Doug Casey on the 'Worsening Storm,' QE3 and the Hard Assets Alliance
Introduction: Doug Casey has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows and has been the subject of articles in People, US, Time, Forbes, The Washington Post and numerous other publications. For nearly three decades, Doug Casey and his team have been correctly predicting major budding trends in the overall economy and commodity markets.
Daily Bell: Welcome, Doug. Give us an update on what you call the "Greater Depression."
Doug Casey: A depression is a period of time when most people's standard of living drops significantly. I think we can argue that this one really started in 2008. For the last couple of years, by printing up trillions of currency units, governments have − so far successfully − papered things over. Instead of allowing markets to liquidate, their currency printing has made it possible for people to
Daily Bell: We asked you last time how long you thought it would take before there is a complete breakdown in confidence of the US dollar.
Doug Casey: Unfortunately, confidence is a critical element here because the dollar − like all the world's currencies − rests mainly on confidence. Confidence is a matter
Let's talk about actual economic reality. At this point, everything the government is doing – and not just the US government but governments everywhere − is not only the wrong thing but exactly the opposite of the right thing. They're passing more laws, raising taxes, creating more currency and incurring more
Daily Bell: Where's the best place to sit this out?
Doug Casey: I don't want to be in a country that's in the worst part of the storm. So I don't want to be in Europe, I don't want to be in the US, I don't want to be in China. I'm a fan of developing countries – I always have been – that have high levels of growth with low levels of debt. We have to remember that having savings shows you've been producing more than you've been consuming. Debt is just the opposite; debt means you've been consuming more than you've been producing, that you've been living above your means. So I like a place that's got a stable, growing economy, high levels of savings, not a lot of debt − along with minimal taxes and regulation. It's not an easy call, because there is no country in the world today that's going in the right direction, sad to say. But there are some that are definitely better than others. That said, forget about Europe, the US and China at this point.
Daily Bell: You explained last time that Washington is spending a trillion and a half dollars more than it's taking in. When does that stop?
Doug Casey: It's not going to stop because it's entirely structural at this point in time; it's going to get worse. If you look at where the government spends its money, it's actually very interesting, as well as disturbing.
What it basically shows is that just as in Greece, or most of the EU for that matter, most US government spending is on entitlements and welfare programs of various types − mainly Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, so-called Income Security and pensions. Those things are politically and legally impossible to cut; in fact, they'll grow. Most of the rest of spending is on so-called "defense," which alone is 25 percent of the budget. As much as Americans love their military, that's not going to be cut; in fact, the Republicans, idiotically and unbelievably, want to increase it. The other functions of government − the police, justice and regulatory agencies − are really just a tiny portion of government spending.
However, this last might be the very area that I would cut first, because it's perhaps the most directly destructive area of government. If you abolished the praetorian agencies like the ATF, the FBI, the DEA, the CIA and the NSA and the regulatory agencies like the FDA, FCC, SEC, DOT, DOA, HEW, HUD, EPA, EEOC and so many more − it's an endless list − that alone would help the economy boom and give us some prospect of recovery, some possibility of not having the US government declare bankruptcy. But that's a fantasy, a pipe dream; meaningful reform is not going to happen. It's a strictly academic discussion.
Daily Bell: Congress likes to pose as a part of the solution but it seems to be part of the problem. Are there political answers to these questions? What is to be done?
Doug Casey: It's not just part of the problem; it is the main problem. One thing I always liked about Ron Paul is that he says we should observe the Constitution. Unfortunately, that's not going to help right now because basically the Constitution is whatever the Supreme Court says it is. In other words, the Constitution has been interpreted out of existence. Everything that the US government does today is constitutional; it's all been arbitrated by the Supreme Court. However, if you use a simple, common sense reading of the Constitution, and don't try to parse it like a medieval scholastic or a Talmudic scholar, it's completely obvious the whole thing is a dead letter − except for those portions that deal with procedural trivia, like who acts as the vice president of the Senate, voting procedures, administrative details and the like, things that are of no consequence to anyone outside of the Washington Beltway.
