Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where to put money now?

Next time there's a bear market, I'm probably just going to keep things really simple and put what's left of my retirement all in an index fund. What to do in the meantime is the problem.

Nothing constructive has come to me, but here's a summary of my random ramblings:

The stock market has doubled in the last 3 years and is just coming down from an all-time high. Seems like a good time to get out, not a good time to get in.

Precious metals likewise would have been good three years ago, but are also at an all-time high.

Serious inflation is at some point inevitable unless we stop deficit spending, and there's absolutely no indication that we will.

That makes debt a good thing IF you have an income that will keep pace with inflation. I don't have that.

A devalued dollar will favor companies who export, and hurt those who import. Trying to find export stocks, though, makes you realize how little the US exports these days. Apple would have been a great one last year. The whole world wants iPhones and iPads. But their stock is way up, too - another boat I missed.

Long term, oil and food prices are going to increase dramatically now that there are over 7 billion people on the planet. I just can't quite figure out how to invest in energy and food, though. Farmland?

Real estate and mortgage rates are low, BUT the ruling elite need money, and property owners are their bitches any time they want to raise taxes.

My Budweiser buddy says buy booze stocks - when times are good, people drink. When times are bad, people drink.

My banker neighbor says "tangible goods" that are not easy to manufacture and won't become obsolete or spoil and are easy to store are good investments, but what exactly are those? Gold is the obvious answer, but as pointed out above, that ship has sailed.

What will people want in the future that they can't make, that won't rot or go out of date, and that can be compactly stored?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lord of the Flies for real

There have been so many books and movies about the mutiny on the Bounty that everyone knows the basics. Although Hollywood has taken its usual license, the facts are very well documented and preserved in, for example, British Admiralty records.

Less well known is what became of a group of the mutineers who, along with some Tahitians who threw in with them, settled on a very remote tropical island. Pitcairn's Island, Nordhoff & Hall, is a historical novel fleshing out what is known of their subsequent fate. The book isn't particularly well-written, but the subject matter more than makes up for it.

It's a fascinating study of small-group social dynamics, especially if you precede it by familiarizing yourself with some biographical and geographical background. Tahitian nobles and serfs, British officers and rough seamen, men and women, Christians, Heathens and atheists, alcoholics and teetotalers, a mix of races, religions, classes, sexes and perspectives all stranded for perpetuity on a tiny island.

The island itself was a paradise with a benign climate and an abundance of easily foraged food and building materials. Life was too easy, and some of the men became preoccupied with a still. Spoiler alert: an orgy of rape and murder followed, and the best men didn't last long.

There are still descendant of those settlers living on Pitcairn's Island. It's one of those places I'd love to see for myself.

Interesting factoids:

The mutineers went through an interesting religious evolution, from atheist/Christian/Pagan to a mixture of the latter two. Their children were converted to the Church of England by visiting ship's chaplains but still kept incorporated some of their mother's Tahitian beliefs. Still later, Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries converted the island population en masse and imposed a strict code of no drinking, smoking or dancing.

The average island girl bears her first baby between the ages of 12 and 14.

Most of the adult men have been charged with sex crimes by British authorities.

The island has one of the last completely healthy honeybee populations on earth.