Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Am I Psychic?
My sister comes up to me in the Kalahari in January, okay - are you with me - and she starts pitching to me about how we must buy property together. I start a statement that boils down to 'No,' and she immediately backs up her pitch saying that she's discussed it with my father (a successful property developer and investor) and he supports her idea - we should buy a place together. She is going overseas so I can live there, and we can pay it off together and get rich off the investment. Makes sense ne? So here we are, in a lonely Kalahari campsite, the Gemsbok looking like black and white tropical fish swimming on a distant belly dancing pan, and my sister and my father are bearing down on me. Come on son, just sign on the dotted line.
So I say: "Now is not a good time to go into property. The markets are turning. I know it doesn't look that way, but values are going to go down. I'll buy something when it becomes a buyer's market." I know that it sounds incredibly arrogant, especially since it contradicts what 'the expert' has advised.
My dad shakes his head (and I mean, this oke made all his money in the property business over a period longer than my lifetime) and my sister's face looks like a nuclear war has started in her brain. Both of them basically accuse me of being 'doom and gloom' and appear both frustrated, angry and disgusted.
Cut to 4 months later and we're seeing houses in South Africa devaluing. I don't know when the sub-prime crisis hit in the US, I don't remember if I was aware of it in mid-January when we talked about this in Botswana, but I turned out to be 100% on the money. If any possible buyer had known then what we know now (regarding interest rates and all the rest), they would have been nuts to invest. And here I was, with my dad saying, "Go for it son," and my sister saying, "Well if you don't go in this with me, I'll get someone else." Okay then.
I know what you're thinking. That was a one off fluke, a gelukskoot. Ne? Not so fast. On Thursday this week I interviewed Katharine Euphrat, an American intern. We spoke at length about racism in South Africa, and focused in particular on America's dilemma with...are you ready for this...immigrants. One of the questions I asked, last week, was whether there is any Xenophobia in America. I also speculated that this is a problem that is likely to worsen in countries like the USA, the UK, South Korea and South Africa. Two or three days later, all hell breaks loose. And what word gets thrown around? Xenophobia. Racism. I was specifically studying this two days before it erupted.
In a magazine article I wrote as far back as 2006 I advised the following:
- buy gold
- do not buy new property especially if you already have properties that you are already paying off
Go and check yourself to see how the value of gold has climbed since 2006. I think gold was about 1/3 what it is now.
I've made other predictions too, namely the current oil price level I predicted many weeks ago (before the Goldman Sachs gurus did) and I also predicted $150 by the end of this year, also in advance of the Goldman Sachs moment of enlightenment, and I've predicted, along with many other commentators, that our most immediate crisis would be 'starvation'. I know, before this happened it seemed like a crazy statement to make.
So the answer is, if you live in a fool's world, then yes, I am psychic. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just more closely aligned with reality than by far the majority of people, and these people actively resist to even consider 'bad news', to even think (yes, sometimes that's hard) beyond the ordinary paradigms of society. It's laziness.
There is a very easy explanation for all these things. For why we have a food crisis. Why the world is entering its worst recession, why we will experience chronic stagflation, why property prices in America will spread everywhere, and be chronic in South Africa too. How I know South Africa will not only lose the fight against crime, but eventually be completely overrun (yes, destroyed) by it. How can I make these sweeping statements with any accuracy? Because it is easy to extrapolate our human psychology in terms of our consumption to a macro-version of demand, to see how individual use of energy by a middle class user magnifies on a daily basis to create a worldwide problem of scarcity. Against the background of these simple facts:
- we are dealing with a finite resource against infinite and growing wants
- we are dealing with severe levels of delusional entitlement, mindsets that are not geared to hearing 'bad news' or 'change your habits'
- we have two of the world's biggest populations attempting to come online simultaneously (China and India together have 3 billion people, both countries are growing economically, India is now the world's 12th biggest Economy ahead of South Korea, and rapidly expanding including its human numbers)
- our psychology of previous investment and the 'growth psychology' make it impossible for people or businesses to begin to see how these investments actually have no future (since cheap oil is presupposed to be the underlying resource that these investments run on)
- many obvious past and present patterns are simply ignored in favour of self-reinforcing evidence that calls into question or contradicts unpleasant news (this applies to markets, climate change etc)
So it is easy to see that the downward spiral cannot easily be improved or interrupted. It is an accelerating breakdown, and one that is endorsed by delusional and protracted 'wishful thinking', by our lifestyles and habits, and by the multitude of systems that function solely on these now critical resources. We need oil for fuel, food, to power our homes, to get around, for plastics, medicines. In short, we need it for everything, and in order to afford everything and to continue to live the way we do, we need it to stay cheap. But that's suddenly changed. So is a high oil price important? It's the most important news for you, and for this world. You and everyone else are immediately going to feel those effects, whether you agree that it is important or not.
Here are a few more predictions:
The violence/criminality in South Africa next year will be at least twice as bad as it is now, affecting many other centres, including Cape Town, and we will see a resurgence in numbers that were decreasing, for example murders, rapes, hijackings, bank robberies, cash-in-transit heists, corruption and all the rest (predictions have been made on many occasions about crime increasing prior to this one today). Crime will get worse very quickly, and very soon, and accelerate.
The 2010 World Cup will be shifted to Australia if it happens at all, but it will not happen in South Africa. Crime and electricity will be cited as the chief reasons.
The Eskom crisis will become permanent within a few weeks from today, and within a few months, large areas will no longer have electricity on a permanent basis.
Instability in Zimbabwe will gradually lead to regional instability in Southern Africa. In other words, in the next 5-10 years the subcontinent (as will other regions in the world) will be plunged into a sort of large internecine conflict. Much conflict will not appear any different to either 'racism' or 'criminality', but its roots will be the same: chronic shortages of services, food, shelter and growing levels of intractable poverty.
I know these are dire predictions, and I know they appear very dark and negative, but I can be confident that they will happen simply because I also know that an oil price of $141 this year will simply produce so many economic losers in South Africa, that the majority of people in this country will be poor, unemployed and getting hungrier and unhappier by the day. Any country that has a vast majority of recently disenfranchised poor is going to be angry and restless. And there will be huge resentment towards the middle class (and anyone else really) sitting prettier. Celebrity and wealth in the next decade will become vulgar and will be hidden, an opposite condition to the present 'showing off ' of wealth.
Is there an antidote to all this misery? There is, but I don't expect anyone to buy into it, and I don't expect it will happen. The antidote is farming. Becoming self-sufficient locally. I don't expect you to give up your job and go and toil in some farmers field. Which is also why I know we are on the road that we are on, and will remain on this highway, wherever it takes us.