Culturalism · investing · Personal Finance

Does Gold Really Have “Intrinsic” Value?

Hanging around investing circles results in the brain being peppered by a plethora of loaded talking points. These might include specimens such as “Value Investing,” or “Contrarian Growth,” themselves miniature tribes to help organize the sphere of economic debate. An especially lovable variety is the claim summarized as, “Gold is better because it has intrinsic value.”

Yet does this argument stand up in the real world? The term “intrinsic” is defined as “belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing” by our frat bros at Merriam-Webster. Applied to gold, the concept becomes a little bit dicey, to say the least. To be clear, Burl Ives’ beautiful metal can be employed to build a variety of modern technologies, so in that realm its naturalistic state may hold value, providing of course that no replacement substance is found. Other metals such as silver enjoy similar advantages, although they do not necessarily track the same price levels as those bright yellow blocks.

That being said, as a firm medium of exchange versus the mocked “fiat currency,” gold’s worth should be called into question. Currencies or assets are ultimately worth something based upon how individuals (or large groups) value them. In the United States, our government has long since adopted a policy of monopoly money inflation, but this doesn’t mean people ignore a $20.00 bill lying on the sidewalk. The piece of paper holds value due to perceptions of the institution behind it. Because America remains a major world player with powerful military resources, we have not been relegated to the status of the Zimbabwean Dollar or Argentine Peso, even against eternal criticisms by Austrian-leaning economists. Inflation is of course real in the United States, but our country’s position prevents it from becoming as  visibly horrible and destructive as it might otherwise be. Were the nation to lose its international standing, or if large swaths of the population suddenly reject paper money, this would of course change.

Gold on the other hand appears safe because there is a limited known supply on earth, and it cannot be printed by central banks. True, but technology exists allowing scientists to create the metal in a lab, and while it is presently cost-prohibitive for businesses, could a powerful government with the ability to print endless sums of a (valued) currency not pursue the endeavor, and succeed in flooding the market? There is also the possibility of more sophisticated approaches being developed to reduce the expensive nature of the process, which would radically disrupt the metals bazaar.

Placing all else aside, gold like any paper currency retains value largely due to how people perceive its worth. If we take the extreme scenario of inflationary and societal collapse peddled by libertarians, the glistening doubloons will only matter for those who wish to have them, or folks seeking to construct things from the metal. Most people are liable to be interested in bartering for guns and food, two resources less popular in the Wonderful World of Mike Maloney. Not to mention the influence of private armies who could well issue their own currency, enforced as always by the barrel of a gun.

With all this I seek not to dismiss the importance of precious metals in an investment portfolio. My own includes them (but more so silver), and concentrating your resources into one asset alone is risky. It is however crucial to not drink deeply of the popular swill pushed by gold marketers. Last time I checked, most (if not all) are taking payments in that crisp-smelling green paper doomed to make our bank accounts absolutely worthless.  

Stay safe and take the Gold Pill.   

Culturalism · Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

Is Economic Decentralization Actually Good?

Among libertarian circles in the United States, there is a stalwart love for the concept of the gig economy model. The late politician Harry Browne openly advocated that employers should sack their workers and rehire everyone as independent contractors, while Gary Johnson was arguing for the Uberization of everything just a few years back. Their logic holds that getting outside government restrictions allows individuals to earn more, and companies to spend less. It sounds almost like a win-win scenario across the board.

Of course things are far more complicated in the applied economic sphere. As much as 1099’s and “zero hours contracts” are streamlined to begin with, the State has not cooperated with matters going forward. Contractors are thus left having to put aside money throughout the year in anticipation of a tax charge that would otherwise be taken out from the regular employee paycheck.  The result is people (especially the more youthful) getting shafted when they forget or fail to accumulate enough in savings to meet the annual tax bill. In theory the model is more efficient, but also dangerous to the average person’s financial picture.

