March 18, 2005

The Book Meme Everyone's Doing

WE UNDERSTAND all the popular bloggers are informing their readers about how they would react to various farcical situations involving popular books, so we're going to do the same thing. Besides, our marketing people thought it was a good idea too. Therefore, we present ...



Question: You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Answer: That's easy -- the Fireman's Manual, the only book which enjoys the protection of the authorities in Bradbury's dystopia.

Question: Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Answer: We haven't had a crush on a fictional character, no.

Question: The last book you bought is:

Answer: Alvaro Vargas Llosa's Liberty for Latin America, a book examining public policy (or more precisely, the public policy failures) on that continent over the past two centuries.

Question: The last book you read was:

Answer: Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker, which looks at the life of a Wall Street bond salesman during the late Eighties, and the shocking screw-the-customers attitude which reared its head among some Wall Street types. It also looks at the rise of the bond-trading markets, which had long played second fiddle to equity trading. The most shocking thing about Lewis' book is that he admits earning $225,000 in his last year at his brokerage house, far less than today's salaries for high earners. Boy, talk about being a decade too early!

Question: what are you currently reading?

Answer: We hate to say it, but nothing -- we've been too busy to get to the bookstore. Perhaps on Saturday we shall.

Question: Five books you would take to a deserted island --

Answer: Now that's a tough question, especially because it seems to us a "deserted island" is never deserted. After the castaways do some looking about, they eventually find other people. But here are our choices ...

1. How to PROSPER During the Coming Bad Years, by Howard J. Ruff.

We found Mr Ruff's book in the used paperback section of a small English bookstore in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and instantly decided we had to snap it up as a curio. We paid 24 pesos for it, which was worth roughly $2.18 at the time. Our theory was that the prior owner had traded it in for a copy of Dow 36,000 or something like that.

Anyway, Mr Ruff's book was published in 1979, and as all Rant readers know, that means trouble. We had written before about our amazement upon learning that here in the United States of America, there was once something called the "Cost of Living Council" which generally set wages and prices between the years of 1971 and 1974. Mr Ruff's book went further, painting a picture of a time so bleak that no young person can truly comprehend Just How Much it Sucked Back Then. (Double-digit mortgage rates! Rotting cities! 15 pc inflation! Oil shocks! Collapse of the nuclear family! Pension schemes on the brink!) And that's to say nothing of major traumas such as "Mork and Mindy" and the Soviets invading Afghanistan.

Anyway, Mr Ruff's prescription for guarding one's grill against a lawless, dying society was to basically Plan for the Very Worst. Store food for a year! Buy gold coins! Move to small towns if possible! Did we mention gold coins? And silver coins? Oh, and don't forget diamonds either -- a great way to store wealth during really bad times, Mr Ruff advised.

Actually, in all fairness, his ideas back then weren't necessarily bad, it's just the degree to which he prescribed them that we didn't like -- even during the late Seventies, which as we said sucked.

We mean, we could see someone owning gold as a disaster hedge -- but at 1 pc or less of one's holdings, not 15 percent or more. We could also see someone holding pre-1964 silver coins as a hedge, but again, 1 pc or less, not 10 pc or more. Mr Ruff also advised back then that one "should invest no more than 30 pc of your investable assets in diamonds." Well, he needn't have worried about that. Anyone who's seen "Casablanca" knows that diamonds flood the market when you want or need to sell, making diamonds worthy of nothing in one's portfolio. During horrible inflationary conditions, one would think real estate and T-bills would do the job (which Mr Ruff did suggest, although not to the degree we would have liked).

But we have to give Mr Ruff credit. Some time after he wrote his book, he apparently told folks they should sell all their gold and silver near the top of the market (gold for $800 per ounce and silver for $35 per ounce, which was back in the early Eighties). This meant folks who bought low made money hand over fist. And besides, he invented a great inflation hedge of his very own -- a book that sold THREE MILLION COPIES.

Anyway, we digress. We'd take this book along because surely it'd be helpful when the island we were stuck on went into a hyperinflationary spiral ("One cigarette? That'll be 8,900 dates, 87 fish and 23 abalone.") and we needed to convince other lost folks to move to a sounder monetary standard (sand dollar sea-shells).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The foregoing is merely the author's opinion about certain finance matters and should not be construed as financial advice, which you really shouldn't take from a blogger anyway. Do your own homework, and always consult with a licensed financial advisor and a clever relative before making investment decisions. Read the prospectus carefully before making any investment. Investors can and do lose money on investments, which can carry high degrees of speculative risk, not to mention the risk you'll look bad at a cocktail party for investing in "sure-fire" Argentine bonds. Caveat emptor, leave no stone unturned, etc. etc. Your results may vary.

2. The Bible, King James Version. If we're going to end up like John of Patmos, we may as well have a book which will prepare us to deal with the horrid trauma of being stuck on a deserted island.

3. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon. This three volume history is perhaps one of the longest and most-complete histories ever written, and we'd have plenty of time to both read it and decipher all the nasty footnotes in Latin.

4. US Army Survival Manual. Yeah. We'd have civilized our part of the deserted island in no time using the Army's neat guide to surviving using only one's wits. Especially if we woke up one day to find Gilligan and company had crashed a ways down the shore. With the manual, we'd undoubtedly be able to counteract any zany hijinks and wacky shenanigans using a clever array of jerry-rigged weapons and very large rocks.

5. The Mystery of Capital, Hernando de Soto. What's the problem with living on a deserted island? All the capital's dead! Without a proper system to issue titles, the Rustic Beachside Hideaway we constructed couldn't be used as a capital vehicle to provide funds for Fish-Catching Goods, Island-Based Transport Vehicles, or crossbow bolts. Dr de Soto's book would help us create a simple economy based on healthy respect for property rights and the rule of law, and thus formalize the arrangements we'd set up. That would let us engage in trade and industry, as well as engage the services of others on the island who might possess skills we lacked.

So anyway, there you have it -- the book meme completed! Of course, it's an exercise in futility as there's no way we'll ever end up on a deserted island. But hey, it never hurts to plan.

(via Allison)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at March 18, 2005 12:46 AM | TrackBack