Let’s go back to January 1, 2015 together, shall we?
Julie and I are big on goals. But for some reason, when it came time to write down our goals on paper so that those who read it can run I was caught short. Normally I just write a list of things I think we should budget for and get done in the calendar year. But this year I decided I didn’t want to make a shopping list. I wanted to do stuff. On that list was one very challenging item.
Read a book each week.
Look. That doesn’t sound like a big deal. My two oldest children read a book a day or more. But they don’t have jobs.
Start and finish a book within a week…and do that every week.
Some books…well, with some books that’s just fine. There is nothing to chew on, you just gulp and swallow. Some books though, some books give you too much to think about. I recently read Malabar Farm in a week…and that was a disservice to Louis Bromfield. His book isn’t meant to be read quickly. His book is meant to be savored. I think Mr. Bromfield wanted his readers to read a few pages each morning with coffee, then lay the book aside and think about how to apply what you read. And I don’t think that’s an extension of his ego, I think the book is worthy of that level of reflection.
I made that same mistake again this week.
I was chatting with my father a few weeks ago about a book I had heard about but hadn’t read by Jim Rogers titled Adventure Capitalist. In short, a billionaire investor drove a car around the world and kept a journal of his observations. Sounded cool enough. Dad bought a used copy and got through it in a week, strongly suggesting that I read it as well.
Have you met my father? Dad worked at a mine my entire childhood. In 16 years he took, I believe, one sick day. Somehow he also found time for college classes on philosophy and community theater and home remodeling projects and playing catch and going fishing with me…in spite of the fact that he worked swing shift…his sleep pattern changed every two weeks. Ugh. SO dad, apparently, is the kind of person who can just get things done.
I am not.
I sat down with Jim Rogers several times throughout the week to discuss his world travels but I couldn’t finish the conversation. He kept saying things that I couldn’t digest. Things I needed to think about. The writing style is approachable. I didn’t need to deconstruct his sentences to find meaning. But I could only read so much in one sitting. Let me give you an example from page 8. He has decided to have a custom-built Mercedes to drive around the world by merging two different models, a 4WD chassis mounted to a convertable top.
Even in the absence of a warranty, I knew, I would find Mercedes service everywhere in the world. Even in the developing world one is never far from a dealership; every dictator and mafioso in the world drives a Mercedes. Even in countries with no roads to speak of, Mercedes service is available…
OK. I’m going to stop mid-sentence here. The author has identified a pattern and is seeking to leverage it to his advantage. He could go around the world in a Toyota. Sure. But he has decided to go with a Mercedes. Why? I dunno. Cause he’s a billionaire and he wants to have the top down while driving in comfort and style. But he is, at least, practical. If he needs a mechanic, he believes he can find one anywhere in the world if he drives a Mercedes.
Then he goes into why he thinks that is. You should be sitting down.
…Mercedes service is available – often to the exclusion of things like food – thanks to all the US foreign aid, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank money being shipped in. It is no secret that this money is aimed at nourishing only those corrupt enough to get their hands on it, while at the same time fattening bureaucrats on both sides of the transaction who diligently work the trough. And none of them is driving a Chevy.
I knew much of this from my last trip. The upcoming trip, especially as it took us through Africa, would be an eye-opening education in to the workings of the latest foreign aid scam: the nongovernmental organization, or NGO. As an American taxpayer I would be amazed to discover that a lot of the money we send to these countries goes to support Mercedes and BMW dealers and various Swiss bankers.
So. Yup. That just happened.
I don’t feel that the paragraphs above are the kind of material you just read and move on. You have to stop. I stopped. I read it to Julie. I read it to Mike, my boss. I read it to John at work. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. First, make sure you can get your things repaired. Good lesson. Second, actions – even well-intentioned ones – may have unexpected consequences. Is he right? Is there too much obfuscation? I’m happy to share with those in need…but am I actually meeting needs? That money they take out of my paycheck before I even have a chance to say, “no, thanks – not that I have the option of saying “no, thanks” – ends up going through a number of hands, each taking their cut before heading off to its final destination. What percentage of dollars involved actually accomplish their mission? Our author suggests a great number of them successfully filter their way to German car manufacturers. I guess that’s mission accomplished.
That’s just on page 8. Later he gets through China and into Korea and, later, Japan. He talks at length about protectionism and how damaging it is to the economy. As an example, he discusses the lack of real free trade between the US and Canada at the time…in spite of Free Trade agreements…by pointing out the absurdity of tariffs on tomatoes imported from Canada. If a farmer anywhere in Canada can produce a tomato cheaper than a farmer in America…well, maybe they should. Henry Hazlitt talks about this quite a bit in Economics in One Lesson. (If you haven’t read that book…well, you should.) Keeping tomato prices artificially high benefits American producers but hurts EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO EAT A TOMATO!
Same thing happening at the time in Korea and Japan. Let’s say you are a Korean Billionaire and want to drive a Toyota. Can’t. Let’s say you want a Sony phone. Can’t. Hafta buy a Samsung. Why? Cause it’s good for our domestic producers. Sure, it’s bad for everybody else in the whole world but we have to protect our own manufacturing. And we are so bad at producing stuff nobody would buy it if the government didn’t force people to.
Have you ever driven through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa in the summer? Have you ever wondered how much of that corn would be there if your tax dollars weren’t being used to grow it? How many John Deere dealerships exist as a result of government action? What is that costing the world? What would be growing there if we were free to pursue our own interests and weren’t growing corn? Would there be endless fields of hemp? But it goes beyond that. We have policies in place to keep interests rates low so prices will be higher. Yeah. So buying a farm is almost impossible. And that’s good for the economy somehow. Who needs new farmers anyway? They’ll probably want to do something crazy and not plant endless seas of corn. What would we do then? How would we pay for a Mercedes without our government contract to ship corn to Africa?
So you see, this was a difficult book for me to finish. I tried. I really tried.
But beyond the time spent reflecting on his words I had a difficult week. I am staring at some major changes at work and I’m afraid it wore on me all week long.
So this week I didn’t meet my goal of reading a book in its entirety. I am still averaging more than a book a week on the year but the average wasn’t the goal. I wanted to finish a book each week.
I’ll continue chipping away at the book over the next week or so. I hope it shows that I’m having a lot of fun reading it and hope that counts as a recommendation.
Please comment below to let me know what you are reading and feel free to offer additional recommendations.
Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.