Doug Casey on Opting-Out: from the state, formal education, and standard employment

Today we are launching a series on “Opting Out” of the system, where we will explore actionable methods of enhancing our individual liberty. To start the series off, we have with us today Doug Casey, the Chairman of Casey Research, who is not only a highly regarded authority in investment, but also in “internationalization”, which he believes is key to protecting oneself, as it keeps one from being dependent on any single government. His latest book Right on the Money, written together with Louis James, one of ISIL’s directors, has come out recently to give readers actionable advice on building and safeguarding their wealth. (Interview conducted on 28 Feb, 2014)

Kenli Schoolland [KS]: Hi Doug, it’s great to have you with us.

Doug Casey [DC]: Likewise, Kenli, thank you. I guess you’re in London as we speak?

KS: Yes, how about yourself?

DC: I’m in Punta del Este, Uruguay, which is a fashionable international beach resort in the backward little socialist country of Uruguay. It’s actually quite pleasant. But then I spent a couple of weeks in the Congo between wars and thought that was quite pleasant too. So perhaps I’m not as discriminating as some…

KS: Sounds very nice. How do you choose your locations? Is there a trade off between sunshine and socialist governments?

DC: Actually it’s hard to find a non-socialist, non-fascist or non-statist/collectivist/ progressive government anywhere in the world today. There’s almost no place you can go to escape them. They cover the face of the earth like a skin disease. And they’re all becoming more virulent and aggressive, which is disturbing.

KS: So you might as well take it with sunshine?

DC: Governments that are located in tropical areas do tend to be more overtly socialist, they’re mostly undisguised kleptocracies… that’s the bad news. The good news is that they also tend to be much more lazy and incompetent, and therefore they aren’t as able to aggress against you as effectively as the Americans and the Europeans, simply because they are so backward and incompetent. Secondly, they’re even more corrupt than those in the advanced countries, so even though they’re theoretically more repressive, with more laws and more socialism, it’s actually much easier to deal with them. Corruption is a double-edged sword from that point of view. So I prefer being in these third world countries.

KS: Do you think you could start us off by explaining to our audience what exactly ‘internationalization’ is and why it is something for us all to pursue.

DC: Well, where you’re born is strictly an accident of birth, and I find it degrading that people view themselves as being Americans, or Chinese, or French just
because they were born within the arbitrary borders of some nation-state. I’ve always believed that the world is your oyster and I don’t have a special loyalty to any government. I carry a US travel document, a US passport but I certainly don’t consider it part of my being. It’s no more than a convenient document in some ways, and I resent the fact that I even have to have one. People make all kinds of assumptions about you if you’re born within a particular political bailiwick.

So I think it’s incumbent upon any person who sees himself as a free person to view himself as a citizen of the world, as opposed to a particular nation-state.

KS: As the US government’s reach has increasingly expanded over the years, to the extent that it is able to make a claim on your international income as well, why is it that you have chosen to keep your US passport?

DC: It’s not for any atavistic or sentimental reasons, I promise you that. In my case, I keep it strictly as a matter of convenience and finance. If I were to renounce my US citizenship at this point, I’d have to pay a huge exit tax to the US government. At the same time since a lot of my income from my business still comes from within the United States, I would still have to pay taxes on all that income. Now I could free myself from investment capital gains taxes, and also free myself from onerous reporting requirements such as FATCA and the many others that they’re coming up with. It’s strictly a financial balancing act. Usable passports—they’re actually ‘slave cards’, showing who you belong to—are available from any other number of other countries. Either by buying one, or spending a certain amount of time in a given country. So, like I said I keep my US passport because at the moment it’s more convenient to have it than not to have it, even though it’s quite expensive to keep it.

KS: What about for someone who doesn’t have as much wealth built up, in that they wouldn’t have to pay such a high exit tax, would you recommend renouncing US citizenship right away?

DC: Very definitely. It used to be that you could just leave the US and go off the radar, but that’s no longer really true. That said, the US passport is still a fairly good travel document. A good one being defined by the number of countries that you can enter with that passport, but without a visa. If you have a passport from some nothing, nowhere country you need a visa to go absolutely anywhere, and that’s inconvenient. The bottom line is that if I was a young person with American citizenship, I would seriously consider renouncing. Certainly if I was planning on making any serious money. Follow the example of John Templeton, the billionaire fund manager who did so in the 1960’s. But before you do that, however, you have to have citizenship in another country. You might do that by tracing your lineage to a country that gives you citizenship by virtue of your ancestry. Ireland, Italy, the UK– there are a number of them where that’s the case. Or you can buy citizenship, from places like St. Kitts or Dominica. Or you can pick a country and live there for X number of years. Typically three to five years, though in some countries like Switzerland it can be much more, ten or even twenty.

