Doug Casey: Prepare for Social Upheaval

Recently by Doug Casey: My Favorite Quotes

L: Tatich, I’m in Minsk, where I just recorded/participated in an illegal march through the city. Opposition supporters rallied… there has been some violence… I hear they’ve broken into a government building, but I have not been able to confirm that yet.

Editor’s Note: For new readers, “tatich” is Mayan for “big chief.”

Doug: Sounds like fun. Maybe some appropriate music should accompany the festivities. The Marseillaise worked for the French in the 1790s… let me think… you should play them Street Fighting Man on your iPhone.

L: I should have stayed longer. The crowd seemed to be breaking up, so I came back to my flat, and now I’m seeing reports that the “special police” have turned violent. I left friends there…

Estimates vary between 10,000 and 50,000 people who took to the streets of Minsk, in spite of ice and snow, to protest election fraud in Belarus.

Doug: Big group. It’s always an interesting question what it takes to get people out in the streets, and then what controls their mood.

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L: I’ve got a bunch more pictures like that. Too bad they don’t have V masks, as in the film, V for Vendetta.

Doug: I’m a huge fan of Guy Fawkes, who is said to be the only man who ever entered Parliament with honest intentions. But even more so of V, his near-future alter ego. We should get them some V masks for next time. Everyone, everywhere, should have a V mask hanging in the closet, awaiting the signal to put it on.

L: My friend is back — thank goodness! She says she was on the front line, as the police formed up and pushed people off the square. She says she shouted at them, “What are you doing? We’re your brothers and sisters!” and that they were ashamed — but they followed their orders…

Doug: I’m glad she’s okay. That’s the only problem with these things, they’re inherently volatile, unpredictable, and can be very dangerous. Sometimes it goes the way of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

L: The TV news here is saying that it’s a smaller number of angry drunk people. It’s a lie — I was there, and the crowd was absolutely positive — almost giddy — with people laughing and helping each other. Some strangers helped me climb up on a frozen fountain so I could take pictures. They used the same lies as last time, in 2006; the authorities said the tent city that had sprung up on the main square was just some drug users and advised people to stay away for their own safety. They showed pictures of syringes they claimed to have found in raids, over and over again on TV. This time, they are showing footage of some people breaking the glass door of a government building — my friend says it was KGB agents who provoked the action, that you could see them using hidden radios at times. I saw a guy in plain clothes smash a camera out of a woman’s hands, so I’m pretty sure the authorities do have agents in the crowd.

But they’re not going to get away with it, this time. There were too many people there — this is a small country, and if 20,000 people who were there each tell 10 others the truth, that’d be about a fifth of the population. People are going to know what happened, this time.

Editor’s Note: Two weeks later, Doug and Louis continue the conversation. Meanwhile, thanks to the Internet, powerful images of the violence of December 19 have made the truth available to all.

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Doug: About Belarus… It’s disgusting how not just lazy but completely stupid and dishonest the media generally are. The reporters appear to be chosen for how credulous and psychologically pliable they are, although factors like how well their hair blow dries and how many producers they sleep with must also be important. They basically just parrot what they are fed from the local media, which, certainly in the case of Belarus, is all controlled by the state — and composed of people just like themselves. Then running dogs of the establishment, editorialists like Thomas Friedman — who’s never had one thought in his whole life that was both original and correct — will spin it one way for their crowd, while rabid dogs like Sean Hannity — who’s rarely right, but never in doubt — will spin it another way. None of them actually have a clue. I believe 90% of everything in the news is bullshit. I watch it and read it purely for entertainment. And to have an idea what other people are supposed to believe.

But sorry to go off on a tangent. How are your friends in Belarus doing?

L: Only one of my former students was arrested, but many friends of friends were in jail. Most did 5 to 15 days’ time and are out now.

Doug: So, what are the implications? Belarus is famous for being Eastern Europe’s last communist dictatorship — is there another “Orange Revolution” in the making?

