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Putting all the Pieces Together

We start our podcast today more than 2,500 years ago at a time when the dominant superpower in the western world was the Achaemenid Empire of Persia.

Their civilization had reached an unfathomable level of wealth and sophistication; historical records show that, at peak, the Persian treasury had more than $300 BILLION in savings (in today’s money).

They had an intricate road network, a highly-functioning postal system, impressive engineering works, and had even invented a crude form of refrigeration and air conditioning.

Most of all they had a fearsome military. It was huge. And it was terrifying. Simply put, an invading Persian Army had never been defeated.

And yet, early in the 5th century BC, when they went to war against a rapidly rising power in Greece, the Persians suffered a humiliating defeat. Then again. And again. And again.

The losses changed the perception of their Empire forever. Practically overnight their reputation sank, and they were no longer viewed as a terrifying superpower able to dominate the world.

We’ve seen this story over and over again throughout history, from Ancient Rome to the Mongols to Imperial Portugal in the early 1800s.

Simply put, dominant superpowers almost invariably have an equally dominant, fearsome military that inspires awe and intimidation in the rest of the world… and especially in the superpower’s adversaries.

But superpowers have a life cycle. They rise, peak, and decline. And at some point during the decline, the military begins to show signs of weakness.

Often times there’s some specific event– something happens that’s so humiliating to the superpower that it shocks the world.

This is what happened to the Persians in 490 BC. And it’s what happened to the United States in 2021.

As a West Point graduate and US Army veteran, I still hold in my heart that the US military is the finest fighting force on the planet.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

A surprising benefit to owning gold– especially now

By the year 41 BC, just a few years after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome was under the strict rule of a three-person dictatorship known as the Tresviri rei publicae constituendae.

Historians today refer to this committee as the Triumvirate, and it included a general named Aemilius Lepidus, as well as Gaius Octavius– who would eventually become Emperor Augustus.

But the leader of the group, at least at first, was Marcus Antonius, also known as Mark Antony.

Mark Antony was not especially popular. Many Romans rightfully suspected that Mark Antony had been involved in Caesar’s assassination. Plus he was sleeping with Caesar’s widow, Cleopatra.

But Antony’s power through the Triumvirate’s was absolute. He could raise taxes, establish new social and religious traditions, regulate daily life, seize private property, and even condemn people to death… all without any oversight or due process.

And he wasn’t shy about using this power to squash his opposition.

Antony put several of his political enemies to death– including the much beloved Cicero, who was trying to escape Rome when Antony’s goons killed him.

Antony also threatened to kill another Senator named Nonius. But unlike Cicero, Nonius managed to escape Rome… bring with him about $1.5 million worth of gold and jewels.

People in the ancient world knew that precious metals (and precious stones) were pretty much the only portable forms of wealth.

Human civilization at the time was completely agrarian, so most productive assets like land and crops were impossible to move. Gold was almost the singular option to move large sums of wealth, and it remained this way for centuries.

These days there are much better options. Many forms of wealth– financial securities, intellectual property, bank deposits, and cryptocurrency– are completely portable. So gold is no longer necessary as a way to move money abroad.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Media is the Number One Cause of War Since 1898

In 1895, a 32-year old entrepreneur in New York City bought a failing newspaper and hatched a bold plan to turn it around.

The newspaper industry was cutthroat, especially in New York. There were at least 16 other daily newspapers in circulation, and there was fierce competition for readers’ attention.

But the young entrepreneur had an idea: thrill readers with tales of death, destruction, and brutality in the Cuban War for Independence against Spain.

Cuba was a Spanish colony at the time, but revolutionary forces had been fighting for independence for several years. Few people in the US really cared about Cuba. But the new publisher vowed to make them care.

His name was William Randolph Hearst. And his paper, the New York Morning Journal, constantly thrust Cuba in his readers’ faces.

Their stories were full-blown sensationalism. By early 1898, Hearst’s Journal was printing outright fabrications of atrocities committed by Spanish troops in Cuba, in an effort to whip up public support for the United States to join the war.

The government played along. While ‘war crimes’ did not yet exist, US President William McKinley escalated tensions by accusing Spain of atrocities, saying in a speech that “the civilized code of warfare has been disregarded.”

Then, on February 15, 1898, a US naval vessel known as the Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor off the coast of Cuba. 268 sailors died.

Several investigations were conducted, and to this day there is still nothing conclusive explaining how the explosion took place. It’s entirely possible that the explosion was caused by the Maine’s on-board fuel.