KS: Higher requirements for citizenships of higher value?

DC: Yeah, typically; rich countries generally want to keep out the riff-raff. Although Switzerland is not the place it used to be. It’s amazing that it was able to withstand being surrounded by the Nazis and the Fascists during World War II and it didn’t collapse, or even turn over any names of account holders. But now it’s just rolled over totally to the US government. So there is no longer financial secrecy in Switzerland, or for that matter anywhere in the world today. I think a Singapore passport is probably the best one to carry today.

KS: With the US paving the way in taxing worldwide incomes, do you see that as a trend that would possibly be adopted by other countries’ governments?

DC: I do. I understand the Germans have talked about it, the French have talked about it, and the Canadians talk about it from time to time. These governments all collude with each other whenever the OECD gets together or the United Nations meet. Those things are just clubs for governments. I expect it is a growing trend that they will cooperate with each other to track down their runaway slaves.

KS: I have thought about this for myself personally, as I have considered pursuing a British passport, though I feel that if anyone’s going to jump to follow the US’s example, that they would be the first to do so.

DC: Yeah, but there’s no reason not to get one, because you need a backup to your US passport. You ought to have at least one, and preferably two or three. I mean these things are nothing but government ID. It’s a pity we have to have one. Before WWI anybody could travel anywhere in the world without a passport; even before WWII this was possible. Even as late as the 1970s I went to a number of countries using a World Service Authority passport——it’s a long story about the World Service Authority, which still exists. That’s no longer possible, so get yourself an assortment of government ID’s while you can.

KS: Alright, I’ll start stocking up! So, while I imagine that for the most part that libertarians would agree with you in theory about internationalization and not wanting to be limited to one geographic ruler, there are many that I come across that don’t seem to think that it’s possible for them. Between the options of buying citizenship for huge amounts of money or having to drop everything and move to another country for a significant amount of time it seems like too high of a barrier to entry.

DC: Yeah, well is it? Everybody that lives in the US or Canada, they’re ancestors came form someplace else, including “native” Indians whose ancestors came across the Bering Strait thousands of years ago. I know there are all kinds of excuses. I’ve heard a hundred excuses why people can’t internationalize. Perhaps the biggest excuse has to do with a lack of money. I think that’s a poor excuse, proving only that a person lacks sufficient get up and go, and that they don’t have any moxie. I suggest they stop thinking like medieval serfs, afraid that if they walk five miles to cross into the next valley, there might be dragons.

KS: What would be the very first step you would suggest to someone who is interested in taking action? Would it be just jumping on a plane and flying to, say, Hong Kong to start a bank account?

DC: Well yes, that’s a not a bad idea. But it’s best to start on a gradient, as opposed to jumping off the deep end. Perhaps do some hitch hiking in the country next door to start. The first thing is to accumulate some capital. In today’s world that may mean working two jobs, at least until you gain some skills and experience.

Unfortunately, most young people don’t think of doing that after they’re out of high school. Instead they robotically go off to college. College has value if you are dedicated to a formal science that requires lab work, or you need the degree to get a license—although I hasten to add that the world has way too many lawyers. And college can certainly be fun—but at a considerable cost.

I have to say that it is a huge misallocation of both time and money to spend four years and perhaps two hundred thousand dollars getting a college degree. It’s wiser, in my view, to take that time and money and travel around the world looking for opportunities and gaining knowledge and experience. That way, as opposed to sitting in a classroom being lectured to by the kind of people who generally can’t get a real job and typically have poor values, you’re distinguishing yourself from the masses. There must be some people who are listening to this that are still in high school, or the first couple years of college, that can still rectify an error that they’re about to make or are making.

KS: Hopefully with the increasing publicity given to the tremendous amount of debt that students have today, that high school students will be smart enough to not make the same mistakes as their predecessors.

DC: There’s actually nothing–with the possible exceptions of hard science, engineering, or math– that you can’t learn both more effectively, and at essentially zero cost, by yourself. You educate yourself, you don’t “get” an education. People’s thinking on the whole subject is backwards and incorrect.

