International Man: Today, we’re going to take a close look at a pressing issue that’s growing in importance every single day: political risk.
No matter where you live in the world, political risk is growing and may soon have serious implications for you and your investments.
In the United States, this has become a significant concern…
Unsustainable government debt, a corrupt and failing political system, and swings in attitude toward more government involvement in daily life have severe ramifications you should know about.
Doug is recognized as one of the founders of the concept of using international diversification to reduce one’s political risk. Today we’re asking him about this problem.
Doug, what inspired you to write your best-selling book, International Man?
Doug Casey: Well, that book first came out in 1976, which was long before most people were thinking internationally and when relatively few Americans had even traveled abroad.
Most people seemed to have the mindset of a medieval serf—one where people were born in one country and stayed there. That’s still true today. Most people don’t recognize that they need to diversify themselves geographically and politically. It’s not enough to be diversified just among investment classes—stocks, bonds, gold, real estate, and so forth— because your biggest risks today are political.
That’s what the book was all about: making the most of your personal freedom and financial opportunity around the world. I’ve travelled to about 160 countries and done business in many, and it’s been very rewarding on all levels. I believe in putting theory into practice.
International Man: What is the nature of political risk?
Doug Casey: Well, the world is currently divided into something over 200 nation-states. For some reason, people have loyalty to a government controlling the piece of geography that they’re born into. They don’t recognize that the government asserting control over them views them as milk cows, typically taxing them—directly and indirectly—for 50% of their incomes. Worse, if you accept being treated like a milk cow, they may decide to turn you into a beef cow.
However, it’s not necessary to be treated like a farm animal.
If you are an American citizen, the government treats you as its property. But if you transplant yourself to Argentina or Singapore or any other country, the US government finds it much harder to control you. You still have to deal with the local authorities, of course. But the local government will tend to treat you as a valued tourist, rather than a milk cow. That’s the essential philosophy.
International Man: A fascinating fact is that International Man was the best-selling book in the history of Rhodesia. What is the story behind that?
Doug Casey: I was traveling through Africa in the ’70s and went up to Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe.
This was 1976, and the war was very hot then. At the time, I must have been the only tourist in the country. At least the only tourist who wasn’t packing armament.
When I was in Salisbury, I opened the yellow pages—as I always did in those days when visiting a new place. I looked for a publisher, because I realized that International Man was a perfect book for that environment.
There were around 250,000 Europeans in Rhodesia at that point. Most of them were interested in making what they called “the chicken run.” In other words, get out of Dodge before you get your throat cut. Now there are less than 5,000, if that.
I sat down with two publishers and got along very well with one of them. He published the book, and we both did very well on it. In the late ’70s, I became something of a media personality in Rhodesia, while it still existed.
International Man: Does the original premise of the book still apply today?
Doug Casey: It absolutely does.
The colors of the map on the wall are running, and that’s been the case for thousands of years. The countries that you see on the map today are not part of the cosmic firmament. They’re constantly mutating and changing in many ways. The governments that rule them come and go.
The lesson Rhodesia should teach people is that anything can happen anywhere. It’s as relevant now as it was then.
International Man: You’ve said before that you believe political risk is potentially the most significant risk that people will have to deal with. What do you mean by that?
Doug Casey: Political risk is present when a government can—and in many cases actually will—confiscate some or all of your assets. Even if they don’t go that far, your investment returns can be taxed at 50% or more per year. In addition, you may find yourself in an unpopular religious, ethnic, racial, or philosophical minority—and that can be most unpleasant. That’s what political risk is about.
It goes beyond that actually. In the United States, if you’re accused—not adjudicated, not convicted, but simply accused—of owing $50,000 or more to the government, they can cancel your passport… even if you’re currently abroad. So, it’s very wise to have a second or third citizenship.
The financial aspects of political risk are very important. But the personal freedom aspects of political risk are even more critical.
In today’s world, you’re told what you can do and what you can’t do, where you can go and where you can’t go. You’re constantly being monitored by police, cameras, computer networks, and now drones in the so-called advanced world. This is one reason I often prefer the lesser-known countries from a personal freedom point of view, as well as for financial opportunity.
Remember, your government—wherever you are—considers you as a milk cow. And history has shown that if they need to, they’ll use you as a beef cow as well. Make sure you’re the one who controls your life, not some politician or bureaucrat.