My friend sent me a funny link about CNBC that brought forward a few thoughts about assets. What I am about to write you can and should safely ignore as it is likely to have little to no impact on your life. If you know me, you already know I don’t know anything and carry my cross like everyone else in the world. If you don’t even know me, how can you take what I say as anything of value, anything to use as basis for even a simple decision. Please apply this test to all the noise that comes at you at hundred miles per hour from all the sources of your information. It is actually fun to find the hidden assumptions, the flaws in arguments, the hard-to-notice issues with the opinions given out so freely by everyone. Find issues with what I say, and I’ll thank you.
I only watch CNBC, keep an eye on the papers, and the Internet to gather clues about public feelings. Don Chu’s eloquent points about the fractal nature of humanity come to mind here because just as we have good days and bad days, so does the society. Our aggregate public feelings appear in media. As an example, jokes are only funny because we can relate to them. These feelings in today’s complex and constantly changing world cannot be internalized without one keeping both eyes and ears open and watching and listening on all frequencies. Often the clues are subtle, insignificant and sometimes I cannot even verbalize what I’m “hearing” but I don’t stop listening. My only limitation is time. CNBC plays its vital role in filling in the picture of public sentiment. All of the networks cater to their audiences so well, that we can easily approximate the mood of the audience by simply keeping an eye on the media catering to that audience.
Why did I think about assets? Actually, I don’t like that word at all. The reason is debt. Assets can be acquired with debt. It is not difficult to have significant assets balanced by significant debt. I like the word capital much better. Much of the media, your neighbors, everything you see screams “assets.” Assets are visible and quantifiable. Debt is a hidden, private matter. Of the various definitions of capital, I like this one “any form of wealth employed or capable of being employed in the production of more wealth.” This concept is too basic, I agree. However, often the very basic and simple ones contain more energy than complexities (who would have thought tiny atoms could produce so much energy).
The first challenge is the preservation of capital which encompasses everything we do to make sure that whatever capital we have does not turn into nothing as a result of everything that happens around us. Public sentiment is critical for this because after all the vehicles for storage of capital only work if someone out there is willing to accept them in exchange for something we need. I lived through a period when currency turned into nothing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Every day I would take the money I earned with my friend and buy something, anything I could buy (cheese, butter, dollars, etc.) because the next day that money would buy less. To contrast that, I was speechless when I visited the Vatican and realized how the Roman Catholic Church had preserved its wealth throughout centuries, changing regimes, wars, and changes in public sentiment. It is a superb lesson in wealth preservation which even includes sovereignty. Contrast that with someone trying to hold on to their property during the gold rush. Keeping in touch with the world and public sentiments is critical for taking the necessary measures ahead of time to protect one’s capital.
The second challenge is employing the capital to produce more wealth. I actually consider this an easier challenge than the preservation of capital but there is nothing easy about this. CNBC and millions of “advisers” are ready to give us that one perfect method that will surely increase our capital. They (referring to the money machine) even convinced a lot of people to borrow someone else’s capital (mortgage or margin put into stock market). They “help us” with enormous amounts of data (real-time quotes, hundreds of statistics, derived metrics, research reports, derivative instruments, etc.), with “education” contrasting investors with speculators (no real difference here), with language (buy and hold, dead cat bounce, MBS, ABS, CDS, etc.), and everything else one would ever “need” to turn capital. The US government wants constant turnover of capital because at every turn increases can be taxed. If capital is not turned (artwork passed from one generation to another), no worries as there are laws to tax the transfer. I still cannot understand how the capital gains are taxed fully but capital losses are only used to offset gains (+$3,000 break). People unfortunately do not often understand what capital is because we sometimes start out with negative capital (student loans, mortgages, etc.). By the time we create enough value to pay off these loans by helping someone else turn their capital, time (our most valuable resource) becomes depleted. CNBC, the mutual fund companies, the government, our friends, this blog, and nothing else in the world can tell you how to preserve and increase your capital. Once this became clear to me, CNBC and all forms of media and information took their proper place in my mind.