Kiyosaki and Sources Of Wealth

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your khakis.” – Fight ClubDSC02988

Someone’s Rich Dad?  Yeah, no marble sculptures of Poor Dad.  The Romans took “Got Your Nose” seriously.

I think that Robert Kiyosaki wants you to be rich.  I’m certain he wants you to think that he’s on your side, and he’s also spent a lot of time and effort doing presentations long after I would have retired to my private island off the coast of Antarctica (I like it cold) with my laser penguins.  Kiyosaki has made a metric ton of quarters selling the concepts in his Rich Dad/Poor Dad series of books (Amazon LINK) through both the books and personal consulting (rumor has it personal coaching can cost $45,000, and those are real American dollars, not fake Canadian metric currency).

Kiyosaki’s story is that his natural father was “Poor Dad.”  I’m assuming this book was NOT originally released on Father’s Day.

Poor Dad was very smart, and had a Ph.D. and worked in high government posts, but had a worldview that didn’t set Robert up for financial success.  By contrast, “Rich Dad,” a mentor and friend, explained how getting to financial freedom and wealth really worked.

Kiyosaki breaks the ways that people make money into four categories:

  1. Being an employee. This is most of us, and society works to perpetuate this role.  What is an employee?  One who works for a salary (or hourly wages) and benefits.  We live with a misconception that being an employee carries with it a degree of security, even if it’s less security today than it was in, say, 1970.  If you work for the government, however, it’s more likely that you’ll get malaria from a married vampire bat than get fired. (really)

Being an employee is generally based in . . . fear.  And the ultimate fear that employees have is . . . termination.  The threat of being fired, for many, is a direct threat to the core of who and what they are.

Being fired brings with it:

  1. Reduction in Resources – Most jobs pay enough to keep you coming back, but only a very few offer sufficient extra income to build real wealth. To the astonishingly high 78% of Americans that sometimes or always live paycheck to paycheck, the threat of job loss is especially dire.  It doesn’t help that we, as consumers often increase our individual spending so that it matches our income.  But, I’ve posted about that before (LINK).
  2. Loss of Status – Many men (especially) think of themselves AS their job. When you think about it, this makes sense.  The first question you ask a working-age man that you’ve just met is “What do you do?”  This establishes him the social hierarchy.  Society really does define a man by his work.  Time at work can represent half of your waking time.  In 2015, I spent 48% of my waking time at work or commuting to work, meaning I interacted more with co-workers than I did with my family that year.  Status drives many important hormones, and, for men, stress and job loss actually cause testosterone levels to plummet.
  3. Loss of Purpose – I’ve discussed before (LINK) that purpose is necessary for a real life, and it’s necessary to have a big one. Given the hours and time spent at work, it’s inevitable that work can become our purpose.  When you lose that purpose, you’re set adrift until you find a new one.

In a sense, the employer/employee relationship is a kinda like an “on speaking terms” hostage situation.  They have a job that represents status, purpose, and life-giving resources.  You have all of your time, effort, and passion to trade for that job.  Kiyosaki thinks that’s a bad trade.  But he could buy his own island.

  1. Small Business Ownership is the second income generator that Kiyosaki talks about. And, if possible, it comes off even worse than being an employee.  Being a small business owner entails all of the work of being and employee, plus lots more risk.  His reasoning is that employees at least have the business to fall back on if they have a bad day, week, or year.  Kiyosaki defines a small business as a business where, if you take a day off, the business cannot go.  You’re the spark, the fuel supply, and the tires.  Essentially, you become the whole car.  Or Taco Truck.
  2. Business Owner, which Kiyosaki defines as someone who hires employees (smart ones!) to work for him (or her). Kiyosaki feels that small businesses can’t compete at all against these larger entities, since he can hire great legal, accounting, and HR people and small businesses have to do all of that themselves, generally not very well.  Given that the business has support staff in place, the business owner can focus on the business itself.  The owner can also take a day or a week off and the business will continue to function and generate wealth.  Kiyosaki likes this, since money invested into the business makes more money.  And Kiyosaki breaks with many financial advisors here – debt is just fine in his book as long as the debt is generating more revenue than it costs.  This is his formula for building personal wealth, as well as freeing up time to do . . . whatever it is you want to do.
  3. Investing is the end stage for Kiyosaki. Investing allows for all of the time freedom, plus financial freedom.  All of the wealth you could want.  Kiyosaki would NOT classify your house as one of your investments – it doesn’t generate revenue, and you have to pay for it, so it’s a liability.  Investments generate income.  Oh, and risk?

“Investing is less risky than being an employee.  Skilled investors are in control of their investments, employees are controlled by a boss.”

Furthermore, Kiyosaki makes this Zen-like statement:  “ . . . you do NOT (emphasis in original) invest with money!  You invest with your mind!”  In other words?  Find the deal and the money will show up.

As I said, this is a different way to look at life – a different lens.  I’ll easily admit that my life since I was 22 has been focused on being a great employee.  At some point, it seems I need to have better investments, but note that Kiyosaki says . . . “Skilled investors,” but, alas, tonight I learned that my Pez® collection is not an investment because it generates no revenue.

Thoughts?

Will young blood keep me alive forever? or . . . Blood, Billionaires, and Mice

“Think about it. From vampirism to Catholicism, whether literally or symbolically, the reward for eating flesh is eternal life.” – The X Files

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The blood is fake, as is the snow . . . 

Blood.  There’s a lot of it coursing through The Boy’s veins . . .

Last August, I read an article that I found fascinating.  Eggheads performed a study in 2014 that showed when old mice were injected with the blood plasma from young mice that their ability to learn increased, and their memory increased as well.  I’m not sure if they gave the mice the verbal section of the SAT to test them (or, if they took expensive mouse SAT prep courses), but I’m pretty sure that they didn’t give the mice the essay section of the SAT, since all the mice would have had to write about would be how these giant humans keep sticking them with needles.  Oh, and the mice could write about Game of Thrones.  Mice love Game of Thrones.

