A Conversation with Doug Casey – LIFE, FREEDOM AND SPECULATION
While it can be highly profitable to know which stocks the sector’s best are picking, I prefer to know the philosophy and process behind their success.
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” ~ Unknown
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely benefitted from paying attention to industry heavy hitters’ stock picks. Without a doubt, however, my biggest successes have come from applying the lessons I’ve learned about speculation from those same individuals – people like Doug Casey.
This line of thinking is what shaped the series of questions I asked Doug, and while they may seem a bit unorthodox, I believe there’s a lot of actionable wisdom to be gleaned from his answers. Look closely and you will discover what is, in my opinion, the basis for successful speculation in the most volatile market in the world, the junior resource sector.
Without further ado, A Conversation with Doug Casey:
Brian: Last fall, in an interview with Albert Lu’s, The Power and Market Report, you mentioned that you have become less attached to physical or material things, as you’ve gotten older.
You’re still an active speculator and you speak regularly at various investment conferences around the world, so if it’s not the desire to make more so that you can buy more stuff, what motivates you to keep going?
Doug: The first rule, the prime directive of all living beings whether they be amoebas, people, corporations or governments, is to survive. And, in order to survive, you need resources. So, it’s genetically programmed into all entities to get more “stuff”, because resources helps you to survive. Of course I want more money because it allows you to do more things; money helps you to survive. Perhaps take advantage of a new technology, a break-through that enables you to live for 200 years. It’s not that I’m un-interested in a higher standard of living and more wealth. Everybody is, that’s natural. But from a psychological point of view, I’ve put it lower on the totem pole.
I’m thinking about writing a book that would be called Renaissance Man. It would centre around the three most basic verbs in every language; be, do and have. Most people concentrate on the ‘have’ verb; I want to have a new car, I want to have a new house and I want to have a new girlfriend. This is actually very stupid. The ‘having’ is not important; more important is ‘doing.’ In order to ‘have,’ you need to ‘do;’ you need to create something, you need to provide a good or service first in order to ‘have’. The ‘do’ is very important. You need to gain skills. Gaining possessions is marginal, gaining skills is much more important.
Even more important than that is the verb ‘be;’ you can change and improve your essential being. That allows you to do things, and that, in turn, allows you to have things. People just think of the end product – the have – without thinking of the ‘be’ and the ‘do.’ Of course, on the other hand, if you have stuff and you’re not corrupted, you can use the ‘have’ to facilitate your ‘doing’ and the ‘doing’ can facilitate your ‘being’ something different. It works both ways.
To answer your question, I’m trying to concentrate more on the ‘be.’
Brian: Last year, in an interview with Jeff Berwick, you mentioned that the book, The Market for Liberty, changed your life, transitioning your political philosophy from an Objectivist to a Libertarian. A change in political philosophy is a major transition, one of which I’m not sure every person is capable. In my view, we live in a society of paradigms or bias that lock us into thought patterns that keep many of us blind to other alternatives that may be more efficient or beneficial.
Whether it be financial, political or social, in your opinion, how does one keep an open mind and see through paradigms and their own inherent bias?
Doug: A very good question. I’ve become more pessimistic as I’ve gotten older because it occurs to me that most people, even if they use the phrase, ‘I think,’ what they really mean is ‘I feel.’ In other words, it’s not a rational process, it’s an emotional process for most people. That’s why political movements are always disasters.
In my own personal pilgrim’s progress, I started out like most kids, as a liberal. I became a conservative after I read Barry Goldwater’s, Conscience of a Conservative. It made sense, but, in high school, I had had no other political exposure. Then, after college, I read Ayn Rand’s book, Virtue of Selfishness. I suggest absolutely everyone read it. It’s only 120 pages. But it’s so brilliant I had to put it down after the first page because I was in shock. I couldn’t believe that someone could crystallize all the things that I’d thought about, but hadn’t put together yet.
Then, when I read, Market for Liberty, I realized what was wrong with Objectivism, which is actually a secular religion. Market for Liberty is an extremely important book; it shows how a society would work without government. The big problem is that everyone thinks: “what should the government do?” or “maybe if we change the government to do this instead of that, everything is going to be better,” This is completely barking up the wrong tree. The problem is the state itself; it’s government as an institution. The State is an anachronism in today’s world, it’s out-moded, it’s a stupid, destructive, coercive concept. It’s actually inherently evil. Market for Liberty explains how society might work without the State. Stop listening to liberals, conservatives, republicans and democrats; listening to them is a waste of time. That’s my take on the subject.
Brian: In my opinion, the vast majority of people undervalue freedom. Instead, fear has taken over and is playing centre stage. Ironically, fear is quelled with greater government regulation and comes at the cost of our freedoms – which are diminishing by the day.
I recently read James Rickards’ latest book, The Road to Ruin, and even though I agree with him, it still surprised me to read, “Facism is not in our future, it is here now.” ~ The Road to Ruin pg.256. Over the last decade, whistle blowing has hit the mainstream, with Julian Assange and Edward Snowden becoming household names.
My question is do you think that the segment of the population that has heard the claims made by people like Assange and Snowden truly understand their magnitude? Please explain.