L: Not right away. The dictator, Lukashenko, actually does have a lot of support, particularly among pensioners and other dependents of the state, who know their apple carts will be upset when real economic reform hits the country. But the regime’s brutality has been well and fully exposed. Even the pensioners will have to admit, if only to themselves, that they are living off a despotic system.

I do think, however, that Lukashenko may have just made a big mistake. Before, the opposition was very splintered, centered on a variety of leaders with very different views on which way the country should go. The opposition leaders remain as before, but now a large portion of the population sees the dictatorship for what it is, and they are joining hands, at least in spirit, to oppose it.

When I went to one of the jails in Minsk with my friend, to take a toothbrush, a change of underwear, etc., to a friend of hers, I found that people there were giving approved food and water to those who brought care packages for other prisoners and may not have known the rules. Some others were arrested for singing Christmas carols outside of another prison. I feel a sense of solidarity forming among these people. Differences remain, but an opposition community is forming, and that could become a powerful force.

But it will take time to grow. People are afraid. They don’t want to get blacklisted and lose their jobs. The police are still raiding and searching homes of suspected troublemakers.

Doug: I looked it up, and after the U.S., Belarus has the highest percentage of its population in prison. A bit surprising, in a way, because the poorer the government, the fewer people it can afford to imprison — but perhaps they make up for their lack of means with extra desire. Unfortunately, the U.S. has lots of both.

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Did it ever come close to the edge? Might the people in the square have decided to fight back if things had gone a little differently?

L: I doubt it. Not this time. The police were outnumbered, and you can see in some of the video footage that they look scared at times. But they had the armor, and I’m told the army was there, behind them. The people were not looking for a fight; they were doing the Belarusian equivalent of holding hands and singing Kumbaya — until the police started beating them with their night-sticks, at which point they fled.

But next time… it could get really ugly. And if the crowd gets big enough, the military could even switch sides, as has happened in other peaceful revolutions.

Like many so-called turning points in history, nothing changed that night. Most people went back to work, to school, to the stores, as usual the next morning. It’s more like an inflection point; I believe people will look back on that night and see it as a shift in the tides that will eventually lead to great changes. Historic days don’t exist on their own: months and years of building social pressures lead to them — they are just the exclamation points at the ends of long sentences, or even paragraphs and pages of history.

What about you, Doug? You’ve traveled in active war zones — did you ever see history being made?

Doug: I’ve been most fortunate wandering through the valley of the shadow of death. Statistically, though, even in the worst places, when hundreds of people get killed — which is a considered a big deal anywhere — the odds of dying are thousands to one against. As a matter of fact, for discretionary travel, my first choice is always some place on the U.S. State Department’s “stay away” list. I hate crowds, and due to the hysteria, the hotels, restaurants, attractions, and taxis are empty. So they appreciate your business, and prices are low. And, if you’re actually concerned about that stuff, security is usually much improved after an “event.” So I was in Israel during the last intifada. I went to all the hot spots in Rhodesia during the war… Guatemala and Colombia when the guerrillas were active. There are lots of others…

In point of fact, though, I generally feel more at risk at a traffic stop in the U.S. these days. It seems that U.S. cops have been brainwashed into thinking that any contact with the public may actually be with a terrorist, or rampaging militia member, or a heavily armed religious cultist. Things have definitely changed in the last ten years, and these guys all seem to be on a hair trigger. I really don’t like getting near droopy-eyed teenage soldiers in the Congo, but I now consider U.S. cops almost as dangerous.

All those soldiers and police in Belarus were essentially average people — although I’m sure, like police everywhere, more than a few have extra Y chromosomes. The key is that when they put on uniforms, they do as they’re told. They’re no different from their U.S. counterparts. Always remember with cops and soldiers: their first loyalty is to each other. Their next loyalty is to their employer. They aren’t there to “protect and serve” the people in the street. People are all potential criminals and rioters. The people are the last priority, contrary to the fairy tales.