It turns out that Peter Thiel, multi-billionaire tech investor, is very interested in the implications of those needle-shy mice.  Thiel has been aggressively working on life extension techniques and technology.  This makes sense, since if you’re a multi-billionaire, your checklist for must-haves includes:

  • Island Lair
  • Ownership of a Small South American Country
  • Asian Manservant
  • Low-Yield Nuclear Arsenal
  • Eternal Life

I kid.  Mr. Thiel appears to be six degrees of awesome:

  • He’s a multi-billionaire, but also
  • Chess Life Master
  • Co-Founder of Pay Pal
  • Bought 10% of Facebook for $500,000
  • Has a TV Character Based on Him

He also wants you to live forever, and is funding research to extend life for everybody.  This would change the math of retirement/Social Security, but would also allow people enough life to explore different professions, to change the dynamic of families by providing a coherent story that spanned hundreds of years, or to play endless video games and eat Nachos Bellgrande® forever.

Thiel looks to an optimistic future where people live and contribute to the fullest (though I suspect there’ll be a LOT of 800 year old stoners on basement couches).That where parabiosis comes in.

Parabiosis Etymology:

  • Para from Latin, meaning “Two,”
  • Bio from the Ancient Greek for “Story” and
  • Sis meaning “Sister,”
  • So, literally two stories about your sister – and they aren’t flattering.

Parabiosis as term initially described (and I am not making this up) experiments where two critters of the same species were surgically joined, especially their circulatory systems.  Besides being a bad B-movie plot, this practice was largely forgotten for over 70 years.  New experimenters, encouraged by Christopher Lee playing Dracula, picked the experiments up again.  Someone had the bright idea to stop stitching mice together, and just inject them.  The mice were very pleased, since now they could avoid the whole creepy “sewing two animals together thing” and just have their blood transferred back and forth via needle.  That takes all the fun out of it, but it did induce the mice to stop the strike.

Anyhow, the results showed that injecting old mice with “young” mouse blood plasma had the significant positive health impacts mentioned previously, making them “younger.”  Injecting young mice with “old” mouse plasma made them, in many measurable ways, “older” – they formed fewer brain cells, and tended to hike their pants up higher and reminisce about back in the day when they were baby mice.

Some studies have even been done with humans, and there appears to be significant benefits to us, as well.

Wow.

Given that it looks like the changes might be real, and might be long lasting, there is some pretty significant interest in parabiosis as a starter longevity treatment.

It’s not like we have a shortage of young people who have rich, sweet plasma that you could milk, er, drain, er, farm, er, whatever.  Is harvest politically correct?  And a fit 18 year old can generate 800ML (more than a wine bottle’s worth) of plasma a week safely.  Unlike kidneys, which have to be bought using blackmail or a cheap hotel room and a bathtub filled with ice, it’s totally legal in most places to BUY plasma from the donors – you don’t have to put on a cape or sneak into their room in the dark with fangs.  You can buy it for $40 or $50.

This treatment is totally not a standard FDA/AMA approved treatment.  There is, however, a completely legal way to get a treatment with the plasma, if you have $8,000.  Ambrosia LLC (LINK) is running a trial on the therapy, complete with an extensive (and expensive) panel of blood work to test the before condition and the after impacts of the therapy.  There are even rumors that several Silicon Valley tech titans have their own young and healthy donors on retainer (and, yes, this is legal – if you have $200,000 or so, you could probably wrangle this as well).

And, you might well ask – have you, John Wilder, considered doing this?  Certainly!  $8000 (plus travel to and from) is a bit pricey, and I thought of putting in a GoFundMe or Kickstarter for a “Blogger Looking For Blood” might even get me close to the asking price.  I could even make the argument it’s tax deductible, since I’m doing it for you, dear readers.

I even have my own prospective donor, The Boy, who is so healthy and strapping that he exudes wellness through his pores, along with sweat and teenage boy stink.

I wonder if there’s a BYOB (Bring Your Own Blood) discount?

Frugality, Financial Samurai, Mr. Money Mustache, and Early Retirement Extreme

“Hello Mrs. Farnickel.  How are you, today?  Making a deposit, are we?  Great.  We can just put that into your retirement account and make it go to work for you aaaaand it’s gone.” – South Park

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Frugality doesn’t mean that your duct tape can’t match* your car! Splurge!

*if your car is silver

What if you could live the majority of your life without worrying about a job?  What if, instead of hitting the alarm at 5:45AM on Monday morning you could get up when you wanted, and do what you wanted to do?

Scary.  Sounds like International Communism!  The entire world might fall apart!  Beware, the Chinese Overlords are attacking!!!!

Perfectly capable people are exiting the corporate workforce and becoming independent, as in, “I don’t have to put up with another performance review” independent.  Some examples of this are Sam from Financial Samurai (LINK), Mr. Money Mustache – MMM for short (LINK), and Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme (LINK).  I list them in this order from least extreme to most extreme.

Sam lives in Sam Francisco, MMM in Colorado, and Jacob lives on Planet Jacob (Now in Chicago, after looking around a bit on his blog).

Early Retirement the Financial Samurai Way

Sam’s theory is by far the most conventional.  He wants to make enough money from passive investments and activities like blogging that he’s happy.  He thinks that exactly $211,000 a year is happy, because above that he has to give too much money to the government, which makes him not happy.

I think that most people can identify with Sam – he wants to have a big enough income stream (and no real job) that he can go to Tahiti tomorrow for a month and nothing changes, but he also wants to be able to buy all the stuff that he wants (within reason).  He has property (houses and vacation homes) and rental property and other investments.  He (obviously) could make much more – certainly $500,000 plus a year if he wanted to grind it down and devote himself to it.

One of my favorite posts of Sam’s is where he discusses how he can always pick up a tennis game at the public courts with great players who play a lot, but can never get a good game at the exclusive country club because those guys are pouring their lives out in corporate jobs that rip away their soul in exchange for money.  But, on the bright side?  It’s a LOT of money.