As much as I like Ron's solution of observing the Constitution – the entire Constitution – it's not realistic in the totally corrupt political system we now have. Any part of the Constitution that deals with maintaining liberty for the individual against the state − which is to say the important parts of the document, the parts that made it unique − are now meaningless. In fact, anyone who quotes the Constitution now runs the risk of being jailed, in the interest of "national security," as a subversive, a dangerous anti-government radical or perhaps sent to an institution for psychiatric procedures. I kid you not; things have changed radically in the US over the past few decades.
But let's indulge in a fantasy and say Ron Paul somehow became President. Even if the Supreme Court didn't overturn everything he did as unconstitutional, Ron would have another, even bigger, obstacle with the US Congress. They would impeach him. In addition, he would find that the people, average Americans, would be bitterly unhappy about having all the government freebies taken away; they would want to lynch him.
Even if, through some miracle, the Supreme Court, the Congress, or the rioting mobs didn't remove him from office, he would still have to deal with the three million government employees, starting with the people who run the praetorian agencies − FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, DEA and others. He'd likely get a very forthright and disturbing talking to. The government as a whole − absolutely including the Pentagon − would, at a minimum, scheme against him.
So I'm afraid that's the long answer to your question. There really are no political solutions at this point, not within the current framework.
The only possible "solution" for change is a dictatorship. We'll probably see a dictatorship in the US, perhaps after the next major real or imagined terrorist event. Or perhaps if the US gets involved in a real war, not just a sport war like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or perhaps if the economy really collapses. Maybe we'll hit the Trifecta and all these things happen. Of course, a dictatorship, although it won't be called that, is actually the worst thing that could happen. Dictatorships are never a good idea even if their intentions are good. But that's the way things usually progress; it's a pattern throughout ancient, medieval and modern history. Why should the US be any different at this point?
Daily Bell: Can government be cut?
Doug Casey: No, I don't think so, because people have become too reliant on it. Americans are no longer self-reliant frontiersmen; they're now mostly dependent, inert and overweight consumers. You never hear people referred to as "producers," just as "consumers" − as if that were a good thing. The government is a major factor in their lives, and they like it. You can't cut Social Security because a huge swath of Americans are living on it and most retirees have no other assets or income.
Then there's Medicare and Medicaid, both of which should be abolished; that alone would cut the budget in half − but only in half − as well as induce people to be more responsible about their health. It would also radically reduce medical costs and improve the quality of care. But that's out of the question; people would squeal like stuck pigs. They want more of that type of thing, not less; they want Obamacare. You can't cut back on pensions and military pensions; those are contractual obligations. So what do you have left? You have interest on the national debt, which, at around $250 billion, is actually a small item. That's only because interest rates are at the lowest levels in history. But in the next few years, interest rates are inevitably going way up. So instead of paying 2 percent on $16 trillion, let's say the government will be paying 10 percent on $25 trillion. No doubt the Chinese will be happy to lend the US Government an additional $2.5 trillion a year...
There's simply no hope for any change without totally draconian measures. Of course, we are going to get draconian measures but they are going to be the kind that make things worse, not make things better.
Daily Bell: What about the Fed? Should Bernanke raise interest rates? Can he?
Doug Casey: Well, I've got to tell you, that's the wrong question to ask. It shouldn't be an issue of what the Fed should be doing − the Fed shouldn't exist. I don't believe in price controls of any type, and for the Fed to determine interest rates, to overrule the market, is just a form of price control. The Fed should be abolished, as it serves no useful purpose whatsoever. It never has. It's not necessary. With its current policies, the Fed is creating gigantic distortions in the markets, in the ways people produce and consume. The longer they suppress interest rates in a vain effort to keep unsustainable economic patterns going, the worse the collapse is going to be. Low interest rates discourage saving and encourage debt and consumption.
Daily Bell: Is it the people's fault? Should they just vote the bums out?
Doug Casey: Well, if you vote the bums out you are just going to get a new set of bums. What kind of people do you think want to be politicians? Primarily sociopaths. The elections are a ridiculous charade performed every four years. People imagine that if you vote for Tweedledum, that he will somehow be an improvement over Tweedledee. There is vanishing little difference between the left wing of the Republicrat Party and the right wing of the Demopublican Party; they're really the same thing. They are both philosophical statists and collectivists. The only difference between the two US parties is that while the Republicans pretend to like the free market, they definitely dislike social freedom. And while the Democrats pretend to like social freedom, they definitely hate economic freedom. What a choice! There's no real difference between them; they're just distinctions of rhetoric.