L: Hm. You know, things didn’t go over the edge that night I was on the streets in Minsk, but I was thinking about how quickly things can change. The blood the police shed, beating peaceful, unarmed people, including women, reminds me of the amazing speed with which the “thin veneer of civilization” can be stripped away. The former Yugoslavia comes to mind: a relatively wealthy European country turned into a bloody chaos of multiple warring factions, war crimes, and mass graves, all in a matter of weeks.

Doug: And as you point out in this month’s edition of the International Speculator, no matter where you live, even in the United States, it’s dangerous wishful thinking to tell yourself, “It can’t happen here.”

L: Maybe especially in the United States. I used the links you sent me of the videos showing the police joining the looting in New Orleans, and National Guardsmen confiscating guns from people who wanted to be able to defend themselves from looters, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The big question is not, “Can it happen here?” but, “Will it?” Or maybe, simply, “When?”

Doug: You know I’ve been saying for years that the coming crash is going to be even worse than I think it’s going to be. The correction in 2008 was very scary, but minor by comparison. A warmup. Minor trembling in the ground, just before Krakatoa blows.

That the world financial system will have to face a reckoning day has been pretty much a given since the U.S. took the dollar, the world’s reserve currency, off the gold standard. Since then, decades of profligacy, not just in the U.S., but all around the world, have distorted the global economy to the breaking point. It’s only lasted as long as it has because of the great increases to productivity the computer and other wealth-creating technologies have created, and the fact that many individuals still produce more than they consume and save the difference — even as governments have stepped up their efforts at wealth confiscation.

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I thought things might go over the edge in 1980, but I was early. I underestimated how much wealth there was left in the world for the politicians to plunder. But now, while there is more physical wealth in the world, in the form of factories, homes, powerful technologies, etc., there is also massively more debt. Governments — first-world governments, not just banana republics — are sliding towards default, and in the West most individuals have little or no savings. In the East, many have savings tied up in a deflating gargantuan real estate bubble.

For all the reasons we’ve discussed in many different ways, the Greater Depression we’re sliding into is going to be catastrophic for the old world order.

Uneconomic patterns of production and consumption are going to be liquidated — they have to be — and that’s going to smash a lot of people’s rice bowls. In today’s richest societies, people won’t be able to move back to the family farm the way they did in the 1930s; there’s no farm left in most families. There’s not even that much family left in many families — instead of extended families that care for their elders, who educate the young while the able-bodied adults work, we send our elderly to fade away in institutions and our young to be indoctrinated in other institutions, and we barely know what our brothers and sisters are doing, let alone our other relatives. What happens to the huge masses of such people when unemployment benefits can no longer be extended?

Yes, “It can happen here,” and it’s going to. Maybe not this year, maybe not for several, but when the real crash gets underway, it’ll be unstoppable, and it will destroy the status quo with a speed that will leave most people still waking up to the danger after the harm has already been done.

L: Sounds like a sci-fi horror film…

Doug: I know, and it’s unsettling to sound the alarm. People dismiss you for being a Chicken Little. But the plain truth is that we’ve already gone beyond the point of no return. There is simply no way the U.S. government can pay all its obligations without defaulting or destroying the dollar — which is just a different kind of default. The same goes for a lot of other governments. There is no way out that does not force a lot of people to make painful adjustments.

L: Are you talking blood in the streets or something more like a chapter 13 bankruptcy, where everything gets sold off to satisfy creditors? Do you see the world of Mad Max ahead, or are we all going to work for the Chinese?

Doug: Both could happen, but I’m leaning toward the latter. I think most of the world’s wealth will still exist, but it will change hands. Better start learning Mandarin. You’ll need it to do business in the new world after the crash — or to get a job as a houseboy, working for those who do learn to do business in the world after the crash.

L: How else do we prepare, besides learning Mandarin?

Doug: You know my mantra: liquidate, consolidate, speculate, and create. To which I add and must emphasize again: diversify your political risk. I truly believe that increasingly desperate states will be the greatest risk to your wealth, going forward. The swelling masses of have-nots are going to turn their increasingly hungry eyes on the haves, and the politicians are going to pander to them — and these days, if you have any net worth at all, you’re a have. When the food riots start in New York, LA, London, Paris, etc., I want to be good and far away.