Sam doesn’t make the same choice.  Your money or your life?  Sam has chosen his life.

And, even though he doesn’t know me (and this blog doesn’t yet rank) I owe him – his blog gave me a lot of the motivation to restart blogging after my self-imposed eight year hiatus.

Mr. Money Mustache’s Money Machine

MMM notches it up a bit, even though (by everything I can tell) he’s making huge bank (hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) on his website.  It seems that he gives lots of it away.  Because he can.

Mr. Money Mustache is all about flipping the equation.  He and his family live on $30,000 a year (2016).  This isn’t horribly surprising since the average family income in the US is $56,000.  Mr. Money Mustache’s major difference is that he doesn’t have a real job, blogs only when he feels like it, and won’t put up with anyone’s crap.  If you have a deal, you have a deal.  If you need oodles of lawyers?  Probably not your guy.

His thought is the typical lifestyle of someone in the United States is “An Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness.”  He advocates that you save 50% or more of your income, primarily by shunning many of the expense that most of us regularly take for granted, like being a multi-car family; ignore luxury and convenience and focus on true happiness.

Some of his points, along with my commentary:

  • Debt is an Emergency. It’s killing you, and must be treated like an Emergency.  NO FRILLS UNTIL IT’S GONE!  I know I totally violated this rule with the hot tub (LINK), but that really has made us happy.
  • Live close to work. You can bike.  Cheaper and better for you.  I agree, but selling the house because I have to travel 20 more minutes is extreme, so I’m not going to do that right now.  Plus The Boy is a junior in High School.  I’ll skip moving if I can.
  • Don’t borrow money for cars. I agree (LINK).
  • Don’t buy stupid cars. (Same agreement, same link.)
  • Ride a bike to commute. I also agree, but live too far away, and I’m not uprooting the kids for my commute. Note that the car advice alone saves $250,000 in a decade.
  • Cancel Pay TV. Ooops, I start to get a bit scared here.  Three words:  Game of Thrones.  But this is a huge point:  you end up paying money to do something passive that takes your attention and focus, and many times doesn’t make you any better, so you pay for TV three times.
  • Don’t waste money on groceries. MMM has a pretty long post on calories and such here – but he lives on family food budget about 25% of ours, primarily by avoiding high cost packaged/convenience stuff.  We could be better here.
  • Don’t pamper the kids. They’re not in medical school until they’re in medical school.  They don’t need the Princeton of Preschools.  Kids eat paste.  And that’s high school kids.
  • No overpriced cell phones. Again, we can do better here.  Inertia is killing me on this one – the time cost of change.  The Boy gets better service and more data for less than I’m spending.  Just need time to change.
  • Fix your own stuff. This is like a triple reward.  If it’s broken and you mess it up?  It was already broken.  But you learn how to fix things, which makes you better.  And you don’t pay someone else to do it.

We’re buying a new dishwasher because the existing one sucks.  I know we technically don’t even need one, but I like having one.  In this case, Sears® won’t install it.  I’ve done it before, and sighed.  Okay, I’ll do it again.  And save $75 for what will probably be either 15 minutes’ worth of work or an amusing blog post.

But there is a bigger point that I’d like to note – there comes a time when people tend to become more risk averse, and age is a driver to that.  Pop Wilder’s Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) always flashed a continuous noon (or midnight).  He could never figure out how to set the time, and didn’t want to mess it up so it didn’t work, kind of the opposite of mall lawyers attempting to poke their lawyer fingers into a copier to fix it by playing with all the springs and rollers and things.

Short version: don’t lose your youthful desire to tear something up just to figure out how it works.  NOTE:  I AM NOT speaking to medical professionals, especially ones that might work on me.

So according to MMM, follow the above steps and save 50% to 75% of what you make.  After a while?  Just stop going to work, but enjoy all that nice money you made, plus the lifestyle you created.  MMM figures that, once you’ve started living a disciplined lifestyle, 25x your income should last you roughly forever.

Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme Engine

Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme lives on $7,000 per year.  Combined with his wife, they spend $14,000 per year.  He says he currently has 119 years’ worth of annual expenses saved up as his net worth.  You can probably do that much math, if not, you just might be too short for this ride, the Life Coaster.

Jacob maintains he spends his money much more efficiently than the average person – four times as efficiently.  He uses a 12 year old 12” laptop and, being retired and all, when he wears a suit it’s a $500 suit he bought for $100.

Jacob is probably farthest away from mainstream consumer behavior, and seems to enjoy it – he and his wife lived in a used RV for years.  Me? I have a seven foot stack of books from Amazon in my bedroom that I haven’t read yet.  (Full disclosure – I did read Jacob’s book and there are some great ideas in it).

Me?  I’m not retired yet, and college still looms for Pugsley and The Boy.  The Mrs. and I do have plans, though.  One day after Pugsley graduates from High School we’re moving to a shipping container near the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  Someone has to welcome our new Chinese Communist Overlords!

The Economy, The Fourth Turning, Kondratieff, and You.

“Why? My father would tell the story of impregnating my mother every winter solstice.” – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

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Like they keep staying in that HBO show, “Winter is Coming” except that it’s here . . . 

I can predict the future, with pretty amazing accuracy.

You can, too.

If I step into the path of the bus travelling at 50 miles per hour (0.0000822 parsecs per year) and it’s only 20 feet away, well, you can predict that future, too.

You might be saying, “But John Wilder, you’re cheating, everyone knows that you can’t step in front of a speeding bus.”  Just because you can do a thing that everyone else can do, doesn’t mean it’s cheating.  And it is predicting the future.

Now can I tell you who is going to win the next Super Bowl©?  Not with the same certainty, but a bet on the Patriots™ wouldn’t be a bad one, which mirrors every year since 2002.  I can predict with nearly perfect certainty a number of teams that won’t make the Super Bowl.

So, now that we’ve gotten the whole, “You can’t predict the future” business out of the way, I’ll describe the future via the past and via the life of Pop Wilder.

