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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Treasure your parents, then gold

Summer moves on. Writing serves as a means of gathering my thoughts, which have been much astray.

I'm at a crossroads of life at the moment. My parents have both passed on. I've cleared my parents' house of some 47 years of accumulated things and the property is being sold.

I could go on describing the many things I did do in the last eighteen months, but for now I'm content to relish in the completion of such a challenging project.

One common misconception I encountered among people was the premise that a big house can be emptied and readied for sale without a massive time commitment. Many think the stuff can just be boxed up or thrown away but their gross oversimplification reveals a level of stunning ignorance as to the physicality and rigorous decision-making that goes into clearing an estate.

Even now I have many things that may never be sold. The hulking piles of boxes trouble me if I let them.

We Americans have too many things. We spend too much on things. Our defeated consumerist lifestyle is showing the short-mindedness of basing our economy on the pursuit of things.

Physical appraisals revealed the cash value of things to be quite low. If you total up the present value of those items if they were sold now, you'll come up with a sum far below the retail price paid for them.

In insurance terms, appraised valuations are called "actual cash value" not "replacement value." If you don't have a specific replacement cost rider, you'll see how much less you'll get if you should--G*d forbid--suffer a loss.

The more physical items that can be removed, the easier it will be for the loved ones left behind. Few heirs have the time to clear a house, a deficiency made worse by the tendency of heirs to wait until after death to begin shrinking the estate.

My reckoning was that the estate took in excess of two thousands hours. The sooner the process of weeding back, boxing, giving away, and properly archiving begins, the better. Without forward intervention, the process of emptying the house would have likely been truncated and inadequate, resulting in many of the more important things being lost forever.

Of course hoarders will resist your every effort to eliminate things--believing all of them to have some sentimental value--so stealth and tact are of the essence. Fortunately if someone isn't aware that they  possess something, they probably won't miss it.

I'd start with the unneeded items, and leave valuables until after the last parent has died, to avoid any conflict of interest with the other heirs.

Escaping consumption

When I despair of so many things that mean so little, I think about a Buddhist monk I know who gave everything away when he became an acolyte.

Rather than accumulate new possessions, the monks of his order share and make do with less, two contravening trends in an age where consumerism triumphs.

So many people would feel naked once stripped of their possessions. In part, the massive advertising complex is to blame. We're bombarded from birth to believe in brands. Our wants are skillfully turned into needs. We crave. To quote singer John Butler, it must be "better than."

Having to deal with the piles left behind, I've actually cut back on my personal consumption. As a material benefit, I now restrain my purchases somewhat, and for now I can more consider more carefully whether I really need something.

When we remove so many of the things we've had so for long, emptiness can envelope us. We can see the loss of our possessions not as an inevitable consequence of being mortal, but a tortuous descent.

The Buddhists have the proper perspective, believing that enlightenment is incompatible with the accumulation of worldly possessions, and that mental and emotional attachments to things in the physical world deny us the ability to introspect and progress spiritually. Zen and other Buddhist disciplines advocate a mental process stripping oneself of all the attachments that burden us.

You live with your parents?

A material society such as ours chooses the needs of self, spouse, and kids over all others. That leads to spiritual shallowness, I believe. Bonding with one's parents can help escape that commercialism, and allow spiritual advancement.

The culmination of living with one's elderly parents is of course death. Probably no issue is harder for people to confront than their own death. Experiencing the deaths of my parents has actually prepared me better for my own.

Better to demystify death than to cower from the inevitable. If death is unavoidable, then the consequences of our passing must be considered prior to death, especially when it comes to the piles and piles of things we own.

I was fortunate enough to be at my parents house for an extended period prior to their deaths. By living with them, I was able to render aid and valuable assistance to others that never would have been possible had I been forced to fend for myself.

The time allowed me to better understand who my parents were, and thereby gain insight into who I am, or who I was meant to become.

Reflection is a rare virtue in our society these days. Gaps in care-giving offered me long quiet periods to contemplate the critical question of why we are here, which depends in turn on knowing who we are. Answering that question at some point requires revisiting our personal genesis which lies in our parents' genes and memories.

I got to experience the end of life's process, which is something all of us will have to confront someday, very personally. Let's hope we can understand as much as possible before the hopefully brief and painless end to our stay on this earth.