Doug: Apparently half of the people in the US, or thereabouts, think that Snowden and Assange are traitors, which is ridiculous. They’re heroes, both of them are heroes. I don’t know what they are like personally, but their actions are heroic. As far as what Rickards said, yes, he’s absolutely right. In fact, all the States in the world are socialist or fascist.
You have to define these terms accurately. Marx did that; he coined the term ‘capitalism,’ incidentally. He defined capitalism and socialism and, actually, using a Marxist analysis, you can define fascism as well as communism. It’s all about the means of production, ownership of property.
Fascism is an economic system, first and foremost. It’s not really about jack boots, good looking black uniforms, and soldiers goose stepping. It’s an economic system,perfected by Mussolini. It’s one where both the means of production and private goods are privately owned, however the state controls them all.
Socialism has been a disaster throughout the world, of course. It can be defined as state ownership of the means of production, but you can still own consumer goods– houses and cars and stuff like that. But the state controls it all. Fascism is much more economically productive than socialism but not nearly as productive as pure capitalism, where everything, absolutely everything, is owned—and controlled– privately. But that doesn’t exist anywhere. There are no capitalist systems in the world. They’re mostly fascist systems.
The average person conflates the government with the country; they’re different things. Calling Assange and Snowden traitors is goofy- traitors to what? I mean, to the country? Not to the country, no, they’re trying to preserve the values of the country. Traitors to the government, which is different. Who really cares about the government? The government just a bunch of deep state types, basically criminal personalities that are controlling the country and making people think that the government is the country. It’s not. In fact, it’s a dead hand on top of the country. The fact that most people conflate these two things alone tells me that there’s no hope.
Brian: While paradigms and bias give us the basis for how we view the world, emotion is the fuel that causes us to act without logic. The biggest lesson I have learned in my speculating career, thus far, is to act against the crowd and buy when everyone else is selling – and vice versa.
Would you say that you have successfully removed emotion from your speculations and investments, over the course of your speculating career? Why or Why not?
Doug: I try to, but it’s very hard to separate your rational mind from your emotions. In fact, when I feel like buying something or selling something, I say, “wait a minute, maybe I should do exactly the opposite of what I feel.” So, it’s very hard, but it’s important. If you start thinking that way, acting against your own emotions, it does improve your results because, as a general rule, you don’t want to be in what they call a ‘crowded trade,’ where everyone thinks, “yeah, this is going to happen”. Maybe there are actually good reasons why something should happen, and maybe it will happen. But, if everybody already believes that and is already long or short, there’s no profit in it, the profit is already gone.
Brian: Whether it’s Kondratieff wave theory or William Strauss and Neil Howe’s (authors of The Fourth Turning) analysis of the cycles of generations, human history appears doomed to repeat itself. Although, as a species, the human race is continually improving itself (the ascent of man) from a technological stand point,
Do you think we can ever break the boom and bust cycles that have been a common thread in our history?
Doug: Yes, I think we can. Boom and bust cycles have a significant psychological element, of course. But in the modern world, cyclical booms and busts, are basically a result of monetary manipulation. In other words, central banks create the business cycle. There’s a cyclical aspect to everything but central banks, which claim they exist to smooth out cycles and make things more predictable, have actually done exactly the opposite and accentuated these things.
A more basic problem is the psychological aberrations that lie within everybody’s mind. Everyone has their own set of psychological aberrations, and when you put a bunch of people together in a group the size of a nation state, they necessarily act according to the lowest common denominator, and the lowest common denominator is these psychological aberrations that make people act like chimpanzees. So, perhaps you’re never going to get rid of business cycles from a psychological point of view, but you could hugely improve things by getting rid of central banks, which create an actual monetary business cycle.
This is why the rich have been getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, whereas in the past, previous to the creation of the central banks around the world, 100 or so years ago, it was a more level playing field. The rich, not the poor, are in a position to profit from inflation.
Technology and science have made things better, of course. We would already be colonizing the moons of Jupiter if it hadn’t been for the State and the distortions that it has caused in the economy.
Brian: As you know, the junior resource sector is regarded as the most volatile in the world. The combination of geology, accounting and a general knowledge of markets can make the average investor or speculator feel as though the odds are perpetually against them.
In your opinion, how does one tilt the speculating playing field in their favour?
Doug: Well, I developed a mnemonic with the 9 Ps,* to help in assessing junior mining stocks, Mining is a crappy business, it’s a 19th century choo choo train business. This is why kids today aren’t going into mining. Sure, it’s fun to play in the dirt with big yellow trucks. And you need all of the things that come out of the ground. But it’s a horrible business.
It used to be a good business; you found a deposit, you developed a mine, nobody gave you any trouble, you made a lot of money. Today, it’s harder than ever, even with modern technology, to find a deposit anywhere on Earth, which is very picked over,. And mining is much more capital intensive than it used to be. You’re mining lower grade deposits, and it’s 10 years from the time you find something until the time you can start mining, because of regulations, NGOs, native groups, and taxes. It’s a horrible business.