But Hearst (along with many other papers) jumped to publish stories claiming the Maine was sunk by a Spanish torpedo, and they continued agitating for the US to join the war.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Five critical factors why prices will stay high for years

At approximately 9am local time on February 21, 1972, a Boeing 707 airplane dubbed Spirit of ‘76 landed in Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport.

The airplane’s main door opened, and out walked US President Richard Nixon.

The trip shocked the world. There had been no formal communication or diplomatic ties between the US and China for 25 years. And Nixon’s voyage not only normalized relations between the two countries, but it kickstarted decades of worldwide economic growth.

Back then, the US was the richest and most powerful economy in the world. But as a consequence of that prosperity, the US was also a very expensive place to produce.

US companies were on the lookout for inexpensive, foreign manufacturing hubs where they could cheaply produce their products and sell them back to the US market.

China became that cheap manufacturing hub.

Eventually China was producing just about everything from T-shirts to antibiotics. And because the cost of production was so low in China, consumers around the world benefited.

Combined with cheap oil, a functioning global supply chain, and relative peace and stability, cheap Chinese production helped keep prices low and constrain inflation for decades.

But these trends are rapidly coming to an end.

For starters, China is now an economic superpower; many of its largest cities, in fact, have a per-capita GDP that exceeds the United States and Western Europe.

Wages have increased dramatically in China over the years because of this increase in prosperity, which means that it’s no longer cheap to manufacture most lower-end products there.

A lot of manufacturing has already shifted to cheaper places like Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc. But even those countries are quickly becoming more expensive places to produce. And they don’t have nearly enough capacity to keep up with global manufacturing demand.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Governments have been screwing up their supply chains for 2,000 years

On the evening of March 16th in the year 37 AD, one of the most controversial emperors in Roman history appeared to be dying in his bed.

Friends and family gathered to pay their final respects to Emperor Tiberius, who had ruled for more than two decades.

For some Romans, Tiberius was literally a god, and they worshipped him as a divinity. And many of Rome’s powerful politicians respected Tiberius for his numerous achievements.

Tiberius had managed to greatly strengthen the empire without waging costly wars. He improved civil services, cut taxes, reduced spending, and built up an astonishing surplus in the Treasury of nearly 700 million silver denarii, worth roughly $2 billion today.

Many Romans, however, including a number of prominent Senators, utterly despised Tiberius. They viewed him as a horrible tyrant who was a major threat to Rome’s republican democracy.

For most of his reign, in fact, several Roman Senators constantly plotted against him. Some even spread false rumors about Tiberius as a sexual deviant in an effort to discredit him.

So when the Emperor was finally on his deathbed, his enemies were relieved. Hours later, though, they panicked when Tiberius appeared to be recovering from his illness.

It was at that point that a Praetorian Guard commander named Quintus Macro, who had a sacred duty to protect the emperor, allegedly smothered Tiberius with a pillow, finally ending the political chaos.

Even in death Tiberius was controversial. Some Romans cried out for his body to be thrown in the Tiber River (a common ritual for criminals), while others demanded that his body receive divine rights of a god.

The Senate refused to provide divine honors, and wasted no time moving on from Tiberius. Two days later on March 18th, they appointed a young nobleman named Gaius Germanicus as the new Emperor.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Australia’s Government Is From the Dark Ages

On July 27, 1656, senior leaders of the Jewish community in Amsterdam issued a writ of cherem— the Hebrew term for expulsion and excommunication.

Their target was a young, 23-year old Dutch/Portuguese intellectual named Baruch Spinoza, himself a Jew, whose dangerous crime was questioning the unquestionable teachings of the faith.

The Jewish elders proclaimed that “The Lord will rage against this man and… blot out his name from under heaven” and ordered that no Jew should communicate with him, offer him shelter, give him money, or read any of his writings.

A few years later, the Catholic Church followed suit and added all of Spinoza’s works to its Index of Banned Books. This makes Baruch Spinoza one of the few people in history to be banished from both the Jewish and Catholic religions.

His philosophy was widely misunderstood at the time. Everyone accused him of being an atheist, which was one of the worst things you could call someone in the 1600s.

But he wasn’t actually an atheist. Spinoza’s works were an attempt for him to reconcile his faith with certain religious teachings that were illogical, self-contradictory, or refuted by science.

He wrote extensively about his “intellectual love of God”. But simply for expressing intellectual independence, Spinoza was expelled from his own Jewish community.

Now, Novak Djokovic is hardly a Baruch Spinoza. But it is truly bizarre in the year 2022 to see someone be expelled from an advanced western democracy simply for expressing intellectual independence.