Pop Wilder started life in late autumn of 1921, and got his first job counting out dimes to pay to migrant laborers at the age of five.  His father and another guy (Mr. Potter LINK) started a small farm bank, and, there being no child labor laws of significance back then, they put Pop to work.  Pop’s boyhood home was Spartan.  By Spartan I mean very few furnishings, not that he had to go live in the mountains in the winter with only his spear to prove his manhood.  He told me that was just a joke after he made me do that.

On the bright side?  Pez® was invented in 1927.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

I’m pretty sure that Pop didn’t think much about the stock market crash at the time – New York was far away, and it didn’t seem to impact the small town he lived in very much.  But it did change his entire generation – they learned to hate debt, and distrust the stock market entirely.

As entered his most impressionable age, the nation entered economic crisis:  The Great Depression.  I think they called it “Great” because at least they got legal booze back during the Depression.  Part of the economic breakdown included a collapse of a significant number of banks which prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to close ALL banks in the United States for four days, even the ATMs.  Pop’s father had done a good job managing the debts that his bank had, and his bank reopened without incident, unlike 4,000 banks that remained closed.  The Federal Reserve and US Treasury reacted during the crisis by:

Instead he [Treasury Secretary William Woodin] decided to “issue currency against the sound assets of the banks [as opposed to issuing currency against gold]. The Federal Reserve Act lets us print all we’ll need. And it won’t frighten the people.  It won’t look like stage money. It’ll be money that looks like real money.” –  Federal Reserve History Website (LINK)

Printing money is awesome if you can figure out a legal way to do it.

Pop worked at the bank after graduating high school as a teller until December 8, 1941, when he and a million other American men marched to the recruiting office to sign up for an all expenses paid vacation in either Europe or the Pacific.  After Officer Candidate School, Pop was sent to the Manhattan Engineering District until they transferred him to transport duty.

When I was a wee lad, I asked him if he’d ever been shot at.  “No, but I was with people they were shooting at.”  I finally got the joke when I was older.

Entering Spring (High)

Along with a million other GIs at the end of the war, Pop attempted to get into college.  He was told “no,” by the college he applied to, and just went back to work at his Dad’s bank and got married.  Eventually they had my brother, who is also named John Wilder.

When his father died, he became president of the small farm bank.  He and his brother (along with their Mother) became minority owners.  The original deal had Great-Grandpop Wilder sharing ownership of the bank with Mr. Potter 50%-50%, but over time Great-Grandpop had sold his shares to Mr. Potter when he needed extra money.

This was a time of great civic participation, of Pop Wilder’s generation beginning to take over businesses and run them with great caution, but also with great optimism.

Entering Summer (Awakening)

At some point in here, I was adopted into the family.  Dad turned down an offer to join one of the big banks in the Midwest when Mr. Potter matched his salary.  He worked at the bank his father started for 17 more years, but this was the last raise he would ever get.

Even though great societal change was underway, the United States had great and broad prosperity and resources were everywhere – we thought that, as a nation, we could spend enough money so poverty would cease to exist.  Everyone was “looking for themselves” as divorce, birth control, and abortion set the seeds for the change that was coming in Fall.  Prior to this time, there was a theoretical link between the dollar and gold.  It was primarily theoretical because individual ownership of gold coins and bullion was prohibited in the United States, though one could own silver coins.

With the severing of the link, the price of gold shot up.

price of gold

Even though we had to live through Disco and the BeeGees, we still managed to get things worked out – Jimmy Carter’s values weren’t too far from Gerald Ford’s.

Entering Fall (Unravelling)

Branch banking laws took small farm banks and made them compete with large banks.  Soon after that, banks were for the first time competing across state lines.  What had been a decentralized system (sort of, the Federal Reserve really, really liked New York) became a few small banks, a few regional banks, but most of the assets belonged to the big New York banks.

Mr. Potter was getting old, and he arranged a bank sale and forced the family to sell their shares to the new owner.  The new owner reversed Pop’s policies, and began loaning to people with credit that wasn’t so great.  (“Any idiot with a truck and a backhoe,” per Pop.)  Pop had been proud that he had never foreclosed on a loan – he only lent money to people with sound credit, with income that guaranteed that they could repay.  Pop retired, and the new owner sold to a regional bank.  This happened several times, though Pop stayed on the Board of Directors long after he could hear what they were talking about during the meeting.

“Bone Preserve?  What’s that?”

“No, Mr. Wilder, that’s ‘loan reserve,’ not Bone Preserve.”

In this era the fighting between political parties went from competition to ideological war.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

Pop was on the Board when the bank was declared insolvent in the wake of the banking crisis of 2008, and sold in a fire sale of restructuring.  Pop passed on not long after.

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I saw this written on a blank sign board in Alaska along the Haul Road to Deadhorse.  Thankfully, the sign was accurate – I was indeed right there.

I bring Pop’s life into this picture because I think his life particularly illustrates how and why business cycles form. These cycles are as much out of the psychology of the people who have money as they are about technological innovation or anything else.  This psychology has very significant implications to society.

The one thing that the economic crisis (followed by the war) did for the country was to clear the debt, but in a much bigger sense, it changed the opinion of the American public against debt.  Pop Wilder hated debt, and lectured me about it every morning while I brushed my teeth.  On days that he couldn’t be there, he had a cassette I was supposed to listen to.

Debt was bad, and Pop had seen the impact of it on people’s lives.  What he had seen as a child defined his life and all of the business decisions that he made throughout his life; further, it defined the psychology of an entire generation.  Pop found it immoral to lend money to those that couldn’t repay it, and would often, after a few bourbons, be a bit morose about the crap he had to take from people he wouldn’t loan money to.  He was saving their financial lives, but they hated him for it.  Outside of the tremendous borrowing for World War II, you can see that the current debt of the United States has no historical precedent (except maybe by the Romans LINK).