We should be able to honestly communicate with their family members to cover all the scenarios that precede death. Living wills and health care power of attorneys are crucial.

The medical system is in trouble and the more you can do to successfully navigate it, and shepherd your loved one through the system, the better.

Most of all, if you're in a situation like mine, don't let what others think about the value of your work shape your self-image. Today's society values the immediacy of work and accumulation of bank credits far more than understanding and introspection, which can only measure things in terms of their emotional value.

Understanding of those special people who brought us into the world--our parents--requires a big expenditure of time and effort.  The outcome of this hard-earned experience will be measured in intangibles--knowledge, and social capital of tremendous value.

My investment perspective

I'm still a gold & silver bug, despite the depreciating gold price and risks associated with this asset class. My reasons for investing that way revolve mostly about the way our monetary system is being abused.

If I had more faith that the regulatory and political systems of this country weren't compromised, I'd move toward equities. But my "Austrian school" viewpoint shapes my investment decisions more than any amount of fiat money creation ever could.

Translation: as much as the stock market might go up, I see the market as rigged for the Investor Class, who lurk at the top the predatory pyramid which our economy has become. Money is swept up from below in the form of taxes and interest. The rich get richer. A proper study of the propaganda matrix reveals the extent of government and media capitulation to the Investor Class.

Economic libertarians would like to factor out the government but at this point I think political and inflation risk--alongside systemic risk caused by the unregulated rise of shadow banking and derivatives--means our money serves not the interest of a long-term stable economy and middle class but rather to beef up short-term market profits and performance. Then there will be the rising interest payment our government will have to fork over to the banks that own our public debt.

I'd aim for no more than 40% of your liquid assets (not your house) in any one investment class. Usually. Now, I'd have 50%-70% in hard assets: metals or energy, maybe some forms of real estate. A stake of 33% of liquid wealth in the precious metals might be OK, and these should be held physically, ideally in a vault or somewhere safe from government seizure or theft.

Hard data points

Came across an interview of Chris Casey of WindRock Wealth Management by Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog. Link:

My notes:
-Inflation "has to occur based on what the Fed has done over the past 5 or 6 years..."
-Doesn't know date of forthcoming crisis but "position now."
-"Since Aug '08, money supply (M1) has increased by 55% through April of this year and base (M3?) has increased by 260%, that's over tripling the money supply."
While hyperinflation might not show up, inflation will be "sustained and significant."
-Citing Bloomberg, Casey said the Fed buys up to 90% of new Treasuries.

-debunks the "wealth effect"...based on a Keynesian fallacy, called the permanent income hypothesis (Freidman) that savings represents a leakage to the system, a deprivation for the growth of the economy. To these Keynesians, new money needs to keep entering the system, a proposition which actually drains the value of savings by adding more dollars to the system.

To Casey, Austrian economics are only proper view, explaining when the value of money is a constant, that growth rewards good capital investments and that recession eliminates investments made poorly.

Essentially the Austrian school sees unrestrained growth of the money supply--based largely on expansion of empire and war spending--as the real threat to the economy. Rising interest rates typical of a wartime or loose monetary environment end up reducing economic growth, as private borrowers are forced to compete with government debt ("crowding out") as its yields rise.

Therefore there is no shortcut. Quantitative Easing can only reduce the economy as new debt is added to the system, reducing real rates of return. Government meddling in the form of currency and debt interventions like QE benefit not the general economy, and provide only superficial stability and wealth effects while sacrificing growth based on a devaluing currency.

The ability to tax is also an issue in an inflationary economy, and could provide some political support to policies like QE as tax revenues rise with inflation. Right now the US is seeing good growth in federal tax receipts, and is thus less likely to want an end to monetary growth.

Political motives favor inflation over deflation. It's far easier to say things are growing and getting better than to accept the wholesale auctioning off of our future and our children's future. The debt we've create can't be repaid except by inflating the currency, thereby debasing saving.

I know it's Machiavellian to assume the worst motives and outcomes based purely on the propensity of our species to lie, cheat, and steal. I also know that the people will be the last to grasp these truths.

Who wants to wants to believe that greed and self-interest govern our society? That's not the America we knew growing up, but most would rather live in denial of the fact that our way of life has been usurped. For that reason, denial can only end when enough people realize what has happened to the value of their money, and for them it will be too late.