The War on Cash
ROME – What are we doing in Rome? We’ll tell you tomorrow. That will give us time to figure it out…
Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more – when in Rome, do as the Romans do!
Photo credit: Touchstone Pictures
In the meantime, remember: Cash is king. It’s one of the best-performing major asset classes this year. It’s also – by far – the safest. Even billionaire investor Carl Icahn is now urging investors to get into cash. Cash will someday disappoint us. But probably not today… or tomorrow.
But the authorities don’t like cash. As we’ve been warning Bill Bonner Letter readers, the feds have a bitter animosity toward cash. It has almost become a religious creed. Like the Temperance League’s attitude toward alcohol, the feds are afraid that cash is a pernicious temptation, leading to sin and suffering.
People have a “propensity to save,” they say. This, they believe, causes all sorts of social ills – from poverty to unemployment. Fortunately, the feds are there to protect us. They fight this weakness in the human character with a variety of measures. Zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP), for example.
“You can save your money,” say the feds “But you won’t earn anything on it. And after inflation, you’ll have less than you started out with.”
It’s like alcohol-free beer: You can drink all you want without ever getting a buzz on. There’s quantitative easing, too. It offers wavering dipsomaniacs the opportunity for a more intense high.
Prohibition drove drinkers out of honest bars and away from safe libations. You had to go get your liquor at an illicit speakeasy. Mobsters often ran these. And much of the alcohol consumed was dangerous bathtub hooch.
Now, the feds drive investors into speculative stocks – often run by nefarious cronies – and dangerous “high-yield” (aka junk) debt. Investors will end up with an awful hangover, but at least they won’t go blind.
When those schemes fail to quench the thirst for cash, as they inevitably do, the feds will turn to more drastic measures. After all, if you can make alcohol illegal, surely the sky’s the limit on social and financial engineering.
Got us some hooch here, chief.
Photo credit: Chicago Tribune
Rewriting the Script
When beads of sweat begin to form on regulators’ brows during the next 2008-style crisis, one of their first calls will be to Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff.
“So, Ken, how does that ban on cash work again?” they will ask. Rogoff did some good work, along with Harvard colleague Carmen Reinhart, in their book This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. They showed that, throughout history, high levels of debt have gone hand in hand with low economic growth. We’d add that debt as a percentage of GDP has a habit of growing faster and faster – until the whole thing blows up.
But like almost all modern economists, Mr. Rogoff has little amor fati. That is Nietzsche’s phrase for letting nature take her course. Rather than relax and enjoy the show, Rogoff proposes to rewrite the script. He has a solution! But not the obvious one – letting Mr. Market sort it out. Instead, he wants to make cash illegal.
Monetarist School economist Kenneth Rogoff. For more color on his contribution to the war on cash, see: “Meet Kenneth Rogoff, Unreconstructed Statist”.
Photo credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg
It’s true that Mr. Market is likely to handle investors roughly. He practices a version of “tough love.” He corrects mistakes by teaching investors a lesson. Still, he gets the job done – quickly and as painlessly as possible. The goal of practically every regulator, politician, crony, and economist is to stop him.
Mr. Rogoff, for example, wants to ban cash in order to impose “negative interest rates” on bank account holders. Negative interest rates are a tax on savings. With no recourse to cash, your money would be trapped in bank accounts, where governments can easily levy negative interest rates.
No vote in Congress is necessary… no lobbying… no horse-trading… no smoke-filled rooms – none of the messiness of modern pseudo-democracy. Instead, the bald-headed, gray-bearded PhDs will simply make it part of banking regulation. Like a drone attack on a suspected terrorist, no questions will be asked!
Buy a Home for $1,500
Meanwhile, we continue wondering what it takes to live on $500 a month. Remember, our goal is to live better. We’re not sure if a used motor home in a Wal-Mart lot will take us where we want to go. So, let’s look at some alternatives:
Our son Will has been looking at shipping containers. You can buy them for as little as $1,500. They are spacious. They are strong. They can be outfitted in almost any way you like. And they can be set up easily, almost anywhere you like.
A well-appointed home made of shipping containers.
Photo credit: Andrés García Lachner
From container living website ContainerHomePlans.org comes this information:
“There are an estimated 17 million of these throughout the world at the moment, with around 6 million currently in use; this means there are literally millions of these containers that aren’t in use that could be recycled and put toward a better use. Recycling shipping containers into homes is one of the more eco-friendly approaches as it avoids the energy-intensive process of melting the steel back down while it’s being recycled.
First, they aren’t susceptible to dry rot and other fungus infections. Second, wood is predisposed to mold, which steel isn’t. Finally, water leakage is much more common in log cabins when compared to the steel roofs on container homes.”
Container houses are cheap, flexible, and fast, say proponents. Those who’ve tried them report making complete houses out of them for as little as $20,000. If – if – you were able to finance that… at 5%… you’d pay about $100 a month.
Another nice little container home (this one costs more than $1,500, it is so to speak the post upgrade version)
Photo credit: DoctorDeath
But wait. You have to put them somewhere. Hmm… how about this? Maybe you could build a house out of containers on someone else’s land. You live there but when you die or leave, the container house reverts to the landowner.
Are container houses BETTER than regular houses? Remember, that is our goal: to live better on less. For that, we may need to think out-of-the-container-box.
More to come…
Container guest house. For more pictures of beautiful container homes see here.
Photo credit: poteet architects
Image captions by PT
The above article originally appeared at the Diary of a Rogue Economist, written for Bonner & Partners. Bill Bonner founded Agora, Inc in 1978. It has since grown into one of the largest independent newsletter publishing companies in the world. He has also written three New York Times bestselling books, Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Messiahs and Markets.