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As you can see, whatever it is we’re doing here is equivalent to fighting WWII, but I think it probably involves buying a lot of elephant rides. – Source, Wikipedia

And as Pop’s generation slipped via age to no longer control the bulk of the financial assets of the country, the stock market poured booze in the punch bowl.  The monetarily driven Tertiary Economy (LINK) party started in earnest, debt surged, and greater and greater risk slipped into the picture as large pools of money looked for whatever asset bubble existed that year – be it the first Tech Boom, the Housing Boom, the Pez© Boom, or the Oil Boom.  Certainly fortunes were made in all of those booms, but the busts created greater and greater economic dislocation, and our current economic crisis, when viewed through the lens of history, has always led to armed conflict significantly beyond current levels.  It will end when we’re tired of the total war that we’ve created.  Only after that level of conflict will society set the psychology to avoid debt and war in the minds of the young, and only then can Spring start again.

One note: it won’t look like World War II.  The United States has invested trillions of dollars in treasure to make a World War II style war an easy win for us – no one can touch our military at this point in a conventional war.  Whatever war starts, it’s assured they won’t play by our rules.

Debt Cycles, Fourth Turning and Kondratieff

Strauss and Howe described the future in their book The Fourth Turning (AMAZON LINK, WIKIPEDIA LINK).  This book predicted our current problems.  If Strauss and Howe are correct, we certainly haven’t seen the greatest depths of the current crisis, as we observably are still in a continuation of the old order – we’ve not hit the significant break with the past that we saw at the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Great Depression/World War II crisis.

Strauss and Howe were not the first group to figure this out, and neither was Nikolai Kondratieff (LINK), a Soviet economist working for Stalin’s USSR, though he gets a lot of the credit.  Kondratieff looked at economic cycles from the standpoint of communism and claimed that there was a fundamental instability in the debt and credit cycles in a capitalist society, leading to inevitable boom and bust, which only proud Soviet Communism could solve.  Elevated at first to a high economic post, he visited the United States and an American sent back word that he wasn’t quite Soviet enough.  Kondratieff ended up first in prison, and then finally well, um, sentenced to not breathe any more valuable Soviet air.

What comes out of the other side is (at least) partially predictable based upon the past.

  1. The peak of the Crisis has not yet been reached.
  2. Signs of the peak can and must include doubt as to the final outcome as well as an event so significant it removes current barriers that separate the majority of citizens.
  3. In the past, the Civil War and Great Depression resulted in significant expansions of state control. These eras were times of national (post Civil War) and then (post WWII) international expansion.  Although it is likely that there will be economic contraction, it won’t necessarily lessen state control.  In Great Britain everything went socialist (for a time).
  4. Religious and civic engagement will rise, this is a constant post-crisis theme.
  5. There will be a sense of shared purpose – variance between Democratic/Republican party platforms will decline.
  6. Civil war is possible. Continuation of a unified United States is not guaranteed.
  7. Pez® production will be temporarily suspended to make more pantyhose for our troops.

Now you’ve reviewed a chunk of the history of the United States through the life of a man who viewed an entire economic cycle and was the perfect age at the invention of Pez™.

We know that life will change, and at some point the Patriots® will stop winning Super Bowls©.

Can you think of other predictions?

Share ‘em below.  And share the post!  Pop Wilder and Pez© compel you.

Hot Tubs, Money and Health

“Oh, okay. So I guess you came here in a Hot Tub Time Machine, too.” – Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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A homemade cocoon for our first hot tub.  Notice the used insulation – true Alaska!

It was twenty years ago today . . . oh, wait, that’s Sergeant Pepper . . . in my case it was closer to nineteen years ago . . .

I had just been paid the biggest bonus that I’d ever gotten.  It had been a good year, and I managed a high profile project well – I’d saved the company several million dollars while bringing it in on time.  I had a great, supportive, guru boss (this is both good and bad) who had solid numbers to take to the higher-ups to support his case.  Awesome!

Also awesome was that, after taxes, the bonus could pay down approximately 1/3 of the credit card debt I had at that time.  I had been at the point in my life where I was trying to keep my head above water after a divorce, and credit cards had been a stop gap.  The Mrs. and I sat on the couch in the upstairs living room, as the Sun shined its last golden rays of the day into the room, providing a soft, mellow glow.  We argued about the merits of choosing to pay down the debt, versus other options.  We spent several hours discussing it.

So, The Mrs. and I sat, and made the momentous decision that . . . forget the debt, we’re getting a hot tub.

I know that this is probably not what your financial advisor would suggest you do, unless your financial planner was a twenty-eight year old with a short attention span who lived in his parent’s basement so he could save his money to buy even more weed.  It was a horrible, frivolous decision.  And it was one that I have never regretted.

Not only did we get a hot tub, we got the full-blown Sundance™ party hot tub – seats eight.  We even custom ordered it to match the same colors as our house.  When it arrived several weeks later we moved out of the house and into the tub.  I exaggerate.  We still went into the house for showers.

When we moved to Alaska, we took the hot tub with us.  I eventually encased it in an outer cocoon of plywood and insulation, so even when it was -55˚F outside, the tub didn’t freeze, and didn’t cause the meters at the power plant to spin at light speed.

Our house in Central Midwestia was a great place to hot tub, but if there’s a truly awesome place to hot tub, it’s Alaska.  The Mrs. and I would sit out in the tub for hours watching the aurora borealis write physics equations in the sky in particle, ions, and color.  The aurora would move and undulate, lasting (on a good night) hours as the rivers of light threaded through the sky.  We’ve had a hot tub at every house we’ve lived at, although we never used the one we had in Houston, since . . . it was Houston.

I think that buying that first hot tub was a good decision for two reasons:  we got out of debt, but we did it slowly, and with discipline.  That was good to teach us to live within our means and be frugal, unless I really, really needed those night-vision goggles.