Recognizing all that, and everything else being equal, you might prefer the Republicans to the Democrats because at least they have some kind of an atavistic affinity for a semi-free market. I consider the right wing of the Demopublican party to be the stupid party and the left wing to be the evil party. The Democrats really do have bad intentions, while the Republicans are just hypocrites.
Is it the people's fault? Of course. They're all trying to live at the expense of everyone else through the state. I don't vote because I don't want to be complicit in the corrupt process. I urge others not to vote. You may recall, during the Viet Nam War, that they used to say, "Suppose they gave a war and nobody came." I like to say, "Suppose they gave an election and nobody voted." Entirely apart from the fact that your vote doesn't count, I'm not interested in feeding more power to the system. Politics, which is an innately coercive process, should be de-legitimized through non-support.
Daily Bell: What is the destination of the US dollar?
Doug Casey: The dollar is an I O U nothing on the part of a bankrupt government. It will reach its intrinsic value because the trillion and a half dollar deficits that they're running now – and it's actually more than that if you use accrual accounting as opposed to cash accounting as any business would do − can only increase. They'll fund the deficit by creating more dollars. Governments all over the world are doing the same thing, but it's much more serious for the US to destroy its currency than for any other country because the US dollar is, in effect, the world currency. By that I mean it's the actual de jure currency in at least three other countries, and the de facto currency in maybe 50 more. In addition, most of the central banks in the world have most of their assets in dollars. So if the dollar is wiped out, and I don't see how that can realistically be avoided at this point, it's going to be a worldwide catastrophe, not just a national catastrophe. So it's much more serious than most people think.
Daily Bell: Comments about Ron Paul now that he has lost?
Doug Casey: I think that Ron has done more good politically, in the way of education, than just about anybody I can think of. I am also very gratified that most of his support appeared to come from the younger generations – college kids, teens and people in their twenties. This offers a ray of hope for the future. But the fact that he didn't get any major traction in the US shows me how utterly corrupt and apathetic the population of the country has become. The trend today is more people want more government; that's a fact. But we have to keep moving forward with our philosophy, not because we'll necessarily succeed but simply because it's the right thing to do. I don't expect to win or even change anybody's mind. But at the same time, I'm not going to roll over like a whipped dog and wet myself; I'm not going to run over a cliff with the herd. I'm going to keep promoting liberty because it's the right thing to do.
But let me expand a bit on what I said earlier, about what would happen if Ron actually became president. Sure, he could get away with doing some positive things; he'd certainly try − unsuccessfully, I believe − to reverse the devolution of the US into a police state. But whoever wins this election is going to face the Greater Depression head on and will be blamed for it. I'd much rather, therefore, see Ron or someone like him try to win in 2016. If someone like Ron Paul had become president as recently as 1980, when Reagan was elected, he might have succeeded. But the tenor of the country has degraded a lot since then. The place is no longer America; it's now the US, which is just another nation-state.
Daily Bell: Mitt Romney – will he win? Barack Obama?
Doug Casey: I don't consider myself a good political handicapper because I'm usually too optimistic. The only person that I ever correctly guessed was going to win the US presidential election was Obama, the last time. I don't fancy having my finger enough on the pulse of the average guy − whoever that is − to make an accurate prediction. But I suspect that unless the economy really goes into a tailspin between now and November people will vote for Obama because things have improved on the surface from the bottom of the crisis four years ago. And, shamefully, they buy into his envy-driven class warfare rhetoric. Furthermore, Romney comes off as a phony and an empty suit; it's apparent he has no philosophical center at all. At least Obama has some core beliefs, even if they're despicable. The fact that the best the Republicans can do is Romney is proof of their complete moral bankruptcy − and this after McCain, who was a mildly demented, hostile old man. The Republicans really are the Stupid Party and the Democrats the Evil Party.
As for Obama's slick populist campaign, the average American − who has almost no assets, whose house is under water, who has no cash – will prove easy to bribe. He's not likely to vote for a multi-millionaire. I find it disturbing the way all Obama's attack ads on Romney center not on the man's numerous flaws or complete lack of any philosophical core but focus on the fact that he's actually made some money – the only really good thing about him ... it's horrible, shameful.