Being off the hook for standard deductions can also increase the chances of having to purchase health insurance directly as a consumer, without any employer subsidies. Again, the model sounds great, though participants need to be careful about the type they buy. Cheaper health insurance plans and health sharing programs can elect for special rules to delimit their liability for conditions otherwise insured by federal mandate. An example of the shortcoming centers on the story of a diagnosed cancer tumor being deemed a preexisting condition, allowing the Medi-Share plan to deny financial support for medical services. The patient managed to successfully appeal, but at the cost of stress from a five-figure treatment bill.

High personal costs are often accompanied by unimpressive pay for gig workers. Although a top-performing delivery or rideshare driver can theoretically bring in over $1,000 per week, this is liable to demand long hours and no off days due to the nature of the market. Of course none of the money totals are guaranteed like a regular worker’s paycheck, so the pressure level can be astronomically higher, leading to mental health issues. Tie everything to the need to maintain one’s own car, and the picture becomes solidly grimmer.

The other issue with gig mania is the propensity for the leading firms to suppress individual freedoms. While Uber and Lyft have long been heralded as a way for the market to beat back the corrupt taxi union cartels and their big government supporters, they also permit a few silicone nerds to control service access. Uber itself recently admitted to banning 1,250 riders from the app for not observing corona mask restrictions. That’s over a thousand people who can no longer use the taxi service because their name and info has been blacklisted, and doesn’t include the political figures banned from their cars as well. A traditional cab would allow you to pay in cash, hence even those marked for derision would have the option to ride.  

So yes, decentralization has granted us enhanced freedoms, but in a twisted, cynical way. No longer must we tangle with the machinations of payroll; instead, one can simply stress and struggle to conserve money before STILL filing taxes amidst those April flowers. Hours are flexible, but so is the ability to even make a living. The greasy, unkempt medallion taxis have been replaced by loyal contract vehicles, but watch what you think, or they’ll pass on by.  

Ahh, the taste of liberty!

Culturalism · investing · Personal Finance · Self-Improvement

How Long Will The Simple Yet Be Mocked?

Sometime back I produced a video concerning the problems entailed by our dalliance with modernity and technological progress. My penultimate suggestion was for people to re-embrace nature, opting for smaller communities with solid values over the cosmopolitan sprawl, or farms instead of NYC apartments. In response, lurid and sarcastic replies bubbled up from the happy Ethernet cords wrapped around the electric maze of the world. They smugly advised, “Practice what you preach,” the comfortable retort that allows irritated lumps to quickly resettle into the brain-destroying digital resort without feeling a call to change.

For the record, I have already made leaps and bounds in the “less-grid” direction. I own a decent plot of land with two well systems, a garden, and a large walnut tree. Composting is a regular practice, and I am gradually shedding processed foods from the dietary plane, in many cases creating consumables from scratch. My skills with crafting clothes by hand are not immaculate, but they improve on the regular.

None of those disclaimers should matter insofar as the thrust of history is concerned, however. Recent reports, which are only surprising to the uninformed and socialist, suggest Wall Street is now delving into futures contracts involving water. The development has tickled many concerned senses because of projected water shortages, with two-thirds of the planet’s population expected to face supply issues by 2025, with many already experiencing the unpleasantness.

Enlightened folks have seen this coming for years. The incessant push for growth, for globalization and free movement of peoples, all in the name of economic profit, can lead but in one direction. As basic natural resources shrink and the gluttonous thirst to build more continues unabated, there will be further attempts to buy up valuable land and lord it over the poorest of creatures. Even the homeless squatter in the woods may find himself litigated out of existence so some sycophantic corporation can expand its quarterly earnings report. The dreaded sludge seeps on.

What can any lone man do? Resist with lifestyle choices. Take your wallet and carefully consider where to settle, hopefully escaping the pollution and scum-populated urban areas for distant peace. If funds are not available for a house, buy the land itself, preferably with access to fresh water. Get a camper or a van to start with. Look into solar and gravity-powered technologies. Learn to cook. Respect natural systems and work to preserve them. Read so you understand the problem.

As for investment options, look into Xylem and PIO as starting points, along with others. The former has experienced a decent run, and I’ve witnessed its penetration on a local basis too. PIO thus far hasn’t wowed anyone, but that could change. Watch out for that pricey expense ratio, which currently clocks in around 0.75%.

