OK. I finished Adventure Capitalist. In fact, I finished it this morning. I was laying awake in bed, thinking about all of my many failures and decided to read the book instead of continuing to wallow in self-pity.
Really, I am a very blessed person. But MAN! do I screw some stuff up! There are things I forget, things I neglect, things I just don’t get around to. Things I put off. Things I try to pretend don’t exist so they will someday just go away.
I write this blog thing sometimes. I post pictures of cows and green grass and chickens…but is any of it real? You want to know what’s going on behind the scenes? I look at my cows multiple times each day wondering if I’m not making a serious mistake. Am I grazing too early? Are they getting what they need? Then there are other things. How are we going to butcher all of those chickens next weekend? And what on Earth are we going to do with all of the eggs we are getting right now?
This book was particularly difficult because the author continually forces you to consider the efficiency with which you are utilizing your resources. Am I investing in productive assets here on the farm or am I pouring money in a bottomless pit?
And that’s where I transition away from my therapy session to talking about the book. As Jim Rogers travels from country to country he takes time to discuss where each government or dictator is misallocating capital. As he goes through Africa he comments multiple times about the strongly negative effects of foreign aid on countries and cultures. Deliveries of rice and wheat arrive in a small town in Africa. People pour in from the countryside…program looks like a success. Then everybody takes their allotment of food and sells it at the market for cash…at any price. Apparently the food didn’t meet the needs. But it’s easy for us to grow and ship food and to feel good about ourselves for doing so.
What Ethiopia lacks is the incentives to get food to the people who need it. Seeing leaking water towers all over the country, I was reminded that Indian economist Amartya Sen had won a Nobel Prize for demonstrating that most famines are caused not by a lack of food but by government bungling.
What kind of bungling? Geez. How silly is our own agricultural world? The government has its hand in every step of the process from the interest rate when you borrow to the kinds of crops you are allowed to grow to the price you receive at market. But it could be worse. Another country could be dropping off free food here putting me entirely out of business.
Massive amounts of aid in the form of free food have been going to Ethiopia since famine was first reported in the Western press, and we were in Lalibela the day one of the monthly shipments arrived. People from all over the countryside came into town on their donkeys – well, not into town, but near it. The poorer you are, the more food you get, and no one wanted to show off his possessions, so everyone parked his donkeys about three kilometers from town and walked the rest of the way. There were hundreds of donkeys around, waiting on the edge of town, and hundreds of people in the center of town waiting for the food trucks to arrive.
While this was going on, glorious, lush fields all around Lalibela lay fallow because nobody farmed them anymore. An entire generation of Ethiopians has grown up without learning how to farm. Instead, to put food on the table, they go to town every month, park the donkey, and collect grain. Some recipients, the day we were in Lalibela, carried their ration of wheat directly over to the town market and started selling it. And so, in addition to that generation that has never learned how to farm, there is a generation of farmers who have simply stopped farming because they can no longer sell the fruits of their labor – there is no way to compete with free grain.
Africa could feed itself and export food again, but not when its farmers are up against subsidized Western agriculture and free lunches.
He then illustrates the same point with clothing drives. Feels great to give old shirts to charity. But then what happens? Charity ends right there. Then lots of clothing are auctioned and distributed to other markets in Africa. It’s hard for tailors to compete with clothing coming in at no cost. So there are few tailors anymore. Little textile activity at all. Maybe that’s good. Maybe we need less global competition. It appears that our churches and charities believe it is better to keep Africa poor and under our thumb than to allow them to develop.
So what do I do with this line of thought? I can list a hundred ways I’m strongly and negatively effected by varying policies and beliefs. But then what? I could light up my blog with fussing about our silly government. But then what? I still have to pay my taxes. The rain still falls. The sun still shines. As long as I understand the rules as they stand today I can continue to adapt to them.
And that’s what Rogers sees as he travels. He sees people adapting. Living. Not just surviving, but making the most with what they’ve got. The example above, of leaking Ethiopian water towers, applies to me too. Boy does it! I have a leaking water system right now. I’ve got to plug the leaks in all of my finances. But I also need to plug the leaks in our emotions. It’s emotionally draining to look at certain portions of the farm. The junk piles, the brush piles, the thorny saplings, the damaged fences. Brings me down and keeps me awake in the morning. That’s not a good use of my emotional capital. But it hasn’t been a big enough deal that I’ve bothered to do anything about it…just as Ethiopia hasn’t had to bother about their leaky water towers.
As the book came to a close I got the feeling that Jim was getting tired. His father had passed away while he traveled. Australia, NZ, South America and the US are really just blips on the radar as he passes through. I think the best part of the book was his trip through Africa, though traveling west through Russia was eye-opening in its own way.
I spent a month reading and digesting this book. Dad got through it in two sittings. I really enjoyed it. Dad did too. If you want my opinion, though, take the time to mull things over and argue with the author. His responses might offer an opportunity for real growth and self-discovery. And that’s why we read any book.
Next week I’m reading through Columella’s Res Rustica on dad’s suggestion. In this case, I’m not pausing for argument with the author, simply attempting to cover the material. I also have a hankering to read some more Wodehouse.