Casey on Fresh Starts
by Louis James, Editor, International
Casey on 'Occupy Wall Street'
Doug, we've had a lot of requests from younger readers asking for
advice on how they should tackle the world, starting out amidst
a crisis. We've also had questions from older readers asking what
you might do differently if you were 21 again or if you were
suddenly unemployed and had to start from scratch. What do you think?
Can you stroke your long, white beard and give us some practical
guru wisdom for today's world?
I keep telling people I have no crystal ball, but they don't listen.
Nobody has a crystal ball. But, perhaps paradoxically, I also keep
giving people advice because they ask; and like anyone, I'd like
to help but those people rarely listen either.
is temporarily gratifying to the giver, because it makes him feel
like he knows something for that moment. But it's ultimately
frustrating because few receivers ever use advice. People generally
have to make their own mistakes. I believe it was Stalin who said
that even those few people who learn from their own mistakes weren't
all that smart; he preferred to learn from other people's mistakes
not that Stalin should be considered a generally sound source of
advice. It's odd, actually one of history's great sociopaths
dispensing words of wisdom
wouldn't say people never listen: last time we were together
here in Cafayate, I introduced you to one of my students
who took your advice to leave Eastern Europe and travel the world
gathering experiences. Another one just did the same thing and went
to India. And another one quit his job and started his own business
[Blinks] Okay, okay. For the few, then. Some who have ears do in
fact not only hear but listen. But of course, there's never a guarantee
that the advice you're going to get is worth anything. Some poor
fool might ask economics Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman a question
on economics and god forbid, take the answer seriously.
At any rate,
like most of those I expect Krugman hears, most of the questions
I get center on money. Well, I've been quite fortunate in that I've
been able to accumulate a fair amount of capital. So, although I've
written a lot about the airy, theoretical
aspects of the stuff, I guess I've also shown a degree of practical
expertise in dealing with it.
Let me start
off by stating the obvious: It's definitely better to have more
money, more assets, more capital, because it gives you more options,
more flexibility, more control. Building that pile of capital can
give you those things, and you're going to need them. Having capital
is critical, and given where the global economy is headed, the faster
you can get it, the better. Strive to create more value something
very few wage earners ever think of. Everybody understands, at least
intuitively, that if you want to build capital you have to spend
less and save more, but very few have the self-discipline to actually
do it. And of course, once you have sufficient savings you have
to invest wisely but most people only invest conventionally.
line is that one of the things and I emphasize it's just
one a young person should do is grub for money now, in order
to avoid having to grub for roots and berries in the future.
is power. But contrary to popular, sloppy thinking
not all power is necessarily bad. The coercive power of the state
and other forms of power based on force are destructive in their
essence, and the outcomes of their application tend to be negative.
When you offer someone money for a service or good, you are motivating
cooperation, and the transaction only closes if both sides feel
they are getting more than they are giving. Win-win. That makes
the power of money essentially constructive, and the outcomes of
its application, absent the corrupting influence of force, tend
to be creative.
Yes. And people are going to need all the power they can muster
to survive the coming storm. Power also comes from having lots of
good relations, connections, with worthwhile people. It comes
as the Boy Scouts at least used to know from being physically
fit, mentally awake, and morally straight. It comes from having
lots of both intellectual knowledge and practical skills. These
are the things that separate the wheat from the chaff among people.
I want to stress that people should not get too attached to wealth
and money that's a huge mistake on all levels. Wealth is
a normal consequence of excellence in other areas of life. But it's
only a consequence, a significant side effect, or an aid. It's not
an object in itself. You can only pity the fool who confuses what
he is with what he has.
[Chuckles.] I'm a happy man. Right here and now, I'm living in the
lap of Argentine luxury, smoking a mellow Cuban cigar, building
my own polo club, growing my own grapes for a great wine, driving
high-performance cars, and so forth things that require money.
But that said, some of the times when I've been happiest in my life
have been times when I had no money whatsoever.
a trip I took from Bern to Istanbul with a couple of buddies, back
when I was a penniless student in the '60s. None of us had any sense
of financial planning, so, for the last three days, on our way back
from Istanbul, we had absolutely no money. Zero. Not even small
coins. We were riding third class, bumming cigarettes and morsels
of food from gypsies on the train. I kid you not. But it was a great
adventure, and we were very happy hippies.