L: But isn’t that true all around the world? Is there any point in trying to escape a global crisis when it’s global?

Doug: Well, in places where people live closer to the land, where farmers can shrug and go back to growing food, the people are less likely to turn cannibalistic — metaphorically, or literally. Countries with economies still largely focused on agriculture, or the production of raw materials, and, frankly, where the people are used to poverty and inequality, should see less social unrest, even as the world’s former leading economies go off the deep end. Countries that have already had tough times have some advantages, such as having no debt. That’s one reason I’ve been investing so heavily in Argentina.

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L: I had that thought about Paraguay, too, when I visited a couple weeks ago — and they have no personal income tax in Paraguay.

Doug: A sound thought. I’m looking into land there as well, although, unlike Argentina, Paraguay is quite isolated and rather backward. Just in case the world fails to make it through chapter 13 in a reasonably orderly manner — if we are looking at apocalyptic Mad Max-type scenarios — I’m setting things up in Argentina so that we are growing our own food. If nothing happens, we’ll have the benefit of great organic produce, finely prepared and served. For what it’s worth, I’m increasingly averse to “industrial” food, full of steroids, antibiotics, and pesticides. Stuff that’s packaged in a factory and frozen for months, or shipped thousands of miles before you eat it. I understand the necessity of all that for the world at large, but I prefer something better. And more secure.

L: That’s why I’ve placed some chips on your La Estancia de Cafayate project myself. Shameless plug to our good readers: you should check it out. It’s hard to imagine a nicer place to weather the storm if things get really bad.

Doug: Not if. When. But even if I’m wrong about the Big Picture over the next few years — after all, there’s always a possibility that friendly aliens will land on the roof of the White House and present Obama with a magic technology that cures all the world’s ills — I’ll still have excellent diversification, and an utterly fantastic place to hang out, play polo, and perfect my nonexistent golf game…

L: Do you think we’ll have much warning for when it’s really time to get out of Dodge?

Doug: The warning bells are ringing loudly now. The time to prepare is now, before currency controls get any worse. Once they do put America and Europe on financial lockdown, that’s when it’ll be time to treat those countries as places you visit, rather than live. I write about these trends in The Casey Report, and I’ll do my best to give readers as much warning as possible. While also looking for the lowest-risk and highest-reward investment opportunities in the world. I’d like to think that some day we’ll be able to buy Belarusian property, when 10:1 gains seem plausible.

L: Me too. It’s precisely because Belarus has been held back while the rest of Eastern Europe has surged ahead that I like it so much as a contrarian play. But what if the world manages to avert financial Armageddon?

Doug: Then we change our strategies. But right now, the train is absolutely barreling down a track that ends in the air over the edge of a cliff. And you got a feel in Belarus, for yourself, just how quickly things can turn when you skate too close to the edge.

L: Indeed I did. By the way, if any readers want to help the victims of the brutal regime in Belarus, my friends at the International Society for Individual Liberty have agreed to accept charitable contributions for that purpose. People can call to make arrangements: (707) 746-8796. I’m a director of ISIL, so I can make sure the funds go to people who were jailed, fined, or blacklisted (lost their jobs, etc.) as a result of their participation in the protest of December 19 or other opposition to the Lukashenko regime.

Doug: I don’t generally believe in charities, as you know, but there are exceptions…

L: Okay then — but let’s try to find something more positive to discuss next week.

Doug: Sure, but I think this was an important topic. It’s important for people to realize that it can happen here — wherever “here” is for them. They should realize and prepare.

L: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. We’ll do all we can to help.

Doug: Right. Until next week then.

In today’s interlinked global economy, it’s more important than ever to not only look at market gyrations — politics has become inseparable from the economy in most countries. Every month, Doug and his fellow editors of The Casey Report discover and analyze critical big-picture trends — to determine which way the economic, political, and social winds blow and how investors can profit from it.

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January 6, 2011