Just to catch you up, Novak Djokovic is a professional Tennis player from Serbia who is considered one of the all-time greats in the sport. He’s currently ranked #1 in the world and holds an incredible number of records in professional tennis.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

America’s Attila the Hun moment

In the year 435 AD, after several years of endless menacing from the nomadic Hun tribe, the Roman Empire was ready to make a deal.

The Huns were fairly new on the continent; they had originally come from central Eurasia as recently as 370 AD. Yet in the span of a few short decades, they quickly established themselves as the dominant tribe in Eastern Europe, conquering vast territories and threatening the Roman Empire.

The Empire was a pitiful shell of its former self at that point. So Emperor Theodosius II sent one of his generals to meet with the Huns in the city of Margus, now called Pozarevac in modern day Serbia.

The leader of the Huns was a short, flat-nosed warrior in his mid 30s named Attila who famously remained on his horse during the entire meeting with the Roman envoys.

Attila was cunning, and he knew the Romans were weak. So he intentionally made ridiculous demands.

Among them, he told the Romans he would leave them alone if they paid a tribute of 700 pounds of gold per year (worth about $13.3 million in today’s money).

This was a significant sum back then, especially given that the Roman Empire had lost its most productive gold mines in Hispania to the Visigoths and Vandals in the early 400s.

(The region of Andalusia in modern Spain is actually named for the Vandal tribe, derived from the Arabic word al-Andalus.)

In addition to the money, though, Attila also demanded that the Romans could not enter into any alliance with any other tribes if the Huns deemed them to be a threat.

In making this demand, Attila was essentially giving himself control of Rome’s foreign policy and military affairs.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Imbecile King who put his foot on the pedal

Charles II was only three years old when he became the supreme ruler of the Spanish Empire in 1665. But anyone who took just one look at the child knew they were all doomed.

Charles had come from a long line of prominent European nobles known as the Habsburgs– a family so exclusive that they frequently married one another in order to keep their blood line ‘pure’.

Genetic defects abounded at as result.

Charles II inherited some of the worst of these genetic defects; his father and mother were uncle/niece. And his grandparents were first cousins.

So it comes as no surprise that Charles II was deformed, spindly, weak, constantly sick, and partially paralyzed. He was also referred to by his contemporaries as the ‘imbecile king’ for his slow-witted stupidity.

Spain had been the dominant European superpower only a century prior to Charles II. It had vast colonies all over the world, a terrifying army and navy, and unimaginable wealth.

But history proves that an Empire’s wealth and power never last forever.

And even well before Charles II took the throne, Spanish rulers were already running everything into the ground.

One clear lesson from history is that empires tend to be extremely expensive… especially when you’re the dominant superpower, and all of your rivals are constantly waging war against you.

Spain was no exception. Their empire was extremely expensive to administer, and they were routinely engaged in costly wars.

The emperors were forced to borrow a lot of money to pay for these wars. And Spain’s debt became so vast that the government defaulted at least SEVEN TIMES between the mid 1500s and mid 1600s.

Desperate to make ends meet, the government also hiked taxes to exorbitant levels, including imposing a 14% sales tax. (Somewhere the governor of California is taking notes…)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Three bizarre reasons why inflation is here to stay

When I was about five years old in the early 1980s, my dad brought home our first computer.

I’ll never forget it– it was an clunky IBM with a tiny, orange, monochromatic monitor, and dual floppy disks. It had 640 kilobytes of RAM, and no hard disk.

I loved it. With that computer I learned how to program, how to navigate a command-line interface, how to design algorithms, and how to solve constant problems… because it was ridiculously buggy and would break down all the time.

It was also painfully slow. The boot-up process could easily take an hour, from the time I flipped on the power switch, to the time I saw the ‘DOS prompt’.

Sometimes I think that computer is a great metaphor for the global economy. Turning it off is nothing; you flip the switch and the power goes off. But starting it back up again takes a long time. And the process isn’t so smooth– sometimes it crashes during bootup.

Last March when the Great Plague was upon us, nearly every industry, in nearly every country in the world, practically shut down.

And many businesses went bust, never to return.

Eighteen months later businesses have largely reopened. But like my old computer, the reboot process has been riddled with critical errors and system failures.

For example, right now there are countless businesses in industries from retail to manufacturing that are experiencing severe labor shortages. Supply chains around the world are breaking down, resulting in product shortages and major transportation bottlenecks.

The end result of this dumpster fire is that prices are soaring. And I wanted to spend some time today connecting the dots to help explain some of these important trends.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How long will the US dollar’s dominance last?