I spent some time living as though I had no money. A friend and
I hopped a train in Grand Junction, Colorado. It took us three days
to get to Portland, sleeping in rail yards, eating in missions,
living like bums or, more accurately, hoboes. Another time
we went to Sacramento, which also took three days. A measure of
cheap thrills and chills and a tad of danger are good spices in
life. Both times were a lot of fun, and I didn't really need, or
use, any money at all. Doing things like that is salubrious and
therapeutic. It puts you into a new reality.
vanishing middle class American dream in ticky-tacky
little boxes is an illusion of security. You don't need any
of that stuff to be happy. Actually, it can make you unhappy, because
it starts to own you, more than you own it. You get involved in
the "rat race," and before you know it you're old, tired,
and relying on Social Security or the kindness of others. Grubbing
for roots and berries is only fun at least once you've reached
a certain age when you don't really have to do it.
I appreciate the wisdom of not getting too wedded to stuff
it's not just Eastern mysticism; it can greatly increase your enjoyment
of life not to get all stressed about keeping up with the Joneses,
taking on more debt to buy more toys, and such. When piling up money
becomes the sole focus of life, it's easy to forget that life is
the reason to accumulate money in the first place. But unless you
do want to become a vagabond and exist to some degree on the charity
of others, or a hermit eating grubs in the woods, you have to have
It's fine for
you to play hobo on a train for a few days, but if you have children,
they need to be fed, and that takes money. If you can't feed your
kids properly, that is not a happy thing, and if they get sick and
need to see a doctor, that is not a fun adventure.
Money is the
power by which we acquire the things we need in life, not just a
meaningless scorecard for competing with the Joneses.
Sure; and it's easy for me to say that money is no big deal when
my biggest problem right now is that my Cohiba
just went out. I'm not in the position of having no money. Look,
money is like any other tool; it's better to have it and not need
it, than need it and not have it. But I really don't worry about
it too much.
how do you get to where you don't have to worry about it?
Remember: everyone in the world everyone has an infinite
capacity to desire goods and services. Everyone wants more
it's a survival trait for all species to gather while the gathering
is good. This unlimited appetite means that there are unlimited
opportunities to earn a living. On the most fundamental level, all
you have to do is look around and figure out what people need and
want, then put yourself in a position to provide it to them. There's
wealth in the world, a lot of it your task is to figure out
what you can offer people that will persuade them to voluntarily
give you some of what they have. When what you give them makes them
better off, it's a creative, win-win process, just as you said before.
When I used
to land in some Third-World country where I knew no one and had
no connections, what would I do sit in my hotel room and
watch TV? No. I'd open up the Yellow Pages for that city
it'd be online today and look at the different kinds of businesses
listed and think of ways I could offer some value to those people
in those businesses, such that they would be willing to give me
money in exchange. I always started with the people who tend to
be centers of power lawyers, real estate agents, and the
like. In most places, they either have the money or know the people
who do. I'd call them up and arrange an interview.
give time to a perfect stranger?
Here it's an advantage to be in a different town, preferably in
a different country. They don't know who you are for all
they know, you're an eccentric billionaire, looking for opportunities.
You're interesting, simply because you're from elsewhere. With some
of them, you'll establish a rapport, and next thing you know, you're
being invited home for dinner, you meet some of their friends, you
keep your eyes and ears open, one thing leads to another, and you
can find some great opportunities.
works best for people who have a wide array of knowledge and other
connections. If you've done nothing significant with your life previously
it's a waste of time why should these people want to talk
to you after the first five minutes, when they're sizing you up?
Hitting the ground in a strange, foreign country is doing something
significant an excellent start. It both allows you to see
opportunities that most people don't (stuck as they are in their
medieval serf mentality), and to bring some new intellectual capital
to the party a reason for those with the money to deal you
You never know
what the opportunity might be, but it will present itself. Ted Turner
was absolutely correct when, in response to a question about how
to make a fortune, he answered that you should go to where the action
is and throw yourself in the middle of it. The law of large numbers
will work, and some of the wealth will start coming your way.
make it sound easy, but most people are afraid to do this. They'd
feel more secure getting a well-paid job wherever they went. Preferably
before they went.
The worst thing to do is to look for a job. That means you're looking
for someone to pay you for some of your time usually in a
time and place where there are others willing to trade theirs for
less. That's totally the wrong mindset. Don't be a supplicant. You're
then setting yourself up as the effect of someone else's cause.
