To paraphrase that great scene from Airplane, it looks like I picked the wrong week to unplug from the Internet.
Aside from a few hours when we docked in Honduras last week, I was on a self-imposed Internet exile and went several days devoid of any communication with the outside world.
I missed a major scandal at the Fed, another terror attack in Europe, the start of a US military campaign in Syria, political chaos in South Africa, and more.
But it was totally worth it.
I was on a cruise ship for most of the week speaking at a high-end investment conference, and it was as fantastic experience.
Most conferences are pathetic money grabs and giant wastes of time, so I turn down just about every request that my office receives to speak at other people’s events.
But this one was organized by my friends Robert Helms and Russell Gray, two very classy and knowledgeable investors who always put on great events.
What I enjoyed the most is that, in addition to speaking and having the opportunity to teach hundreds of people, I also had the opportunity to learn.
Learning is our great gift as a species… one of the things that separates us from animals.
Humanity rose from nothing because of our ability to learn, and our ability to pass on what we learned to the next generation.
As the infinitely quotable historian Will Durant wrote,
“Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again. So our finest contemporary achievement is our unprecedented expenditure of wealth and toil in the provision of higher education for all.”
‘Education’ doesn’t mean ‘university’. It means learning from other intelligent, talented people.
This is especially true in our modern Digital Age where wealth is derived from knowledge and information, not land and capital.
Hundreds of years ago aristocratic landowners dominated the economy.
Decades ago it was the business elite who controlled the capital and manufacturing capacity.
Today it’s knowledge and ideas that win.
Google (okay, ‘Alphabet’) started as nothing more than an algorithm to improve Internet search.
19-years later it’s one of the largest, most powerful companies in the world.
Ditto for Facebook, whose simple idea of connecting users propelled it to become worth more than $400 billion in just 13-years.
In fact Facebook is 20% more valuable than Johnson & Johnson, the largest manufacturing conglomerate in the world.
(Bear in mind that JNJ has been in business for more than a century longer than Facebook; it was founded in 1886 when Grover Cleveland was President of the United States.)
Or consider Blockchain, the financial technology that virtually eliminates the need for consumers to hold their savings in the banking system.
The simplest Blockchain is a mere 200 lines of code. That’s it.
So in other words, the centuries-old, multi-trillion dollar banking industry is at risk of being disrupted by just 200 lines of code.
Knowledge and ideas are real wealth today, and that’s why I always welcome the opportunity to share my own and learn from others.
One of the most impressive things I saw last week was Robert Kiyosaki, author of the life-changing book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, sitting in each session as a student.
Robert’s books have sold 50+ million copies. He owns hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high quality, cash-producing real estate.
He’s incredibly wealthy, and he just turned 70-years old.
Yet Robert remains a student and freely acknowledges that he still has so much to learn.
He strolled into the classroom each morning with stacks of books that he’s been reading and piles of notes that he’s been taking.
It was amazing.
The general theme of the event was that Winter is Coming; there are clear signs of trouble ahead.
Hearing from the Chief Economist of Fannie Mae (the quasi-government agency that dominates the housing market) was sobering.
His presentation was packed with data indicating that US housing is “overpriced” and “very late in the cycle”.
Other presenters discussed the looming stock market correction, coming bank failures in Europe, etc.
My own remarks focused on the current or projected insolvency of the US government, Federal Reserve, and major trust funds like Social Security.
But as I told the audience, it’s time for optimism.
Yes, the real estate market is overpriced and the stock market is due for a gigantic correction.
Yes, nearly every major western government and pension fund is hopelessly insolvent, and central banks are nearly insolvent–
— and these circumstances will likely give rise to tactics like dramatically higher taxes, capital controls, and the chaotic pain that comes from default.
In short, there are serious, serious problems in the system.
But that doesn’t mean the world is coming to an end. Our species has seen much worse.
There’s bound to be a major reset in the financial system, just as there have been so many others in the past, from the adoption of the gold florin in 1252 to the establishment of the Bretton Woods system in 1944.
And as with previous resets, there will be winners and losers.
Even during the episode of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s (and the consequent reset) there were winners and losers.
While most people got wiped out financially, a few people became fantastically wealthy because they saw what was coming, protected themselves, and positioned their investments to gain.
Losers become victims.
They put their entire livelihoods at risk due to a misguided faith that the system is rock solid and will never fail.
Winners protect their downside risk and go after the abundance of opportunity that comes from rapid change.
The difference between the two comes down to education… and the will to take action.