But this isn’t a post about finance, that’s Wednesday’s topic.  Today’s is health . . . and, like apple cider vinegar, hot tubs appear to also be amazingly good for you under most circumstances:

Hot tubs appear to make the following things better:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Aurora Viewing* (Offer Void Outside Alaska)
  • Stress (lowers it)
  • Sleep (makes it better)
  • Blood Pressure (lowers it)
  • Migraine Frequency and Intensity (lowers it – I’ve never had one – it’s working!)

I think the other nice thing is that nobody has a laptop or an iPad™ or a Palm Pilot© in the tub – we’re forced to spend time with . . . us.  And that’s good for overall family life.

On the flip side, people mentioned these negative health consequences:

  • Infections from unsanitary hot tubs (In my experience this would be hard to do.)
  • Birth defects (I’ll abstain when pregnant.)
  • Lower sperm count (No comments here.)
  • Heart issues (But, isn’t that every darn thing??)
  • Chlorine over-exposure (see below)

I have had personal experiences with the chlorine, especially early on nineteen years ago when learning how to chemically treat the tub.  At one point, my hot tub had nearly the same chlorine gas content as last seen during trench warfare in France.

Most recently The Mrs. bought a swimming-pool sized chlorinator for the hot tub because there might be 50 hot tubs within 20 miles, Wal-Mart doesn’t stock any hot-tub sized chlorinators.

This aircraft carrier sized chlorine-berg treats approximately 100 times the volume of water as the hot tub on its lowest setting.  The deceptive danger from this chlorinator is that as it sits and bobs in the tub, it’s releasing chlorine into the water, and not a whole lot comes out as gas, so the water doesn’t smell like chlorine.

I got into the tub for a bit after the chlorinator had been sitting in there for about 48 hours.  Pretty soon I felt like I was getting prickly heat (if you’ve never had it, it’s the feeling of pins and needles from when you go from cold to hot).  The way that you solve prickly heat is to . . . wait it out.  Seventeen minutes later, I determined it wasn’t prickly heat, but an actual chemical burn from the chlorine in the tub forming hydrochloric acid and eating my skin.  On the plus side?  I got a rad chemical peel of the type that New York women pay the big bucks for.

One website went as far as recommending no more than five minutes in a hot tub.  I regularly spend several hours in one, but not several hours at 104˚F.  More like 102˚F.  Meh.

So, a bad financial decision is sometimes a great life decision.  Maybe some Beatles in the tub tonight?

 

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING YOU HOLD DEAR TALK TO SOMEONE SANE BEFORE FOLLOWING ANY ADVICE HERE.  Can’t you tell by the stories that I’m not to be trusted on certain topics?

Umbrella Insurance, Teenagers, Driving, and No More Houston

“Lawyers. We’re like health insurance. Hope you never need it. But man-o-man, not havin’ it?” – Better Call Saul

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Artist Conception of my wreck in Houston. Man, I want to drive a Monster Truck in traffic, just once!

It was a wet, hot, humid day in Houston.

But every day in Houston is like that.  One thing we noticed after we’d lived there, oh, two hours is that it’s always hot and humid out, like being forced to live in Rosie O’Donnell’s armpit, except Houston smells less like Cheetos™.

True story:  one spring day after we’d lived there for over a year I got up to mow the yard.  I was shocked to find that a northern dry wind had blown in during the night and the humidity was about 30%.  It was about 60˚F out at 8AM (that’s 7.431 PM in metric).  I was shocked because I had never seen a better day in Houston.  It was the perfect day to go to the park, or go do something outside.  The Mrs. especially hated Houston’s climate, probably exacerbated by her love of Alaska’s climate and the icewater that flows through her veins instead of blood.

I went inside, full of enthusiasm, and exclaimed to The Mrs., “Honey, we’ve got to go do something today, it’s beautiful outside!”

The Mrs., voice dripping with cynicism:  “I have only your word for that.”

But this wasn’t that day, it was six months later.  It was a hot, humid day, like almost every day.  And it was raining for the first time in about a month, a slow drizzle that started about an hour before I left the 35th floor of the shining office tower for the day.

Driving home meant Houston traffic.  And on this day, it was fairly light.  To get to the highway, I first had to merge onto the frontage road, which generally meant getting some speed up so that you didn’t commit the traffic foul of slowing everyone up, which I think condemns you to traffic hell, which is kinda like regular hell, but with more sitting and listening to Bob Segar, forever.

I looked in front of me, and there was only a Volvo getting ready to merge into traffic, but there was a gap larger than a Texan Prom Queen’s hair, meaning he just had to get going and he’d be merged without an issue.

I looked to the left to see if I’d have a similar gap.  I saw that I would have a great gap, if I was going just a little bit faster.

I hit the accelerator to get to merging speed.

The Volvo® was still there, so instead of merging speed, it was now ramming speed.

I hit the brakes, since surely there was enough road to stop.

There was on any other day but this one.  As I mentioned, it hadn’t rained in about a month.  I have no idea what builds up on the concrete roadway during that time – it might be snail snot? –  but when you add the right amount of water like on this misty, hot, drizzly day?  It was slicker than a Yankee banker covered in Teflon©.

Impact.

My airbag deployed, but I was fine, I have massive, bulging arms, so it was more likely the steering wheel would break than my sternum.

I jumped out of the car and went to the person in the Volvo, a guy of about 28.  Houston loves people who are 28, since they can work 14 hour days for months without end.  “I’m sorry! That was my fault! Are you okay?”

I know that my insurance company would rather beg to differ that it was my fault, but, really, if you’re rear ended?  It’s the idiot behind you who is at fault.

And this was my day to be that idiot.

“Are you okay?”

He was still a little stunned, the way everyone is after a wreck, which is exactly the way that Johnny Manziel must always feel.

“Yeah, I am.”

“I’m just glad you’re not hurt.”

After a wreck in Houston, unless one of you has been decapitated, you drive to a police substation and fill out an accident report.  We exchanged insurance information, and drove to fill out the report.

After filling out our information, I said, “I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

“Now that you mention it,” he said, “my neck is sore . . . .”  I’m not sure how much my face gave away, but he quickly stopped there, “No man, it’s fine.  I was just joking.”

