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Monday, October 31, 2016

Reading List: Speculator

Casey, Doug and John Hunt. Speculator. Charlottesville, VA: HighGround Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-63158-047-5.
Doug Casey has been a leading voice for sound money, individual liberty, and rolling back coercive and intrusive government since the 1970s. Unlike some more utopian advocates of free markets and free people, Casey has always taken a thoroughly pragmatic approach in his recommendations. If governments are bent on debasing their paper money, how can individual investors protect themselves from erosion of their hard-earned assets and, ideally, profit from the situation? If governments are intent on reducing their citizens to serfdom, how can those who see what is coming not only avoid that fate by getting assets out of the grasp of those who would confiscate them, but also protect themselves by obtaining one or more additional nationalities and being ready to pull up stakes in favour of better alternatives around the world. His 1976 book, The International Man, is a classic (although now dated) about the practical steps people can take to escape before it's too late from countries in the fast lane on the road to serfdom. I credit this book, which I read around 1978, with much of the trajectory my life has followed since. (The forbidding prices quoted for used copies of The International Man are regrettable but an indication of the wisdom therein; it has become a collector's item.)

Over his entire career, Casey has always been provocative, seeing opportunities well before they come onto the radar of mainstream analysts and making recommendations that seem crazy until, several years later, they pay off. Recently, he has been advising young people seeking fortune and adventure to go to Africa instead of college. Now, in collaboration with medical doctor and novelist John Hunt, he has written a thriller about a young man, Charles Knight, who heeds that advice. Knight dropped out of high school and was never tempted by college once he discovered he could learn far more about what he wanted to know on his own in libraries than by spending endless tedious hours in boring classrooms listening to uninspiring and often ignorant teachers drone on endlessly in instruction aimed at the slowest students in the class, admixed with indoctrination in the repellent ideology of the collectivist slavers.

Charles has taken a flyer in a gold mining stock called B-F Explorations, traded on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, the closest thing to the Wild West that exists in financial markets today. Many stocks listed in Vancouver are “exploration companies”, which means in practice they've secured mineral rights on some basis (often conditional upon meeting various milestones) to a piece of property, usually located in some remote, God-forsaken, and dangerous part of the world, which may or may not (the latter being the way to bet) contain gold and, if it does, might have sufficient concentration and ease of extraction that mining it will be profitable at the anticipated price of gold when it is eventually developed. Often, the assets of one of these companies will be nothing more than a limited-term lease on a piece of land which geologists believe may contain subterranean rock formations similar to those in which gold has been found elsewhere. These so-called “junior mining companies” are the longest of long shots, and their stocks often sell for pennies a share. Investors burned by these stocks warn, “A junior mining company takes your money and their dream, and turns it into your dream and their money.”

Why, then, do people buy these stocks? Every now and then one of these exploration companies happens upon a deposit of gold which is profitable to exploit, and when that occurs the return to investors can be enormous: a hundred to one or more. First, the exploration company will undertake drilling to establish whether gold is present and, if so, the size and grade of the ore body. As promising assay results are published, the stock may begin to move up in the market, attracting “momentum investors” who chase rising trends. The exit strategy for a junior gold stock is almost always to be acquired by one of the “majors”—the large gold mining companies with the financial, human, and infrastructure resources required to develop the find into a working mine. As large, easily-mined gold resources have largely already been exploited, the major miners must always be on the lookout for new properties to replace their existing mines as they are depleted. A major, after evaluating results from preliminary drilling by the exploration company, will often negotiate a contract which allows it to perform its own evaluation of the find which, if it confirms the early results, will be the basis for the acquisition of the junior company, whose shareholders will receive stock in the major worth many times their original investment.

Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at its entrance.” Everybody in the gold business—explorers, major miners, and wise investors—knows that the only results which can be relied upon are those which are independently verified by reputable observers who follow the entire chain from drilling to laboratory analysis, with evaluation by trusted resource geologists of inferences made from the drilling results.