What you should do is work to put yourself at cause over the situation,
which works best if you've spent the time preparing yourself in
previous years. You want to look for people who will trade things
you want for what you can give them
or help them get. Not
wages, deals. That's the critical thing to get straight in your
mind. It's so obvious, but most people completely overlook it. You
shouldn't look for employment; you should look for business.
Part of it
is how you relate to the universe. Personally, I only relate to
other people as equals; I don't talk up nor talk down. I don't kowtow
to the rich and famous I treat them with respect and courtesy,
but only the amount due to any decent human. And if I don't consider
them decent, I give them only that much respect. On the other hand,
I never talk down to "inferiors." For all you know, that
Chinese houseboy is actually the head of a triad. For all you know,
that skinny, nerdy kid is the next Steve Jobs. Of course, after
enough time anywhere from five seconds to five years
you will determine with adequate certainty who you're really dealing
with. People should be treated with the respect they deserve, regardless
of how high or low their station in life. The key is figuring out
how much they deserve.
hadn't really thought of it this way before, but there have been
two times in my life thus far when I personally had major financial
crises total meltdowns, with heavy obligations and no way
to meet them. Both times, the fastest and easiest way I could think
of to get some cash flow going was to create a business, so that's
what I did.
Absolutely right. In my situation, it's rarely been that urgent.
I don't really have a family. I'm married but have no children.
I'm independent and can walk away from just about everything with
about Roscoe Studmuffin and Moxy Crimefighter?
[Laughs] My poodles, the football star and the supermodel? Well,
maybe I do have a family I couldn't let them starve
although they wouldn't, because they're extremely competent gopher
hunters. But apart from that, I've always looked at things as an
individual and evaluated risk, effort, rewards, in terms of my own
needs and happiness. It's different, I grant, if you have a family.
I understand that.
But most of
the inquiries about how to make the most of one's life seem to be
from people who may be in college (which is a
big mistake for most people, who turn themselves into indentured
servants with student loans that can't be defaulted on, while cluttering
their minds with useless or counterproductive thoughts). If I were
18 or 21 again, what I would do is get some money borrowed
from grandmother, saved from moving lawns, withdrawn from the college
fund, raised selling possessions, whatever and use that grubstake
as seed money.
get a job if you really can't find any other source of funds short
of stealing. But then, for cryin' out loud, don't spend all you
make, so that you can accumulate start-up capital.
Yes, exactly. You have to start someplace. Most people could learn
something from the average Chinese. As a culture, they've really
been through the meat grinder over the last century, and know how
important it is to save.
Anyway, I would
take that grubstake and hit the road and go someplace new, as different
as you can get from wherever you start. That way you're new, fresh,
unique. If you're American and you stay in the US where there are
masses of people just like you, no one has any special reason to
hire you; you are at least at first blush just one
of millions with similar backgrounds. Better to go to Honduras or
Bolivia or Laos or Nigeria, where you'll stand out from the crowd
and have something to contribute that others do not. Do like the
students you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation
they are to be greatly admired for what they've done.
nothing else, when you do that, you're interesting.
You're interesting and that opens up opportunities. And how
interesting you are is a function of how many books you've read,
how much thought you've put into things, how widely you've traveled,
how many skills you've mastered, how many people you know. It's
completely up to you. But you've got to get out of your comfortable
and safe-seeming hometown otherwise you're no better than
a medieval peasant, chained to the dirt his ancestors toiled over
and were buried in, for generations. Your chances of getting anywhere
that way are slim and none.
Slim's out of town.
told you about my brother before. He was injured on the job and
couldn't work at about the time the crisis hit, then just couldn't
find new work. Month after month, then year after year. So I bought
him an airplane ticket, and he came out here to where I live, and
within a month got a job. I know we're not trying to encourage people
to think in terms of jobs, but even on that level, it helps to escape
what you call the "medieval peasant" trap of thinking
only in terms of the place you happen to be. We have feet. If we
can't find opportunities around us, we can go to where there are
Sure; on whatever level you're able to, you've got to grab the bull
by the horns.
the truly shameful results of US government policy and programs
over the last few generations, especially since the New Deal. They've
totally corrupted the average American, who used to ask for no more
than an opportunity to work hard and benefit from the fruit of his
own labor. Now the average American thinks that the US government
not only should, but actually can serve as a magic cornucopia, assuring
him of all the good things in life.
mean we don't have a human right to cars, air conditioning, wide-screen
TVs, and mocha lattes? Doesn't it say so in the Constitution?