More than anything, be prepared to swim, even if you dance amid the sands of a dry wasteland.       

investing · Personal Finance

What Holding Long Can Do

The financial world is replete with articles attempting to preach the virtues of strategies such as value investing, contrarianism, options trading, and growth concentration. Each community maintains a certain level of ideological sway, despite the fact that outcomes are not always grand. In this post I want to consider the notion of holding long using the context of Apple stock, which reveals how sometimes the strategy is not just holding, but holding long enough.

Back in August of 2014, I shelled out the money for some shares of the technological behemoth. This was after its legendary stock split, and opinions diverged as to Apple’s ability to deliver continuously in the future. Over the next nine months, the stock climbed slowly to around $130 per share, and I recall the forecasts suggesting it was time to dump the stock and take profits. My commitment to holding long kept true however, and I did not sell.

A year later, Apple had actually receded to a price of around $90 per share, making my unrealized gain bright and red. Although irritated, I still did not submit the sell order. By the end of 2017, the stock was sitting at $175 per share, and seemed destined to continue rising, so I kept my piece. Apple shot up to over $200 per share the following year, only to get hosed in the December 2018 sell-off, and by January 2019 it hovered in the $157 range. In December of 2019, the stock went above its previous high and rested as neighbors of $270.  

From the tail of July 2020 to this day, Apple has jumped from $380 per share to a whopping $500, bringing my six-year return to over 400 percent. What’s more, the company just announced a stock split which stands to quadruple the number of shares I own. And if that’s not enough, I have been paid a dividend (reinvested of course) for the past half-decade.

Not all holding long stories are like this, and indeed many turn out differently, but it gives one an idea of how the process works. At any time during that long period, I might have decided to take profits, worrying of a later decline or collapse. My failure to be brash resulted in a fat return, albeit over time. This is a theme I will be discussing in a future book on investing. Investments rarely pay off quickly, and oftentimes the jewels take months or years to reveal their shine.

So fire up the brokerage account, be at peace with your choices, and forget about them. It seems to have good outcomes.

Culturalism · Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

Corporations Don’t Want To Compete

The common line in conservative and libertarian circles is that corporations are suffering. All they truly want is to operate in the free market without government intrusion, but the State is a harsh mistress. So they are left to solemnly trudge on, tears at the corners of their eyes, wishing and wondering if someday a change might materialize.

While this remains a touching and heart-plucking image, it simply fails to measure up in the real world. Despite the protests of economic liberals, very few firms (at least the larger ones) actually desire substantial market competition, which can easily cut into their profits and require continuous innovation. They find it far easier to establish a dominant position from where effective opposition can be limited, if not entirely stomped out.

In case skeptical souls raise complaints, let us go directly to the source. Peter Thiel, the brilliant co-founder of PayPal, flat out admitted in his excellent book Zero To One that creating monopolies is the way to get rich. Corporations follow his lead quite dutifully, buying up smaller competitors before things get too large, and lobbying for regulations to help protect themselves against new blood. After all, the more market share one firm controls, the less ability tiny rivals have to threaten margins by offering cheaper products.

With this in mind, the primary beneficiaries of free market economics would be startups and small companies, not the towering juggernauts operating today. Of course the problem does not end there. So long as we operate within the bounds of a system where power can be influenced by corporate money through the Legislative and Executive branches, the lobbying for price controls and regulations shall continue. Thus even a genuinely “lolbertarian” system exalting no regulations would eventually be subverted if the reins of power were democratic (or the national leadership could somehow be groomed by big money).

Indeed, were we to establish a system like the aforementioned one, officials would still have to contend with the question of mergers and acquisitions, moves which themselves can diminish market freedom. The debate would then rise as to whether antitrust laws are an acceptable form of regulation to preserve a less-regulated model. Yet does such a position invalidate the purity of the free market model?

The jury is out with their competing opinions, but Corporate America knows exactly where it wants to be.