KS: That has never been more true than it is today, given the extent of educational materials online that are available to us.

DC: Exactly. From my point of view, if anybody is asking for a job, and they start out with their educational credentials, it immediately makes me question their basic method of thinking. There are three important verbs in all languages: have, do, and be. Unfortunately, most people think that ‘have’ is important. ‘I have a degree’ and so forth. That’s the least important verb; “having” something is relatively trivial. Like having an automobile, having a degree says little about your character and real abilities. At least ideally, having something is the consequence of doing something; doing is much more important than having. But what’s most important is being something, so people should concentrate on actions and knowledge that increases their ‘being’-ness. That in turn will allow them to increase their ‘doing’-ness and that will give them the ‘having’-ness they want. But idiotically most people look at it completely backwards and they just want the things, or think that the things, like a college degree, mean something. Simply having something has got nothing to do with what you can do or who you are. Perhaps a degree can be, as the Catholics might say, “an outward sign of inward grace”. But in today’s world everybody has a degree. And things everybody has are of questionable value.

KS: Since we’re on the topic, what was it that you studied at Georgetown?

DC: I don’t remember to be honest with you—it was Political Science, or History, or English, I think—any of which are best studied on your own. I’m not saying it was a complete waste, but it was certainly a misallocation of my time and money.

KS: How quickly did you come to realize this?

DC: I just went off to college because that’s what everybody from my socioeconomic background was doing. It seemed like the natural thing to do, like going to high school from grade school, or going to second grade from first grade. I should have been old enough to think about it, and been more self-directed, but I didn’t have the benefit of good counsel. So that’s just what I did. A good mentor would have saved me some time. But they don’t grow on trees. And I might not have had the wisdom to take his advice even if I’d found one.

KS: So it’s not just a recent problem then?

DC: No, although I have to say that when I went to college the experience was more meaningful than going to college today. Today, almost everybody goes off to some kind of a college. When I went to college in the sixties, it was somewhat more exclusive, and of course before WWII, it was quite exclusive to go to college. It was harder, in terms of the course load and so forth. The entire experience has been degraded over time. But that’s actually the nature of existence.

Even though technology is advancing rapidly, I think that civilization as a whole is declining in many ways. I don’t think that the economic, political, or social aspects of life are going to get better again until a big ‘reset’ button is pushed. It seems to happen every couple hundred years, more or less. I often refer to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states in essence that all systems wind down over time; it’s the law of entropy. The thing is that all institutions tend to get bigger, more bloated, and more inefficient as time goes on until the necessary inputs of energy to maintain themselves become so great that they just collapse of their own weight. That’s how empires fall, it’s how bureaucracies collapse. I think that’s actually happening throughout most of the developed world at this point. That’s what all the debt in the world is about, the high levels of taxation and regulation. I’m pessimistic from that point of view.

Although I’ve got to say that at the same time, there’s cause for optimism because the average person intuitively knows that, in order to survive—unless he’s a parasite– he has to produce more than he consumes, and save the difference. That creates capital and that how the world gets better; the problem is that the State encourages a large part of society to be parasites.

The second cause for optimism is that there are more scientists and engineers alive today than in all the world’s history put together. They’re doing what scientists and engineers do, and that’s creating more wealth. So those two things together explain why material conditions in the world tend to get better even while the moral and ethical foundations are weakening. Meanwhile you have the problem of entropy working against us. The interplay of factors is complex. That’s why it’s so hard to make predictions about what’s going to come next.

KS: So, despite all the government’s best efforts to make life terrible for people, you have confidence that people acting intuitively, will make it decent?

DC: Well, yes. In addition to being a believer in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I also believe in Pareto’s Law, which is the 80/20 rule. It says that most people are near the center of bell-shaped curves that describe the thousands of aspects of existence. Then you’ve got people on the far left and the far right of the bell-shaped curve, those who are much better or worse than average, whether that’s in terms of industriousness, education, morality, intelligence, or what-have-you. You’ve got many bell-shaped curves. My personal belief is that most people—80%– are basically decent and moral. 80% of the remaining 20% are borderline. That leaves you with 4% who are bad actors. On the other side of the curve you get about 4% who are really good guys. I believe that what I think of as good usually wins. So that’s cause for optimism. But nothing is pre-ordained. I think that libertarians generally fall among that really good 4%… but I admit my thinking is tinged with a bit of solipcism.