That said, mining stocks are still the most volatile stocks in the world. But volatility isn’t your enemy. Volatility is your friend if your timing is good. Or it can be your deadly enemy if your timing is bad, obviously. *NOTE: The Nine Ps of Resource Stock Evaluation: People, Property, Phinancing, Paper, Promotion, Politics, Push, Pitfalls, Price – A Special Report Detailing each P can be downloaded for FREE from Casey Research.
Brian: In your Introduction to Strategic Investing, on page 21, you give the reader 4 steps to solidify their financial base, while providing them with protection against unexpected dangers and the liberation to become a successful speculator. The four steps are: Liquidate, Create, Consolidate and Speculate.
Strategic Investing was published in 1982; in your opinion, do these steps still hold true in today’s world? Please explain.
Doug: They are more important in today’s world than they were back then. Strategic Investing, in fact, is a very good book. About a quarter of it, or more, is about the stock market. The stock market was less than 1000 then, and I said the market was going to 3000—which people thought was absurd.. And I recommended a bunch of stocks which were yielding 10-15% in current dividends.
But at the same time, I felt – and I still do feel – that we were going to have a major depression. You have to look at western civilization itself, which has been going downhill since the start of WW1. American civilization has been going downhill since the mid ’50s, and the average American’s standard of living has been going down since the early ’70s. Now I think we are entering the trailing edge of this huge financial hurricane that we entered in 2007. You have to look at the long term time frame for all of these things.
Listen, we’re going to have a depression that, despite the huge advances in science and technology which are ongoing and wonderful, is going to be the biggest thing that has happened in modern history— much bigger than the unpleasantness of 1929 to 1946.
In that context, it makes sense to liquidate, which means get rid of everything you don’t need, that’s just a burden. Reorient yourself, consolidate, find out what you want to do, what your skills are, who your connections are. Take advantage of that. Stop thinking like an employee. And you’re going to have to learn to speculate, because in times of monetary chaos, there are a lot of opportunities for a speculator. But you have got to have the capital in order to engage in speculations, and so those 4 things, I think, are more important now than they were in ’82, which incidentally, was a very chaotic time.
Brian: In my opinion, your book, Speculator, can be read on a number of different levels. It’s simultaneously a great adventure story – complete with death, love and suspense – a useful guide to speculation, and a philosophical commentary on some of the most important social topics of our world. Although I still struggle with this sometimes, my biggest take-away was the importance of listening to your gut.
In the book, Uncle Maurice gives Charles the following advice,
“Contrary to common opinion, intuition wasn’t mystical; it was scientific. Intuition was the ability to properly integrate many subtle pieces of information. To have good intuition, therefore, someone needs experience and data and a logical mind that can fuse them into coherence” ~ Speculator (PDF pg.17).
With this book, was there a particular lesson or theme that you wanted to bestow upon the reader, and if so, what? Why now?
Doug: Speculator is the first in a series of 7. We’re going to release the next one in July, Drug Lord. We’re trying to reform the unjustly besmirched reputations of a number of highly politically incorrect occupations.
People automatically think, “Oh, speculator. Must be a horrible person taking advantage of the problems of poor people that are losing everything they have.” In Speculator our hero, Charles Knight, who is 23, goes to Africa, exposes a mining fraud, gets involved in a bush war and makes a huge amount of money. But he’s highly ethical. We show the speculator as a good guy.
In the next book, Charles becomes a Drug Lord, dealing in both legal and illegal drugs. We show how that business works, the morality of it, and that you can be a good guy as a drug lord, too. When he becomes an assassin in the third book, we deal with the morality and history and the techniques of an assassin.
You have to break away from the crowd. That’s the big lesson, That’s what our hero, Charles Knight, does by dropping out of high school, not going to college, and running off to Africa. He does this throughout his life, doing things that few others do. Most people act like potted plants. They’re born some place, they grow up there and they stay there. That’s OK for plants, but it’s not a very good survival strategy for a human being. There are a lot of themes in Speculator.
Brian: Doug, it’s been an absolute pleasure, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.
There isn’t just one way to be successful in life, we all have different paths to achieving our goals. There are, however, skills that we can develop, over time, that will help us overcome most obstacles that we encounter.
In this conversation with Doug, we tackled a few of the topics that I, personally, believe are major hurdles for individuals during their pursuit of wealth. These are highlights for what I believe were the most important takeaways from my conversation with Doug:
- Stop focusing on the ‘HAVE.’ Instead, concentrate on the ‘BE’ in order to ‘DO.’
- Read Ayn Rand’s Virtue of Selfishness, and Morris and Linda Tannehill’s, Market for Liberty. These books could change your life.
- Liquidate, Create, Consolidate, and Speculate – There are going to be opportunities to speculate, but you will need to have the capital in order to engage. These four steps have never been more important than they are now.
- Most importantly, be a contrarian, act opposite to the crowd, do things that nobody else is doing!
- Watch for the release of Drug Lord in July – the next adventure in a 7 part series that began with Speculator, a story that’s not only exciting and enjoyable to read, but draws on some very important lessons for speculation and our society .
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Until next time,
Brian Leni P.Eng
Founder – Junior Stock Review