Daily Bell: You called Ben Bernanke a fool last time. Have you changed your mind?
Doug Casey: No, not at all. It's hard to imagine a worse person to be running the US central bank, with the possible exception of Gideon Gono, who presided over Zimbabwe's central bank a few years ago. He really deserves to be hung by his heels from a lamppost, if only because what he's doing to the US economy is more destructive than what Mussolini did to Italy. Since I believe the Federal Reserve should be abolished, I'm forced to conclude that anyone trying to prop up the structure is either a knave or a fool, or both. But, looking at the bright side, perhaps Bernanke will unwittingly cause Keynesianism to be utterly discredited in the years to come.
Daily Bell: Prediction about QE3? You said it's happening now by stealth. Still?
Doug Casey: Yes, of course. They have no alternative simply because with the government spending about a trillion and half more than it's taking in, and few foreigners – in fact, almost nobody – wanting to buy government debt at close to zero interest rates, the Fed will continue buying most of the debt out there. And it is actually creating super money; the purchase of debt by the Fed is actually the engine of inflation, the most effective one. The purchase of US government debt by the Federal Reserve will not only continue but necessarily accelerate.
Daily Bell: What's going on in Libya these days? Mali? Syria?
Doug Casey: The US Government is sticking its nose absolutely everywhere today. These are all ridiculous and counterproductive adventures. First of all, none of these countries are real countries; they are all artificial constructs, arbitrarily created in the boardrooms of Europe. Their borders on the ground have nothing to do with tribal, ethnic, religious or linguistic differences among the people that live there. They are always going to be unstable for that reason. That's true of almost all of the countries of Asia and Africa and many of those in South America. For that matter, it's true of Europe itself. Nation states are inherently unstable. Governments everywhere − but absolutely in developing countries − are basically just vehicles for theft. Running a government is by far the easiest way for someone to become wealthy, as well as to punish groups and individuals he doesn't like.
There is nothing that the US can do to ameliorate the problems in these artificial countries as long as they exist in their present form. By intervening we only make things worse and we only create more enemies for ourselves. These people, the natives, don't like to see teenagers from an alien culture shooting up the landscape and breaking down doors in the middle of the night. We're only counterproductively creating problems, not solving any problems in these countries.
Daily Bell: War with Iran next on the menu?
Doug Casey: They certainly keep beating the war drums, don't they? It feels like Romney is even more of a warmonger than Obama has been, or Bush, for that matter, which is hard to believe. But war is the health of the state. Whenever there are serious problems within a country it's natural that the political class wants to find foreigners to blame for their problems. Iran seems like the best candidate for that at the moment. It certainly seems that a war with Iran is likely; I think it will be an absolute disaster because, unlike backwaters like Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is hunting big game and we might really get hurt. It's one reason I remain bullish on oil, even above $90...
Daily Bell: How about Russia and China?
Doug Casey: As for Russia, I don't think a country that produces almost nothing that anybody wants except oil, some minerals, and weaponry has a very good future. Add that to demographic collapse, widespread alcoholism, lots of restive minorities, the fact Putin is a veritable dictator and that most of the country is owned by 100 oligarchs.
China has a very different problem. The average person works hard and saves 20-30 percent of his earnings. But what does he do with his savings? It either goes into a bank deposit or the purchase of real estate. Unfortunately, there's a property bubble, which has been fueled by bank loans. The Chinese banks will be buried under bad property loans, plus bad loans made for political reasons. The Chinese government has had its own QE program, creating trillions of yuan, relatively bigger than that in the US. They'll have to create even more to prop up the banks − it won't do if Mrs. Han can't access her life savings. But they won't be able to prop up the real estate market. So there's going to be a big washout and a lot of people are going to be unhappy with their losses. China could easily disintegrate, at least for a period of time. That said, however, this is going to be the Chinese century.
The key with all these countries is that they should be left alone by the US government. I would, for practical purposes, abolish the State Department, too. Intervening in any way in any country around the world does nothing but make enemies and further bankrupt the US. So anything that the US does with these countries is counterproductive. Foreign relations should be the province of tourists and entrepreneurs.