Federal Government · investing · Personal Finance

The Terrifying Future For Stocks

No, this article falls outside the category expected. It is not destined to be some foreboding warning about the threats of excessive fiat printing, or monopoly money stock buybacks. Nor are bonds the subject to be promoted as a safe alternative. Those are all great angles, but they fail to seize the goose.

What we’re concerned with is a little different. Over the last several days it dawned on me that stocks might be unsafe from the standpoint of maintaining legal ownership. Forget about the respective firm going bankrupt, or a market downturn burning the green. Might corporations or states one day simply require shareholders to surrender their stake, or, in the former’s case, revoke your assembled stocks completely? 

The idea is not as far-fetched as gullible GOPers probably believe. The State could certainly nationalize retirement and investment accounts to generate more revenue, or perhaps jack up tax rates on any sales/withdrawals. The easiest justification for an act is embodied in Social Security’s fractious position, and the move would be advertised as a question of patriotism.

Corporations on the other hand merely have to follow current social trends. They have already bent over backwards to appease the street-based terrorist group known as BMM, firing people for dissenting opinions and donating millions to “civil rights” despite their property being destroyed. How long until they bow to communist pressure and dilute or withdraw shares held by individuals who do not tow the party line?

But that’s impossible, you will say. Really? The present Supreme Court just barred churches from holding large religious services, and endorsed the undemocratic immigration power grab by an esteemed progressive. If little people stand to lose their financial holdings, would the Supreme Corporate actually care?

Not to interject with a Godwin’s Law moment, but our friend Joseph Goebbels had some great insight on this issue. Writing after his boss moved to snatch up the estates of a less-than-cooperative German monarchy, Joey said: “Real estate is the foundation of economic independence, and economic independence always furnishes a basis for political influence.”

Absolutely, and stocks are similar in nature. Will the likely Biden presidency, free of all legitimate DOJ scrutiny, defend the economic rights of the Right?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the NASDAQ.

#VanLife · investing · Personal Finance

It’s Impossible To Have Enough

“The more you have, the more you want.”

At some point all of us have heard this adage about life. If you go out and accumulate things, you’ll simply lust after more, and it becomes a sordid spiral of avarice from there forward. Human greed is never satisfied, but rather throbs and expands with each passing hour.

That may be true, but a lot of what others perceive you to be greedily collecting could well be a necessity forced by circumstance. Stop and reckon for a minute: when buying something new or expensive, is the motivation typically driven by sheer covetousness, or did a milestone of existence suddenly spoil the party? They’re far more common than one might believe, and often unavoidable.

To put it in perspective, when I practiced van life full-time, most of my purchases related to food or some gadget to correct issues with my living space. These included battery-operated fans to beat back the sauna regime, seat-mounted storage compartments, and inflatable mats to spare my back. Sure, I could have gone without them, but the decision seemed sound from a quality of life standpoint.  Without a doubt however, I did need less.

Fast forward about a year, and I purchased a house. I didn’t need one, but as an investment the idea felt decent. Of course a house requires repairs and improvements, with some arising long after you sign the contract and move in. These might be little things, like additional motion lights for safety, or a fresh coat of paint on the porch. Again, I could wing it without, but that opens the possibility of long-term decay or injury.

Recently I have also been exploring the possibility of buying a second car. Some would immediately relegate this to crude consumerist desire, but living further away from a backup vehicle means the risk of getting stranded without a ride – and possibly catching an employer reprimand. Bear in mind that the last time my car went bad it took over a week to have the repairs made, perhaps in part because things went south over Christmas. My alternative in that case was a single cab truck, so you can imagine how napping felt in there.

The underlying point is that lifestyle spurs wants or needs, not rampant greed alone. While frugality is a virtue, depending on how a person lives they could very well be a huge consumer and have little choice in the matter. After all, that beaten up Taurus you bought from an old farmer is hardly some testament to personal vanity; it just runs well enough to move you from Point A to the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Sometimes greed just solves problems.  

investing · Personal Finance

Why Metro Real Estate Is Risky

Several days back I stumbled across the following Twitter post:

It’s hard to gauge how significant these numbers are, but one might reasonably conclude they are high in the neighborhoods directly or tangentially targeted by looters over the past two weeks. Keep in mind that crime is already a big issue in the city, and fresh plans to dismantle the police department might not exactly endear folks to the prospect of a safe living state.