301 AD was a big year for the Roman Empire.

That was the year that, amid spiraling inflation, Emperor Diocletian issued his Edict on Maximum Prices, essentially fixing prices of just about everything across the Roman Empire.

The price of wheat, a day labor’s wages, a quart of olive oil, transportation rates– everything was established by the Emperor’s edict, and enforced under penalty of death.

Diocletian’s edict infamously didn’t work, and the empire plunged into even more severe inflation.

The other big event of 301 AD was the introduction of the solidus gold coin, roughly 4.5 grams of nearly pure gold.

And while the Romans had a history of debasing their other coins, like the silver denarius and sesterce, the government actually did a pretty good job maintaining the value and purity of the gold solidus.

Even hundreds of years later, after the western empire in Rome had fallen to the barbarians, and imperial power was concentrated in Byzantium, the gold solidus was still approximately as pure as it was in the early 300s.

That’s an extraordinary track record for currency stability. Confidence in the gold solidus was so high, in fact, that various tribes and kingdoms around the world used the coin for trade and savings.

This became a source of pride for the Byzantine Empire; Justinian I, who ruled in the mid 500s, stated that the solidus was “accepted everywhere from end to end of the Earth,” and that it was “admired by all men in all kingdoms, because no kingdom has a currency that can be compared to it.”

It wasn’t until the mid 11th century, more than seven centuries after the introduction of the solidus, that an Emperor began to debase the currency.

Just like Hemingway described going bankrupt, the debasement of the solidus was gradual… then sudden.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Delta variant throws the world back into Orwellian autocracy

Are you ready for this week’s absurdity? Here’s our Friday roll-up of the most ridiculous stories from around the world that are threats to your liberty, risks to your prosperity… and on occasion, inspiring poetic justice.

Doctors could lose medical licenses if they spread vaccine “misinformation”

The Federation of State Medical Boards told doctors they could lose their medical licenses if they spread Covid-19 vaccine misinformation on social media.

The July 29 news release says doctors “must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health.”

Consensus driven? Since when did science become a popularity contest? The entire idea is to present a hypothesis, and gather data to prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Conclusions should be driven by data, not by what’s popular or convenient.

Incredible. People who spent their entire careers studying the human body are now being threatened with cancellation if they spread fact-based information that the establishment wants to keep suppressed.

Click here to read the statement.

Australia Descends into Authoritarian Orwellian Hell

The Australian state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, is in the midst of a nine week lockdown; and this lockdown is being enforced with the military and helicopters.

One video shows a helicopter blasting a message over a loudspeaker to a handful of young men playing soccer. It says what they are doing is illegal, and that if they don’t ’t disperse the police would fine them.

Army personnel will also be going door-to-door in Sydney to make sure everyone is staying home.

Thousands of people turned out last weekend for a protest against the insane lockdowns— which prompted an Australian politician from New South Wales to propose Draconian fines for free speech.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No inflation? Even used car prices are soaring

We’ve reached a point now where anyone who can’t see inflation is clearly not paying attention.

Inflation has now become so ridiculous that, according to the Wall Street Journal, even the price of a USED car is increasing… by a lot.

Since January 2020, NEW car prices have increased 9.6%. But USED car prices are up 16.7% over the same period.

This is pretty extraordinary given that used cars are supposed to depreciate. According to one used car dealer, “What is normally a depreciable asset has been appreciating. It’s certainly surreal. . .”

It’s not just used cars, of course. Prices across the economy are rising rapidly. NielsenIQ retail price data sets show that consumer goods have been rising in excess of 10% over the last year on everything from beauty products to seafood prices (which have risen by 18.7% over the past three months).

There are lots of reasons for inflation.

For example, there’s plenty of pent-up consumer demand from people having been locked down for more than a year, at a time when many businesses are still closed or operating at below normal capacity.

This combination of high demand and tight supply is causing prices to rise. And in theory that’s a temporary phenomenon.

But there are other, more permanent factors that could continue pushing prices up for a long time.

For starters, governments around the world are proposing higher taxes– carbon taxes, Value-Added Taxes, higher corporate income taxes. This is all inflationary, because eventually these tax costs are passed on to consumers.

The more important contributor to inflation, though, is astonishing quantity of new money in the financial system, thanks in large part to massive government spending.

In the US alone, the federal government is trying to pass spending bills totaling $11+ trillion this year.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Western Civilization has become a never-ending Jerry Springer episode

Early in the 2nd century AD, around the year 101, the Roman humorist Decimus Junius Juvenalis began publishing a collection of satirical poems poking fun at the Empire.