Daily Bell: Why is the US growing even more warlike? What's triggering it?
Doug Casey: What does trigger it? That's a good question. My guess is that, as any government gets bigger it naturally tends to attract the wrong kind of people − people who are interested in power and willing to use coercion. As more of them get into government they have a tendency to drive out the ordinary, decent types who might be there. That's one reason why large states always decline and fall. Another is that, like I said earlier, governments like to blame the problems they create on foreigners. Not only does it misdirect the blame but warfare also tends to unite a country behind its leaders. This is why war is often a consequence of bad economic times; the classic example is World War 2 stemming from the last depression. Perhaps also, as Christopher Hedges observes, war is a force that gives life meaning − as perverse as that sounds.
I fear there's really nothing anyone can do to avert the trend towards another major war. The best thing is try to locate yourself away from likely participants so you're not too adversely affected. The US will absolutely be a participant...
Daily Bell: We asked this last time. Should a new 9/11 independent commission be established to get to the bottom-line truth of what really happened that day?
Doug Casey: Of course there should be. Here you have one of the greatest crime scenes, perhaps the greatest crime scene, in American history, and yet the buildings were bulldozed within a week, very shortly after the fires were put out. That's not the way you treat a crime scene. A simple murder scene can be blocked off and left open for years. There are all kinds of questions that never received satisfactory answers. For instance, what happened to World Trade Center 7? That building came down by controlled demolition about six hours after buildings one and two came down. If you're going to destroy a building, it takes several weeks to plant the charges, to review structural engineering and so forth; there's never been any explanation why Building 7 came down in its own footprint. I do know from my own research that there's never been a high-rise building collapse due to fires, especially fires on upper floors.
The whole thing is very strange from beginning to end and a proper investigation should be done. There are about a hundred things that just don't smell right. But then, there are so many things that don't smell right about the US government, at least since the Kennedy assassination, even with the strange death of Vince Foster during the Clinton administration. There were about 50 separate things that made me think that it couldn't have possibly have happened the way the story was reported in the popular media. The destruction of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City is another; it's literally impossible for a low explosive, ammonium nitrate fertilizer in this case, to have taken down the reinforced concrete pillars in that structure, especially from a van sitting out on the street.
I'm not asking these questions because I'm a conspiracy theorist. To the contrary. Even though I think Adam Smith was right when he observed that everyone is constantly conspiring, anyone who's tried to get a few friends to agree on something as simple as what movie to see knows how hard it is. I'd simply like plausible, realistic explanations, the type you can only get from a hardheaded independent investigation. The concept of a government investigating itself is laughable.
Daily Bell: Why don't you tell us about the Hard Assets Alliance you are involved with?
Doug Casey: What we are trying to do with Hard Assets Alliance is to make it easy for people all over the world to own gold, and to have specific, allocated, gold in specific locations, in several places in the world. I'm also a shareholder in goldmoney.com and a huge supporter of its excellent program but the world needs a number of alternatives. Hard Assets Alliance is an excellent complement for what goldmoney.com does. I think everyone should have an account. The first week we opened we established 1500 accounts; people are interested.
Daily Bell: So where are gold and silver headed?
Doug Casey: It's important to remember that back when this latest bull market started, in 2001, gold was at $350 per ounce and silver was just over $4. But in real terms, both metals − especially silver − were actually cheaper than they were in 1971 before the Nixon devaluation. Now, at $1600 and $28 respectively, the metals are no longer at giveaway levels. But at the same time, there's every reason to believe they are going higher − not just in terms of current dollars but also constant dollars.
I don't recommend people buy them as speculation at this point. They should buy them because they are the only financial asset that is not simultaneously somebody else's liability. You no longer should buy them with the idea of making capital gains but with the idea of preserving capital, keeping what you have. Now you want to buy them for safety and security as opposed to capital gains. I personally continue to buy gold. I don't continue to buy silver because even at $28 an ounce it takes a lot of it to be worth significant money; you really do have storage problems with it. On the other hand, it's not a potential political hot potato like gold... but I continue to buy gold all the time.
Daily Bell: How about the mining industry? Explorers versus producers ... Where are we in the business cycle?