This helps explain the danger of property investing within any major metropolitan sprawl. While it is possible to see prices skyrocket due to gentrification or opportunity expansion, there is also the risk that the historically butthurt and irritated will use any viral video as justification to run rampant around the block. The homeowner also stands to pay sweetly in the insurance department, and might need to fight with their policy provider depending on what caveats are built into the offering.

Of course the empowered and metrosexual could argue that other places will keep their police forces, thus reducing the risk to homeowners. Fair enough, but take a look right here:

Badges, guns, and pleasant indifference. Can you really blame them though?

investing · Personal Finance

My Investment Arsenal

A few folks have requested to see my approach to investing in more detail, so I decided to conjure up the following post. It obviously features a level of diversification, but more in style than substance. I see investments as both ways to grow money and also explore different concepts, so at times certain targets are selected more for interest than practicality.

Stock Accounts

1. Individual Account (Taxable)

This houses the bulk of my investing money, at times to great annoyance. The biggest upside is easy movement of funds If I need to do something important in the short-term, but the negative surrounds tax policy requiring me to hold longer than I would prefer in some cases.

2. Individual Robo-Managed Account (Taxable)

I got this to take some weight off my shoulders on a weekly basis. My broker service offers different plans optimized for taxes, conservative wealth strategies, or growth, and I place a small amount in each month with minimal overhead where management fees are concerned.

3. Roth IRA (Non-Taxable)

Probably the best place to store your investment holdings for the long run. The money goes in post-tax, but then grows without penalty until you’re older, providing no early withdrawals have been made. I do my best to max this out each year, though I fell short a few years back, and more recently got penalized by the IRS for contributing too much based on my salary.

4. Employer 401k

While I am not a fan of 401k programs, I started putting in 5 percent this year (pre-tax) because my income was creating expensive charges when tax filing rolled around. I made sure to pick the lowest fees for my funds, and generally don’t pay much attention to it other than the occasional checkup.

Fixed Income Sources

1. Savings Account

One can shop around, but I use the decently-high option from my broker service. This account yields a little over 1 percent and is effectively an airlock for money that will journey to any of the first three accounts mentioned.

2. Lending Club

This is more of a novelty than anything else to me. The site allows participants to purchase loans and get paid interest, providing you meet specific income standards. I tossed a grand in at the beginning of the year, focused on two different lines of credit. Probably should check it more frequently, but they don’t come due until a few years from now.

Real Estate

1. Fundrise

Not sure this goes here exactly, but I started with the REIT broker last year, and have enjoyed their products thus far. They offer different portfolios depending on your priorities, but I mostly bought in to take advantage of the projected growth in Midwestern city redevelopment. Biggest downside is receiving multiple forms to enter for taxes, which can create a problem if your software (*cough H&R Block*) doesn’t recognize small dividend amounts. That becomes a non-issue after you have been with them a while, however.

2. Physical Real Estate

As some of you know, I purchased a house earlier this year. Thus far it has required time and pennies, but the goal is to have at least half the mortgage paid by renters, and possibly as much as 100 percent. It also gives me the space to start a new business venture I have been planning for some months now. We’ll see whether I was smart to buy or not in the years to come.

Alternate Hedges

1. Cryptocurrency (Coinbase)

I’ve been nibbling on Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, XRP, and even 0x for a while now. Can’t say any of them have done spectacularly well, or at least not long enough for me to react. I keep adding despite Coinbase’s obnoxious fees because we can never know what will happen to fiat currency in the future.

 2. Precious Metals

I continue to accrue silver whenever possible. A key thing to consider is WHERE you are purchasing it. Going to a pawn shop or metals joint can lead to astronomically higher prices with no chance of a refund. Make sure to Google the value of whatever you choose to buy, and check online retailers to ensure there is no extreme markup.