Rome was already in serious decline by the time Juvenalis wrote his first poem. In the first century AD alone, Romans suffered the tyrannical insanity of Caligula, the destructive extravagance of Nero, multiple civil wars, and the ‘Year of the Four Emperors’ in 96 AD.

Needless to say, Juvenalis had plenty of inspiration for his satires.

He was like the George Carlin of his day– making fun of everyone, even the most sacrosanct institutions. And he didn’t pull any punches.

Juvenalis made fun of the Senate for their endless hypocrisy. He made fun of wealthy noblemen for acquiring their wealth by sucking up to the Emperor.

He made fun of the merchant class and its constant obsession with status. He made fun of the military for acting as if they were above the law.

He made fun of how the Imperial government pretends to give a damn about the common folk. And he made fun the common folk, saying “the mob cares for nothing but bread and circuses. . .”

Most of all, Juvenalis made fun of the extreme decay in Roman morality.

By the 2nd century AD, the Roman virtues of ‘strength and honor’ had been replaced by deceit, idleness, apathy, and corruption.

Edward Gibbon echoed this sentiment in his work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1776.

Gibbon’s primary thesis is that Rome became a victim of its own success– its extraordinary wealth and prosperity made people lazy, complacent, and entitled.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Three reasons why inflation is rising. Two of them aren’t going away

A remarkable thing happened yesterday that tells you everything you need to know about inflation.

In the morning, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated bluntly that “interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn’t overheat. . .”

For economists, an ‘overheating economy’ means inflation. So she was essentially saying that rates would have to rise to prevent inflation.

Yet hours later, she completely reversed herself, saying that interest rates would NOT have to rise because “I don’t think there’s going to be an inflationary problem.”

You don’t need a PhD in economics to smell the BS.

Inflation is not some potential issue down the road. Inflation is already here.

As Warren Buffett told investors only days ago, “We’re seeing very substantial inflation.”

Plenty of companies have already announced price increases to their consumers–

Proctor & Gamble, for instance, announced price hikes across the board on just about everything from diapers to beauty creams.

Hershey’s announced in February that it would be raising prices.

Food giant General Mills complained in February about a “higher inflationary environment” and “input cost pressures” due to rising commodity prices.

Clorox, Shake Shack, Kimberly-Clark, Whirlpool, Hormel, and Woka Kola Coca Cola are among the many companies that have also announced price increases.

And according to Bank of America Global Research, the number of mentions of “inflation” on corporate earnings calls has increased 800% compared to last year.

Inflation is clearly a concern of the largest companies in the world. Investors are worried. Consumers can see it.

And in a rare moment of truth yesterday morning, a politician almost admitted that she was concerned about inflation too.

This is not some wild conspiracy. Inflation is real. It’s happening. Let’s look at three key drivers:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s time to start thinking about inflation

In the year 215 AD, the young Roman Emperor Caracalla, then just 27 years of age, decided to ‘fix’ Rome’s perennial inflation problem by minting a brand new coin.

Caracalla’s predecessors over the previous several decades had ordered an astonishing debasement of Roman currency; the silver content in Rome’s ‘denarius’ coin, for example, was reduced from roughly 85% in the early 150s AD, to less than 50% by the early 200s.

And with the silver content in their currency greatly reduced, government mints cranked out unprecedented quantities of coins.

They spent the money as quickly as they minted it, using the flood of debased coins, for example, to finance endless wars and buy up food supplies for their soldiers.

Needless to say this caused rampant inflation across the empire.

Egypt was a province of Rome at the time, and the one of the Empire’s major agricultural producers. Its local provincial coin, the drachma, had also been heavily debased.

A measure of Egyptian wheat in the early 1st century AD, for example, cost only 8 drachmas. In the third century that same amount of Egyptian wheat cost more than 100,000 drachmas.

Caracalla tried to fix this by simply creating a new coin– the antoniniamis.

It was originally minted with 50% silver content. But the antoniniamis was debased down to just 5% silver within a few decades.

Caracalla’s undisciplined attempt at controlling inflation was about as effective as Venezuela trying to ‘fix’ its hyperinflation by chopping five zeros off its currency.

In fact this same story has been told over and over again throughout history:

Governments who spend too much money almost invariably resort to debasing the currency.

In ancient times, ‘debasement’ meant reducing the gold and silver content in their coins.

In early modern times, it meant printing vast quantities of paper money.

Today, it means creating ‘electronic’ money in the banking system.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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