The legendary walls of Constantinople were supposed to have been impenetrable. At least, that’s what the citizens thought.
But shortly after midnight on Tuesday, May 29, 1453, they watched in horror as Turkmen mercenaries from the Ottoman Empire breached a section of the walls that had stood proudly for more than 1,000 years. The city fell hours later.
Ottoman soldiers looted and pillaged Constantinople with such barbarous ferocity that their ruler, Mehmed II, was said to have wept when he inspected the city three days later, remarking, “What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction.”
Prior to the Ottoman siege, Constantinople had been the capital of the Byzantine Empire… which was for centuries one of the most powerful empires in the world.
Byzantium was the legitimate continuation of the original Roman Empire; Constantinople was even initially known as “Nova Roma,” or New Rome.
But over time, the Byzantine Empire became weaker and weaker, just as the Roman Empire before it.
And, similar to Rome, many Byzantine emperors were legendary for their incompetence. A 2012 study from the medical journal Geriatrics & Gerontology International, in fact, concluded that at least seven Byzantine emperors exhibited signs of pathological confusion consistent with dementia.
Byzantine rulers squandered the empire’s wealth, inflated the currency, and failed to secure their borders.
They engaged in disastrous trade and economic policy. They adopted highly unpopular social positions that were out of touch with mainstream citizens… then canceled anyone who disagreed with them. Some ideological dissidents were exiled, while others were blinded or had their tongues cut out.
Political blunders led to humiliating defeats of the Byzantine’s once-dominant military, causing a severe loss of the empire’s reputation around the world.
They failed to keep up with their rising adversaries; as rivals like the Ottoman Empire and Venice grew more powerful, many Byzantine rulers ignored the obvious threats and continued to mismanage the empire.
Just like Rome, there were occasionally strong Byzantine emperors who undid some of the damage of their predecessors. But they couldn’t stop the inevitable decline.
And by the time the Ottoman armies approached in the spring of 1453, the Byzantine Empire was done. It wasn’t even an empire at that point; at just a few square miles, it was no larger than the size of a small county in Rhode Island.
Yet even with such an obvious decline– and even with an invading army moving towards their city– the residents of Constantinople clung to the past… to the idea that their empire and city were still invincible.
As a result, many people did absolutely nothing in the face of such obvious danger. They just sat and watched Ottoman engineers chip away, brick by brick, until the walls fell.
This is what I call “Plan A”, i.e. do nothing. Hope for the best.
Misguided optimism is a powerful force in human nature: our instincts are great at detecting threats. But our brains make us want to ignore these threats and assume that everything will be OK… because it always has been in the past.
This is why people consistently misplace their confidence in a system that produces terrible leaders who have a track record of deceit, corruption, or incompetence. And this irrational trust in a broken system is at the core of “Plan A”.
The fall of Constantinople is just one example; “Plan A” is very common throughout history… and we can certainly see a lot of it today, especially in the West.
To illustrate, here are a few obvious examples of some serious challenges facing the United States:
1) It was only four months ago that the US financial system was in dire straits. Multiple banks failed due to the negative impact of rising interest rates on their bond portfolios. And then, poof, ‘confidence’ was restored and everyone started pretending like the problem had gone away.
And yet even the FDIC announced last month that banks are still sitting on over $500 BILLION worth of unrealized losses in their bond portfolios. Meanwhile, bank customers withdrew $472 billion worth of deposits last quarter– the largest withdrawal EVER since record keeping began in 1984.
This massive flight of deposits coupled with historic unrealized bond losses is one of the worst combinations for a bank to suffer. And this doesn’t even include the potential losses that banks will suffer from a looming commercial real estate meltdown.
Yet most of the market is still happy to pretend that everything is just fine, and to misplace their trust in a financial system that has consistently deceived them. It’s classic Plan A.
2) Social Security is another example. The program’s trustees state very clearly that Social Security’s key funds will run out of money within 10 years.
What is the government doing about it? Nothing. What are most individuals doing about it? Nothing.
It’s Plan A: let’s just pretend that everything will be OK despite all rational evidence to the contrary.
This barely scratches the surface of the challenges. There’s the national debt, crumbling education system, weaponization of government agencies, cancel culture, the increasing likelihood of the US dollar losing its dominance, etc.
The larger point is that you have options and the power of choice. And, as I’ve been writing about for more than a decade now, this is what a “Plan B” is all about.
Unlike “Plan A”, a “Plan B” is a rational way of looking at the world… not from a position of fear, but from a position of strength. It acknowledges obvious risks, yet it takes sensible, non-disruptive steps to reduce their impact.
For example, if there’s a credible risk of mostly peaceful protesters taking over your neighborhood and declaring a new, woke republic, it’s probably too disruptive to pick up your family and move to Timbuktu tomorrow morning.
But it would be sensible to consider other places to go, and even have another residence at the ready.
There are obvious threats to Social Security as well. Yet there are plenty of great options available to take charge of your retirement with robust structures like a solo 401(k).
The beauty of a “Plan B” is that you won’t be worse off for having done any of it. You won’t be worse off for having a more secure retirement… or having a smaller tax bill, second residency, stronger asset protection, greater freedom, more privacy, diversified investments, etc.
These are all sensible things to do regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen next.
Yet if this trajectory of incompetence and decline continues in the West, a solid “Plan B” ensures you’ll be in a position of strength when it really counts.