Doug Casey: The thing you have to remember about the mining industry is that it's basically a crappy business, from just about every point of view. It requires gigantic capital investments, often billions of dollars up front, to build the mine − and that's after you've already spent scores of millions finding and proving the deposit. Even then there's no guarantee that the mine is going to be profitable. And even if it is economical you can't move the asset, and it's a sitting duck for taxes, regulations, shakedowns from NGOs and worse. That's why Warren Buffett or his mentor, Benjamin Graham, never invested in mines. There is too much risk in commodity prices, and there's too much political risk.
Furthermore, most of the low-hanging fruit in the mining world has been picked. Almost all the high-grade deposits in stable, convenient places have likely been exploited. So at this point what you have left is low-grade deposits in unstable and inconvenient places, with no infrastructure. It's a horrible business.
So now, with that said, mining is cyclically a fantastic place for speculation. With mining, as with anything, actually − I'll buy anything if the price is right and at this point mining stocks of all descriptions, both the producers and the explorers, have been beaten up so badly that right now I think they are excellent speculations. Governments all over the world are creating trillions of new currency units; that guarantees there will be new bubbles, new manias. This is ideal from a speculator's point of view. I'm convinced that one of the bubbles is going to be in the precious metals, and a super-bubble is likely to appear in the mining shares. They're a terrible business but can be the best of speculations. Where else is it possible to cyclically find stocks that can move 10-1, 100-1, or even more, in just a few years? Prices are now so low that this is an excellent time to accumulate them. They're actually quite low risk now − and, most people don't grasp this, a good speculation is a low risk speculation.
My method is generally to just accumulate the quality shares in companies that are going to survive; that's critical because most miners don't survive over the long run. That's why we developed our 8 P's approach to selecting these stocks. There are thousands of them and we don't want to either miss opportunities or make major mistakes. Let me underline this: We're at or near a major bottom. This is the time to back up the truck.
Daily Bell: Are there powerful central banking families intent on world domination? Is the Internet slowing them down? Will they take over the Internet?
Doug Casey: The Internet is absolutely the best thing that has happened to humanity since the creation of the moveable press by Gutenberg. It's been one of the major forces of liberating the individual and working toward individual liberty, in all history. That's the good news. On the other hand, that's exactly why governments and the powers of darkness generally want to restrict and limit the Internet. I don't know who these people are. As I said, I'm not partial to conspiracy theories of any type but I think it's only natural that people who hate the concept of liberty would like to destroy the availability of Internet.
Daily Bell: Still a fan of South America after Argentina's various takings?
Doug Casey: Well, the Argentine government is one of the most economically illiterate and politically destructive in the world. But this is nothing new in Argentina and has been the case for most of the time since Peron, for the last 60 years. The good news is governments come and go.
The nice thing about the Argentine government is they are mainly interested in padding their bank accounts; they don't bother you if you are a foreigner who can pick up and leave at any time. It's not currently a great place to own a mine, or an oil well, or a business. But it remains a great place to live. Property titles are sacrosanct, even more than in the US and Europe. There are still so many pluses about being in Argentina that they overwhelm the negatives of the current government, and the current government will be gone in three years. They're not bothering us; there are inconveniences but that's true everywhere, sad to say.
With what they are doing with the currency right now, Argentina has again become one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, countries in the world because the official exchange rate between the peso and the dollar is 4.5:1. On the black market, however, you buy pesos at 7:1, which means that the cost of living has plummeted in Argentina. I love hanging out down there. Our project is unquestionably the best resort community in the world, at any price, anywhere. I like my neighbors down there.
You know, there is now no place in the world where the government is not a problem; there's just no place at all. I don't know where you run at this point. I do know, however, that you've got to diversify politically. Your biggest risk today is political. I know Argentina is not ideal, but it's a great place to be. I chose it by process of elimination from over 175 countries I've been to. I urge your readers to take a look at our website, lec.com.ar. Better yet, come visit at our next event in early November.
Daily Bell: Any final thoughts you would like to share with us?
Doug Casey: I am working with several governments around the world, believe it or not, to try to set up official gold-backed currencies and a 100% reserve gold-backed banking system. I'm getting some interesting results. It's been a hobby of mine for about 30 years and I'm continuing to do that.
Daily Bell: Thank you again, Doug.
Doug Casey: Very nice talking to you. Take care.