Whew.  Fortunately for me, he really was fine, because I wasn’t insured well enough for him to be injured, and in that moment I knew it.

When I was just out of college, I kept all of my car insurance at the minimum required by law.  My theory was that if they sued me, they couldn’t take anything from me unless they wanted part of my debt.  The only time you’re really immune to lawsuits is when you have nothing worth taking.  But now I had actual cash in my bank account, and my only debt was part of my mortgage.

Not good.  If Mr. Volvo had really been injured?  Ouch.  I was lucky!

The next week I realized just how big my luck was.  My brother, John Wilder (don’t ask), has a son who was injured in a motorcycle accident where he wasn’t at fault.  He wasn’t hurt especially badly, but his medical bills had already surpassed $78,000 and they were suing the driver.

I called my insurance company and upped my coverage.  A lot.  So I was a little safer, right?

I moved out of Texas and into Upper Southeast Midwestia.  One night while drinking beer and burning a brush bonfire in my backyard, my next door neighbor (for whom my family must be a nightmare) and I were talking about our youthful misadventures.  He told a rather delightful story of how he and his friends were throwing dirt clods at one another.  No, it wasn’t last week, it was when he was nine.

(For the benefit of those who have never left the concrete of our big cities, a dirt clod is dried mud, much softer than a rock, but much harder than your life has ever been.)

Everyone was throwing clods at everyone, in what was a fairly common experience back before the Safety Moms clamped down.

One boy, my neighbor’s best friend, got hit.  He had to go to the hospital.  Guess who got sued?  My neighbor’s parents, because they owned a bank.  My neighbor confided in me that he had an umbrella policy that covered him for $1,000,000, mainly to cover him against the future misdeeds of his son.

The Boy probably won’t cause that kind of havoc, but I have to worry about Pugsley, who, in a good natured goof that no one would hold against him, might cause Canada to fall into a black hole.  Oops!

Okay, I called my insurance company and the next day I had a $2,000,000 umbrella policy.  It costs about $200 a year.  I did have to upgrade my homeowner’s insurance and my car insurance, but that’s fine.  I actually never calculated the percentage increase, because the peace of mind was so great.

Lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Minimum insurance is awesome, as long as you don’t own anything. Once you have a nest egg?  Insurance is cheap.
  2. The amount of coverage can be as much as, or more than your net worth. They have to go through State Farm® to get to you.
  3. I like oxygen. No real relationship to the topic, but I thought a third point would be more visually appealing.

It’s my personal opinion, for me (as my lawyer, Lazlo made me write, because he was assigned to me by my insurance company) that insurance makes sense if you have assets, drive, or have teenage sons and don’t want to be bankrupt because Laura-Lou and Cletus have a great lawyer.

On the bright side?  We don’t live in Houston anymore.

Rome, Britain, and Money: Why You Can’t Find Fine China after the Apocalypse

“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. . . The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. . . A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”- Patton

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Is it just me, or is that Tom Cruise’s profile on that coin?

In the spring of 407, a Roman citizen stood on the dock and watched as the last Roman Legionnaire placed his sandaled foot on the deck of a boat, preparing to cross the English Channel.

That last Roman soldier turned and looked back at the island as the sea winds blew on the fair spring day and powered his ship to Gaul (now France).  He had voted for his new Emperor – Constantine III, a usurper and common soldier in Britain.  Constantine III had decided to take his Legion across to set up power in Europe, and eventually march on Rome to solidify his claim to the throne.  Constantine died in 411, beheaded after abdicating his power.  Legend says that Constantine III was the great grandfather of Arthur, but those days are lost to history, and anything said about them would be nothing but speculation.

But the Roman on the dock, waving goodbye to the Legion, he is the one that has always fascinated me.  What were his thoughts as he watched the ships containing virtually the entire organized military of Britain sail off?

“They’ll be back soon.”  That’s always been my bet.  He expected that the Legion would return after Constantine III took Rome.  Or, worst case, another Emperor would send a Legion in – for the last 360 years the Romans had at least some presence in Britain.

The man, we’ll call him Marcus, walked back to his villa that overlooked the sea.  He had central heating, and a personal bath that was likewise heated.  He was fairly well off, as he made significant money importing plates from southern France and selling them to almost everybody.  They were cheap, and everyone dropped plates, so he had a guarantee of repeat business.

The winter came, and the Legion didn’t return.

The spring came again, and with it came the Saxons, raiding in force.  Again in 409 the Saxons raided.

And in 408 no plates came.  The stone masons that Marcus had hired to build an addition to his villa didn’t show up.  Marcus took his treasure of coins from his business, and buried them so that he wouldn’t lose them in the raids.  He never told his son, Lucius where the coins were buried, so when Lucius buried his father five years later in the shadow of the burnt and wrecked villa, he was within two feet of hitting the pottery the coins were buried in.  It wouldn’t have mattered much, since by that time coins were used less frequently, and most deals were built around bartering one thing for another.  Without the army there, most people didn’t care all that much about the copper coins.

Lucius lived through 450, and heard of the last request for the return of the Legions to the Emperor in Rome as the Saxons decided to stay.  The Emperor’s surviving Legions were busy elsewhere.

Rome never returned, even though on Rome’s version of Facebook®, FaceusLibrium™ some scribe wrote that under the “Relationship with Britain” box that “It’s Complicated.”

Wow, that was dark, am I right?

I’ve been thinking about Marcus for about 20 years.  This is the first time I gave him a name, but I do know that there was a Roman citizen who watched as the last soldiers marched on to the boat, and I do know he expected them to be back – sooner rather than later.  Rome was forever, right?

Some of the Roman roads in Britain are still in use today – the Romans were excellent engineers, and built to last, which shows that they never built dishwashers.  Roman place names still echo down the centuries, not the least of which is Londinium, the Roman name for Scotland.  Okay, I’m kidding, the Romans called Scotland “Jim,” because, well, why not.

