Last night, we looked into the future. And it wasn’t very pretty.
“Everything blows up,” was how we would summarize it. Investments, strategies, civilizations, the world, life itself.
We came to Zurich to attend a conference organized by our friend Rolf Dobelli. He calls it Zurich Minds. You can check it out at Zurichminds.com.
Another friend, Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, was making a presentation…along with a group of scientists from various disciplines.
We got the bad news first:
“Our galaxy is on a collision course with its nearest neighbor,” explained a professor of physics. “Andromeda and the Milky Way are going to run into each other. The result will be spectacular. Of course, it will be the end of our world…our solar system…even our galaxy…and of course we will all die…but that is the least of our worries.”
Having gotten the session off on the wrong foot, we hopped all evening…from one disaster to another.
We’ll come back to universal calamities in a minute. First, let’s look at the latest doings in the financial markets.
Yesterday was another good day for stocks. The Dow was up more than 300 points. Gold was up $30.
Here is our simple analysis: when stocks go down, gold goes down less; when stocks go up, gold goes with it.
We conclude that it is better to own gold than stocks – roughly the same conclusion we came to eight years ago.
“Yes…but how do you own gold?” asked a Swiss fund manager. “I agree that gold will probably go up. But you have risk in two directions. If the world economy deflates, gold will go down. Maybe to $600. Maybe to $500. Who knows? But if the feds are able to reflate, and gold goes to $2,000 an ounce, they will probably stop trading in it.” Or freeze gold accounts. Or even seize gold accounts, as Franklin Roosevelt did.
“The thing to do is to buy coins. But the coins have disappeared. You have to pay such a high premium to get them, I’m not sure it’s worth it.”
Ah, there’s a crack in every bell God ever made. Hit it hard enough and it will fall to pieces. Everything blows up, in other words.
Recently, investors have been hammering on the world’s capital markets. Asset values have gotten smashed…formerly great companies have been beaten to bits…and the average stock portfolio as been cut in half.
Soon, we predict, they will be hammering on the world money system itself – and pounding the big green bell of the U.S. dollar. Before it is over, we expect the world’s dollar-based money system will fall apart.
How do you protect yourself? Go to cash. But take a minute. Smell the cash. It stinks.
“All the world’s currencies look terrible,” continued our Swiss fund manager. “All the world’s central banks are doing the same thing – essentially inflating currencies in order to try to offset the deflationary effects of the downturn.”
The traditional way to protect yourself is to buy gold. But there’s a crack in that bell too. And sooner or later, the feds will hit it with a sledgehammer.
But that is still in the future…perhaps far in the future.
In the meantime, we hold gold in any form we can get it…we sell stocks when they rally…and buy more gold on dips.
*** “But there is another risk to the universe,” continued the physicist. “There is that dark force…the V force…or vacuum force that Einstein identified, but still no one knows what it is.
“If you look at the stars carefully, you’ll see that they are getting farther and farther away from one another. Interestingly, the stars that are the farthest away…those on the edge of the universe…are moving away at the fastest speed. What this tells us is that there is some force causing the universe itself to come apart…and that it is accelerating.”
Translation: the universe itself is blowing up.
“What this means,” he continued, “is that we will be lost in space…in dark space…without a star or a moon in the sky…they’ll be too far away. And then, every particle of the universe will explode into its component parts.
“That kind of puts your worries about falling stock prices in perspective, doesn’t it?” he concluded.
*** Of course, we have no worries about falling stock prices. Not here at Markets and Money. We figure we’ll get what’s coming to us; we’re not going to fret about it.
Besides, our next speaker explained that if nature doesn’t blow up the world, maybe we’ll do it ourselves.
The young woman was one of the promising sort you find in Europe these days – very bright, very well-educated, and very mobile. She grew up in Algeria, speaking Arabic. Then, she learned French in school. Studied in Italy, France and the United States…and is now getting ready to blow up the world from her base in Switzerland.
The Hadron Super Collider is in Switzerland…near Geneva. It’s the latest thing in particle physics. The idea is to recreate the conditions that existed right after the Big Bang, when the universe was created, by giving particles plenty of race track so they can get up to such speed that when they crash into other particles it makes one helluva mess. You’ll remember that the whole thing got off with a bang a long time ago. In less time than it takes to drink a glass of beer, the whole universe was created, in what scientists call the great ‘inflation.’ It’s been expanding ever since.