Charles Knight had bought 15,000 shares of B-F stock on a tip from a broker in Vancouver for pennies per share, and seen it climb to more than $150 per share. His modest investment had grown to a paper profit of more than two million dollars which, if rumours about the extent of the discovery proved to be true, might increase to far more than that. Having taken a flyer, he decided to catch a flight to Africa and see the site with his own eyes. The B-F exploration concession is located in the fictional West African country of Gondwana (where Liberia appears on the map in the real world; author John Hunt has done charitable medical work in that country). Gondwana has experienced the violence so common in sub-Saharan Africa, but, largely due to exhaustion, is relatively stable and safe (by African standards) at present. Charles and other investors are regaled by company personnel with descriptions of the potential of the find, a new kind of gold deposit where nanoparticles of gold are deposited in a limestone matrix. The gold, while invisible to the human eye and even through a light microscope, can be detected chemically and should be easy to separate when mining begins. Estimates of the size of the deposit range from huge to stupendous: perhaps as large as three times the world's annual production of gold. If this proves to be the case, B-F stock is cheap even at its current elevated price.

Charles is neither a geologist nor a chemist, but something seems “off” to him—maybe it was the “nano”—like “cyber”, it's like a sticker on the prospectus warning investors “bullshit inside”. He makes the acquaintance of Xander Winn, a Dutch resource investor, true international man, and permanent tourist, who has seen it all before and shares, based upon his experience, the disquiet that Charles perceived by instinct. Together, they decide to investigate further and quickly find themselves engaged in a dangerous endeavour where not only are the financial stakes high but their very lives may be at risk. But with risk comes opportunity.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Charles has come into the sights of an IRS agent named Sabina Heidel, whose raw ambition is tempered by neither morality nor the law. As she begins to dig into his activities and plans for his B-F investment, she comes to see him as a trophy which will launch her career in government. Sabina is the mirror image of Charles: as he is learning how to become productive, she is mastering the art of extracting the fruits of the labour of others and gain power over their lives by deception, manipulation, and intimidation.

Along with the adventure and high-stakes financial operations, Charles learns a great deal about how the world really works, and how in a time when coercive governments and their funny money and confiscatory taxation have made most traditional investments a sucker's game, it is the speculator with an anarcho-capitalist outlook on the world who is best equipped to win. Charles also discovers that when governments and corporations employ coercion, violence, and fraud, what constitutes ethical behaviour on the part of an individual confronted with them is not necessarily easy to ascertain. While history demonstrates how easy it can be to start a war in Africa, Charles and Xander find themselves, almost alone, faced with the task of preventing one.

For those contemplating a life of adventure in Africa, the authors provide an unvarnished look at what one is getting into. There is opportunity there, but also rain, mud, bugs, endemic corruption, heat, tropical diseases, roads which can demolish all but the most robust vehicles, poverty, the occasional charismatic murderous warlord, mercenaries, but also many good and honest people, wealth just waiting to be created, and freedom from the soul-crushing welfare/warfare/nanny state which “developed” countries have allowed to metastasise within their borders. But it's never been easy for those seeking opportunity, adventure, riches, and even love; the rewards await the ambitious and intrepid.

I found this book not only a page-turning thriller, but also one of the most inspiring books I've read in some time. In many ways it reminds me of The Fountainhead, but is more satisfying because unlike Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's novel, whose principles were already in place from the first page, Charles Knight grows into his as the story unfolds, both from his own experiences and wisdom imparted by those he encounters. The description of the junior gold mining sector and the financial operations associated with speculation is absolutely accurate, informed by Doug Casey's lifetime of experience in the industry, and the education in free market principles and the virtues of entrepreneurship and speculation is an excellent starting point for those indoctrinated in collectivism who've never before encountered this viewpoint.

This is the first in what is planned to be a six volume series featuring Charles Knight, who, as he progresses through life, applies what he has learned to new situations, and continues to grow from his adventures. I eagerly anticipate the next episode.

Here is a Lew Rockwell interview with Doug Casey about the novel and the opportunities in Africa for the young and ambitious. The interview contains minor spoilers for this novel and forthcoming books in the series.

Posted at October 31, 2016 16:11