[Chuckles.] This is why I see no way out for the US that doesn't
send the whole society through the wringer.
my friend Barry Reid, who started a company called the Eden Underground
Press. Barry was in the marijuana business in the '60s. He got caught,
did three years in jail, and returned to society a felon. Didn't
stop him. He started his publishing company and became very successful.
But he made a wrong move when he started printing "private
identification documents" that looked almost exactly like state-issued
drivers' licenses. The cards didn't say they were drivers' licenses,
but you'd have to look carefully to see that. So he did another
three years' time. Did that stop him? Absolutely not. Barry always
said: "For every door that closes, there are two that open."
That's the proper attitude.
Did I tell you that in 2009, before the impression
of renewed growth spread through the US economy, I had three former
students from the Republic of Belarus visit my family? At the time,
"everyone knew" there were no jobs, and many Americans
were sitting home, not even trying to find them. But my three friends
got on the bikes I gave them and rode into town every day, going
door to door, asking at every single business they came across,
until they got jobs two got jobs at a supermarket 10 miles
away and rode their bikes there every day.
Never surrender; it's bad karma. Getting a job like that can help
you save some money and put some rice on the table, but the real
value is that it gets you out in society. You're active, meeting
people, finding opportunities and that's not going to happen
if you sit at home, collecting your welfare check, cementing your
bad habits in place, and degrading your psychology.
I'm sure it helped that my students were not American they
were different. They were interesting from a place most people
have never heard of.
Sure. And it's not easy for Belarusians to travel to many places.
Americans and Europeans have a huge advantage in being able to travel
to many paces with no visas. They can go to places where their experiences
and even simple language skills set them apart from billions of
other human beings, all looking to get ahead.
I have two
different friends who didn't know each other, but both with connections
with The Discovery Channel. They both thought I should make a proposal
to The Discovery Channel for a documentary in which I would drop
in on some nothing-nowhere country and do exactly as I've described.
Start with the phone book and see if I could be sitting down with
the president by the end of the week, pitching him on some deal.
Casey Reality TV. Some readers may not know that this is actually
a hobby of yours. I've seen you sit down with a president
now the former president of Panama and pitch him on how rich
he could get putting the country back on a gold standard.
[Laughs.] Yes. And if I could do it, so could anyone. You know,
I've actually pitched nine other presidents or military dictators
on various deals, usually trying to privatize most or all of the
government. In many cases, I believe I could have made it happen,
but I would have had to move to the country and make the project
the center of my life. I was never willing to go that far. Why should
I, given all that I have in my life? Entirely apart from the fact
that, if I succeeded, no good deed goes unpunished
in the realm of politics.
I were 21 and didn't have much money, I'd do the same thing and
stick with it as far as I could take it.
learned something very important when I was
I met an Israeli guy named Yahuda ben Yahuda. After talking with
him for a while, he said, "You know, Mr. Casey"
he was very kind to address the young punk I was as Mr. Casey
"if you go to the Gold Coast, and you stay there for five years,
you'll have five percent of everything going in or out of the country."
I've always remembered that, because he was right. It's what he
did when he came to America.
that always the right thing to do, Doug? Take the path less traveled?
When you come to a fork in the road
Take it. Whether you go left or right, your whole life will be different,
and you never know which will be best. It's part of why I'm a solipsist,
and am also very sympathetic to Taoism. At least once a day, if
you turn right instead of left, if you say yes instead of no, your
whole life could change totally and unrecognizably. I, for one,
am on a quest for Alice's rabbit hole
or her looking glass.
The most important
thing is to have the right attitude, so you can see opportunities
when they present themselves, and be willing and able to take advantage
of them when they do. You can help prepare yourself for that by
reading a lot, associating with other interesting people, and securing
a real education for yourself, rather than relying on teachers to
tell you what you should think.
is everything. That's something I teach my students.
Just so. It's why a determined little dog will beat an unmotivated
big dog in a fight 90% of the time. It's why Joe Pesci could probably
have been a mob boss in real life.
Well, this conversation doesn't lend itself to new investment insights,
so I guess we'll just leave it as a Public Service Announcement.
Sure, though I might add that while getting a job may be a necessary
first step toward accumulating capital, and while it's better to
be a business owner, what you really want is to move up the food
chain and become an investor as soon as you can. Put your money
to work for you, instead of working for money. The creative peak
of capital accumulation, of course, is to become a speculator.
teach that too or try to to my readers as well as
my students. Very well, thanks for your insights.
My pleasure, as always.
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Research, LLC., publishers of Casey’s
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