'Adventure Capitalist'

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In his personal Odyssey — Adventure Capitalist — famed US investor Jim Rogers (the man whose skills really made George Soros rich) relates the fascinating tale of his epic 116-country, 152,000-mile, three-year road trip around the world.

But as Boys’ Own as are the quietly understated and dryly observed tales of derring-do with which the author regales us, much of the real merit of the book lies in its sustained and caustic debunking of all the many governments, bureaucrats, NGO busybodies and US foreign policy wonks across whom he and his wife Paige stumbled at every border crossing, embassy and ferry terminal on every one of the six continents which he visited.

The other message broadcast loud and clear by this straight-talking Alabaman is that wherever he went, almost without exception, the ordinary folk whom he encountered on his travels were friendly and hospitable, ready to share what little they had with this affluent Westerner and his small, but intrepid, entourage, regardless of national, political, or religious differences.

What also shines through is that the spirit of enterprise burned in all of those not crushed by arbitrary governments, caught up in what are all too often resource wars fought by our proxies, or corrupted by Western ‘aid’ programmes which are as much about operating tacit export subsidies and Peace Corps feather-bedding as anything.

Even explaining his choice of the hybrid Mercedes sports car/4×4 he had specially built for the trip, there is a scathing aside on the welfare-warfare state’s offshore branch.

u2018I knew I would find Mercedes service anywhere in the world. Even in the developing world one is never far from a dealership; every dictator and Mafioso in the world drives a Mercedes. Even in countries with no roads to speak of, Mercedes service is available — often to the exclusion of things like food — thanks to all the US foreign aid, the IMF and World Bank money being shipped in.’

u2018It is no secret that this money is aimed at nourishing only those corrupt enough to get their hands on it, while at the same time fattening the bureaucrats on both sides of the transaction who diligently work the trough. And none of THEM is driving a Chevy!’

Rogers also, hearteningly, sees the world as one where the Neo-Con would-be builders of a tyrannical global Platonic Republic will be thwarted by the people’s own desires to be free and yet part of an identifiable community.

As he writes:

u2018While we are dancing to Madonna, drinking Pepsi and driving Toyotas, people are reaching out for something they can understand and control. The emergence of smaller nations from the ashes of collapsing empires may lead to wars but need not necessarily do so. If borders remain open to trade and migration, we will all be better off.’

Mises himself could not have expressed it more clearly.

Moreover, Rogers is compelling in his arguments that the US governing elite’s approach to the world — an unhealthy paranoia at home and as often insufferable arrogance aboard (as detailed in the tale of a highly expensive Clinton vanity visit to a summit in Tanzania, where the Secret Service pulled the host country’s own president unceremoniously out of his car to search both him and it!) — is extremely counter-productive.

On immigration he says:

u2018…if all those foreigners were to come in, they would work for less, which, contrary to the position your representative in Washington would take, is a good thing. If one country is extremely prosperous, attracting a lot of people, some of those might hold wages down or at least work harder… which would, in turn, increase productivity …everybody would be better off as a result.’

This fervent advocacy of the free movement of goods, capital, and labour is of sufficient degree to satisfy any classical liberal, and, indeed, one of Rogers’s many hard-hitting Philippics concerns US protectionism.

u2018Let us say for the sake of argument, steelworkers and their beneficiaries amount to half a million people. To give a few of them a few extra bucks, more than 275 million of us have to pay more for our steel…. But it is always temporary we are told and there is always a good reason for the protectionism. We protect rice in this country, we protect mohair for reasons of u2018national security’…’

A keen critic of central banks — poo-poohing the idea that they are u2018gods who can weave magic’ — and of the credit bubbles they create, he offers a timely warning against borrowing money to spend on non-productive assets such as Rolexes and Porsches.

He excoriates Greenspan in Rothbardian style as a man with a u2018long, long history of failure’ who did not quit graciously when his last term of office expired because he u2018knew he could not get another job’ and was not, in any case, u2018really smart enough to have realized the damage he was causing.’

Finally, he is not shy of confronting the Imperialists at home, noting that u2018people all over the world seem to know the American people are good, but they also seem to know something happens to Americans when they go to Washington.’

He cautions against the adverse consequences, both economically and politically, of strategic overstretch — or what he terms u2018overextension’ — commenting that u2018overspreading our resources, specifically our financial and military muscle, has the further effect of breeding hostility around the world, creating a vicious circle in which we are required to spend even more money to maintain our safety, security, and prosperity.’

He concludes: u2018Butting out as the world’s meddling uncle would free up resources we could use everywhere, including here.’

These excerpts do not do justice to a highly-readable, historically-rich, entertaining, yet keenly-argued testament to the things which men can achieve if only their overlords would let them get on with it.

It is also packed with gripping moments of high drama and interspersed with sound general investment advice — itself a rare enough commodity — and this from a legendary practitioner of the art.

I don’t know if Jim Rogers formally considers himself a Libertarian, or a follower of the Austrian School, but there is little in this book with which either camp could quibble.

More than that, he also shows that you can both be successful and have fun as a result of following principles with which many of us agree and for that lesson alone, the book is well worth its purchase price.

Sean Corrigan [send him mail] writes from London on the financial markets, and edits the daily Capital Letter and the Website Capital Insight. He is co-manager of the Bermuda-based Edelweiss Fund.

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