“All matter is composed of quarks, leptons and forces such as gravity and electromagnetism…” the woman continued. “By inducing these collisions in this basic matter, our goal is to be able to understand what happened in the beginning… Of course, we don’t know…the world could blow up…” she said with a smile, “but it is a very small risk.”
When they started up the Super Collider a few months ago, it did blow up…and break down. They had to pull the plug. Now, it’s being fixed and is expected to be open for business again next year.
“I’m really so lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” the young woman wound up her presentation.
*** Our next speaker got off to a more hopeful start. “Is it possible that we could live forever?” he wondered.
Death seems to be encoded in our genes. We are born to die, says the old expression. But if humans were “programmed” to die, reasoned the young molecular biologist, it might be possible to “turn off the switch.”
Alas, if it were genetic coding that causes us to die, he went on, we would see occasional mutants – whose genetic code was defective – who lived forever. We don’t. Therefore, the march to the grave is more fundamental than that.
“All living things die,” he continued. It is just the nature of the universe. Get used to it.
That was a big let down for us. Not that we wanted to see the collision with Andromeda or the day when the gluons stop holding matter together, but it would be nice to know we could make it to the next presidential election or to the end of this bear market – if we wanted.
But that’s just another part of the disappointment. We know we’re all going to die, but we don’t even know when. Makes it hard to plan.
*** If that weren’t bad enough, we also got a blow to our pride. “Humans are no longer considered the crown of creation,” explained another biologist. “Charles Darwin first drew out a sketch of the ‘tree of life.’ Later it was elaborated, but always in the same direction…showing progress from tiny, primitive single-celled organisms up the tree of life.”
The tree grew past the fungi and bacteria…past the reptilians…past the tree toads and garden varmits…past the rap stars and tax collectors…past the Irish…and up to humans at the very summit. But now, all that has changed. Now, it’s a big circle. Humans are stuck on one side, next to pond scum – amid hundreds of thousands of organisms.
“There are thousands of bacteria in a single teaspoon of dirt,” said our scientist. “Most of them are completely unknown and can’t be cultivated in the laboratory. And we don’t even know why.
“They seem to form communities…in fact, they form communities in your body…helping each other. You take an antibiotic to kill them. Some of the bacteria ‘absorbs’ the antibiotic, protecting the rest of the group.”
How about that, dear reader? Some bacteria take the bullet for other bacteria.
“We don’t know how or why they work the way they do. But just one of these bacteria was responsible for killing a third of the population of Europe in the Great Plague.”
It was probably a mistake, in that bacteria have little interest in killing their hosts. But accidents happen, even in the world of bacteria. The bacteria responsible for the plague blew itself up…it killed off its hosts and left the human population with greater resistance.
What the bugs want, we guess, is a quiet place to live…without getting attacked all the time. They want a healthy vessel to carry them through life…where they can get what everyone wants – a decent standard of living and a comfortable retirement. Maybe that’s all we humans are — merely carriers…convenient boats for the bacteria. Those who are useful to them are kept afloat…and allowed to propagate. Those who are not useful are scuttled.
*** We also got some psychological insights. A professor at the local university has been studying stress. It turns out, there is an important difference between the sexes. When a man is under stress, he often doesn’t recognize it…or he denies it.
“Something bothering me? No…’course not. Everything is fine. Fine, I told you!”
Then he goes and blows his brains out.
A woman, on the other hand, is more aware of her own condition.
“When she is sad…she’ll act sad…she’ll watch sad movies…and cry. She seems to ‘get it out of her system’ and is better off.”
But standing by your man can help, the professor continued:
“Under stress, a man benefits greatly from social support…the kind of support his wife typically gives him. We’ve done studies of this. The guys are much better off when they confront a difficult situation with their wives by their sides.
“On the other hand, when we asked the husbands to support their wives, the results were negative. In a controlled study, in which some women got no help…others got only physical help, in the form of a neck and shoulders massage…and a third group had the support of their husbands, we found that the group that did the worst was the one whose husbands were supposed to be helping them.
“We don’t know quite what to make of that…but that was the finding. So, men, if you want to help your wives…give them a neck massage…or a hug. Otherwise, stay out of the way.”
Markets and Money