KS: Along the line of giving advice to young people right now, theoretically let’s say again you hadn’t been wise enough to opt-out of university, so let’s say fresh out of Georgetown, right now and with the debt that came with it, what would be your first steps towards living the life you’re living now.

DC: Well, first of all, continue reading all that you can in your spare time, so that you are a sponge for knowledge, in all areas. It is only with knowledge that you can take advantage of opportunities, and even recognize the opportunities that present themselves to you.

The second thing I would do, would be to get out into the world, leave your native village wherever that is, and gain experience. Try to get as many jobs, of as many types, doing as many different things as you can while you’re still young and people don’t look askance at you for doing things that might seem lowly in nature. Save 10% of every dollar that comes in the door, before you even buy food, so that you can build capital, and create the freedom it provides for yourself.

The third thing I would do, would be to travel as extensively as you can and meet as many people as you can wherever you go in the world. And think entrepreneurially, don’t think in terms of looking for jobs, think in terms of what goods and services can I provide to these people, whoever they are. What are they are willing to give me in exchange for what I do for them?

That’s why somebody from an advanced country is better off going to a less advanced country, because it’s easier to become a big fish in a small pond. When you’re from more than 50 miles away, you’re a novelty, people are interested in meeting you and talking to you. If you stay in your native land you are just one of millions of others that have the same background and skills. You’re nothing special. So that’s why it’s good to arbitrage yourself, by transplanting yourself.

There’s a danger in taking a normal 9-5 style job: you may get in to a rut and stay there, eventually finding yourself trapped by gradually climbing a corporate ladder. One thing leads to another and before you know it you’re fifty-years-old and most of your options are closed. I think it’s better to hit the road and do the unconventional, as opposed to looking for a conventional job with a conventional company, and then living a conventional life paying taxes as a conventional milk cow to your home government. That is not a formula that I find appealing.

Not only do I not find it appealing, but I don’t think it’s a good formula. It’s not, in all probability, a path to enlightenment.

By doing unconventional things you’ll have experience that not one person in a hundred thousand has, and that experience is something that you should be able to parlay and retail for a lot of value.

KS: Many young people complain that they don’t have the capital to start up a business or go travel, what tips do you have for initial capital formation?

DC: It’s not easy, and it may be harder now than ever from some points of view. But look, I repeat, no matter what job you have you should be saving 10 percent of everything you earn before you even think about eating. On top of the social security and the withholding taxes that the government extracts, you should be putting aside 10 percent for yourself, so you can build capital, because that capital is going to allow you freedom. If you never save any money, build capital, you’ll never have the running room to do anything.

This is why I really don’t have a lot of sympathy for people that don’t go anywhere with their lives, and it’s disappointing that most libertarians are poor as church mice. They’re ideologues, like Marxists. They have an ideology that I personally like, as opposed to Marxism, but Mrs. Marx was famously supposed to have said: “Karl, why don’t you try to earn some capital, rather than just writing about it?” This is a similar fault shared by most libertarians.

If you want to change things, you need wealth in order to do that, or even to not be annoyed and circumscribed by day-to-day inconveniences. Libertarians are as good as Marxists when it comes to finding reasons they’re poor, and excuses not to earn money.

KS: Could you tell us a bit about the Casey Youth Conference on Liberty and Entrepreneurship events or ‘CYCLE’ that are held each summer in Eastern Europe?

DC: It’s a great opportunity for people to see new country, Lithuania, to meet a lot of like-minded people from around the world, to learn some new things, and its fun! I think that anybody that’s listening to this now should try to get there, and they’ll be glad they did. Louis James puts it on pro bono.

KS: Why do you think that entrepreneurship is so key to promoting liberty?

DC: Well, because an entrepreneur is self-employed by his very nature. He’s self-reliant, and that encourages free market, libertarian thinking. I’ve never liked the idea of an employer-employee relationship. I think that all seven billion people in the world ideally should be entrepreneurs and ideally self-employed, not employed by others. Just like I believe that all seven billion people in the world should in fact each be their own individual country.

KS: Would you say that all of this is part of living, rather than just believing in the certain ideology, but making sure that it applies to every part of your life?

DC: It’s not just important, but critical, to put theory into practice.

KS: Well thank you very much this has been an absolute pleasure.

DC: And you.