But after the dark days started, things changed.  Let’s take the plates that Marcus imported.  That was a real thing.  In the south of what is now France, an entire industry was created that made china plates and bowls, and these were shipped throughout the Roman Empire.  Fortunately Pugsley didn’t work there, as he would have accidently broken scores of plates each day, but each time in a humorous way so that they would still love him, because after all, Jerry Lewis is considered a genius in France.

When Empire ended, so did the trade in plates and bowls.  And archeologists love ceramic plates, because every family has their own little Pugsley that drops crockery day and night. (Truth be told, The Mrs. and I were out on the deck last night when we heard the tell-tale crash of plate under influence of gravity and a tile floor turning it into a future archaeologist’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Plate Fragments Dating from the Time of Emperor Pugsley Wilder the First.”) Trade itself also dropped off, since people are notoriously bad at sending their ships and cargo to places that have no money and no law.

Where I get too close to today.

One of the symptoms of the failing Roman Empire was its currency.  The Romans had a currency known as the Denarius.  This is not the same as Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and is not planning to invade Westeros.  The denarius got its name because, (I swear I’m not making this up) it was originally worth 10 asses.  Not just any asses, but the Roman bronze coin called the asses.  Why, what did you think I meant when I said asses?

Anyhow, the Roman denarius was quite popular – it was silver, and was the more common coin used in Rome.  It was so common that its name is still in use today – the Spanish word “dinero,” meaning “burrito with sour cream” is derived from the denarius.  And as it was the common currency, it was how soldiers were paid and how most people bought wine and proto-Pez®.  Rich people used gold to buy bigger things.  (An aside:  One coin name that amused me was the “solidus,” which gives me the thought that one Roman said to another, “Pray, Cassius, do me a solidus.”)

Back when the denarius was just getting started, it was really silver, 95%-98%, and was stable at that weight and purity for around 250 years.  As you can see in the graph below?  At the later stages of Empire the coin was worth nearly nothing, being smaller and having only 5% silver.  The denarius is the ancestor to . . . the penny.

devaluation_denarius

Would you buy this stock?

The Roman Empire was really strong – it had great Legions, and even better roads.  For the Romans, the road was military technology, and the roads allowed their Legions to move farther, faster to the borders of Empire than the barbarians that they had to constantly fight possibly could.  This consistently terrifying military allowed the Romans to rule an Empire for a long time, because it allowed them to also stipulate that Roman currency would have to be used.  You might say he who has the gold, makes the rules?  I’ll counter that with he who has the best military in the world says what gold is.

In that manner, a Roman Emperor finally decided that he’d stop using silver (except for a whiff) in the denarius.  He could make the currency worth less, because he had Legions that were expensive, but could also be counted on to enforce the currency laws of the Empire.  Essentially the Empire was so strong that it could use the military to enforce use of the currency.  And this system worked for quite a while, (like everything) until it didn’t.

And what happened to all of the currency when the Romans issued the crappy, near worthless denarius?  People took the good stuff and kept it.  “Bad money drives out good,” is known as Gresham’s Law, which he sent in a letter to Queen Elizabeth I.  Others had stated the law before he did, including Copernicus who wrote a whole book about it the year Gresham was born.

This has happened even in the United States, and recently.  Back when we used to pretend our money had value, we used actual silver in the coins.  Congress decided that was silly – if we had to spend money to make money, then we cut out the profit margin of government, so in 1960’s they passed an act that removed silver from US coinage.  If you wonder why you never find a 1962 quarter in your change, it’s Gresham’s Law:  everybody took all the coins that had actual value (the good) and replaced them with base metal coins (the bad).  Bad money drives out Good.  And that’s what happened with the Romans, too.

The Roman denarius was worth less than 1/2000th of its original value when it was discontinued, but all of the cool silver ones were melted down pretty early, because they were worth more than their face value, like a 1962 quarter is worth $3.36 of our current bad money, which is backed by . . . nothing, except the Army, Navy and Air Force.  And the missiles.

But, back to Britain!

In Britain the archeologists looked at the plate parts.  They found that 100 years after the Romans left, the king ate on plates that were . . . crappy.  These plates, in fact, were worse in every respect to the plates that a common citizen of Roman Britain could buy quite cheaply 100 years earlier.  The British had forgotten how to make plates, and had to figure that technology out all over again.

Literacy took a hit, too.  If the Romans had a Department of Counting People Who Can Read, that information is lost to us, but when you look at excavated Roman cities, there was sufficient Roman literacy that graffiti artists would leave nasty “Your Momma” jokes almost everywhere.  “Epaphra glaber es.”  That translates to, “Epaphra, you are bald.”

Yikes, Epaphra isn’t very popular, but somebody also wrote that “Epaphra is not good at ball games.”   But if we have enough people who would write on walls about the food, the barmaid, or their girlfriend, we had way more people who could read and write in Britain 100 years after the Romans left – it’s likely that Marcus could, and probably his son, Lucius could read as well.  But reading became less important of a life skill than “not getting murdered by the Saxons” as time went on without Roman rule.  If Lucius had a son, he’d not ever learn to read much at all.

It’s because of this that we end up not having much of a written record of Britain during this time frame – whereas we know Epaphra sucked at football and probably needed to wear a hat, we don’t even know when the Battle of Badon took place.

What happened there?  Oh, just that maybe King Arthur defeated the Saxons in a comeback victory straight out of a Hollywood boxing movie.  So we don’t know when.  We at least know where, right?  No.  There are guesses, but the Battle of Badon details are lost to history, though some accounts (written hundreds of years later) said that Arthur mowed through the Saxons like a Doberman pinscher through a pot roast.  I hope I get someone like that writing about me in 200 years . . .

One of the great things about civilization and a rule of law (besides this blog) is that it allows for us to have cool things, and not have the Saxons up in our face all of the time.  But for forty years after the Roman Legions left, the people of Britain were hoping and expecting that they would come back.  Our world is an interconnected web of commerce and information that allows our life to happen in amazing comfort.

And it’ll always be this way, right?