Are you a civilized individual or a Neanderthal? Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger provides a simple litmus test… “Civilized people don’t buy gold,” says Munger.
There you have it. If you possess absolutely no gold, other than maybe a tooth filling, you are civilized. Congratulations!
If, however, you’ve stashed a few Krugerrands under your mattress, we’ve got some bad news for you. You are hopelessly uncivilized — a financial Neanderthal, deserving of pity from your civilized counterparts.
“I think gold is a great thing to sew into your garments if you’re a Jewish family in Vienna in 1939,” Munger remarked recently, “but I think civilized people don’t buy gold. They invest in productive businesses.”
Yes, that’s right, Charlie. Civilized people invest in productive businesses…until an uncivilized government decides to steal it, or merely tax and regulate it into oblivion. Some Jews in Vienna in 1939 operated extremely productive businesses. Unfortunately, they could not stitch any of those into their garments.
In other words, Charlie, civilized investment strategies function in civilized societies. In uncivilized societies, gold is usually a better bet. Or to put it another way, as civilizations lose their civility, share prices fall and gold soars…which is exactly what has been happening here in our beloved US of A.
During the last decade and a half, the investment return of Berkshire Hathaway, perhaps the most civilized of American stocks, has trailed far behind that of gold. Civilized folks like Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett consider that 15-year trend a fluke. Maybe so. Or maybe this trend is a warning that America is becoming a bit less civilized — a bit less friendly to productive businesses.
Notwithstanding this trend, civilized folks know better. They shun gold in order to invest in the shares of overhyped social media companies, highly leveraged banks, bonds of bankrupt governments and complex derivatives that are impossible to value precisely… until they go to zero… at which point their precise value is known.
That, Dear Reader, is civilized!
But there is one additional echelon: the über-civilized investor. Über-civilized investors shun gold to invest in über-complex derivatives. These are the folks like Warren Buffett who do not merely shun gold, but also belittle it very publicly while loading up on highly leveraged finance companies that are loaded up on complex financial derivatives.
Often, these banks are run by über-über-civilized investors — the kinds of guys who do not merely load up on complex derivatives, they load up on complex derivatives linked to the bonds of bankrupt governments. Then they utilize a “risk control” methodology that has a perfect record of failing to control risk.
You just can’t get any more civilized than that.
Eric Fryfor The Daily Reckoning
Eric J. Fry, Agora Financial's Editorial Director, has been a specialist in international equities for nearly two decades. He was a professional portfolio manager for more than 10 years, specializing in international investment strategies and short-selling. Following his successes in professional money management, Mr. Fry joined the Wall Street-based publishing operations of James Grant, editor of the prestigious Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Working alongside Grant, Mr. Fry produced Grant's International and Apogee Research, institutional research products dedicated to international investment opportunities and short selling.
Mr. Fry subsequently joined Agora Inc., as Editorial Director. In this role, Mr. Fry supervises the editorial and research processes of numerous investment letters and services. Mr. Fry also publishes investment insights and commentary under his own byline as Editor of The Daily Reckoning. Mr. Fry authored the first comprehensive guide to investing internationally with American Depository Receipts. His views and investment insights have appeared in numerous publications including Time, Barron's, Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Business Week, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and Money.
excellent article, Mr. Fry!
I wonder how many tons, not ounces, of gold Mr. Munger has stashed away in private vaults around the globe, “just in case”.
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