over.”
Meanwhile, consumers should carefully assess any and all investments. While the U.S., and world economies have very real and significant challenges, it's always wise to be wary of investments that are being marketed solely on the basis of fear.
Just as you would with a doctor consulting about a health issue, it's smart to sample a variety of opinions, and doing independent research, before investing money.