"Reading the “news” is a soul-crushing exercise in pure misery."
“It is said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things. Science fiction is the improbable made possible, and fantasy is the impossible made probable.”
George Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour. A few months after this correspondent’s Twitter account was permanently cancelled, his podcast channel on YouTube, ‘The State of the Markets’ (hosted jointly by Paul Rodriguez), received its first suspension after the platform’s resident ‘offence archaeologists’ ferreted out apparently non-compliant material dating back to a September 2021 interview with Jennifer Arcuri. “Content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of the U.S. 2020 presidential election is not allowed on YouTube.” Well, at least we know where YouTube stands on free speech. It’s against it. We anticipate further cancellations, and so we encourage future listeners to migrate to Rumble, Apple or any of the many other competitor platforms instead.
Perhaps we should have chosen to travel under the cover of fantasy and metaphor, instead. Few people have made more of a success out of turning the improbable and the impossible into reality – at least as far as popular culture is concerned – than our next cultural icon. In the words of the PBS documentary series American Masters,
“Rod Serling had one of the most exceptional and varied careers in television. As a writer, a producer, and for many years a teacher, Serling challenged the medium of television to reach for loftier artistic goals. The winner of more Emmy Awards for dramatic writing than anyone in history, Serling expressed a deep social conscience in nearly everything he did.. Fed up with the difficulties of writing about serious issues on the conservative networks, Serling turned to science fiction and fantasy. Through an ingenious mixture of morality fable and fantasy writing, he was able to circumvent the timidity and conservatism of the television networks and sponsors. Self-producing a series of vignettes that placed average people in extraordinary situations, Serling could investigate the moral and political questions of his time. He found that he could address controversial subjects if they were cloaked in a veil of fantasy, saying “I found that it was all right to have Martians saying things Democrats and Republicans could never say.”
But there was a price to pay. Serling shepherded his best-known creation, the TV series The Twilight Zone, through five years and 156 episodes – 92 of which were written by him. The series spawned a subsequent film, books, games, comics – and perhaps the finest pinball machine ever created. Nevertheless, in 1964, Serling did not oppose its third and final cancellation by CBS, after which his subsequent TV work was erratic and only sporadically popular. Having intensively milked his creative powers, the system then chewed him up and spat him out. He was always well aware of the conflict between his messages and the commercial imperative. As he said himself of working in television,
“..a medium best suited to illumine and dramatize the issues of the times has its product pressed into a mould, painted lily-white, and has its dramatic teeth yanked out one by one.”
And he always knew he was fighting against a machine:
“How can you put out a meaningful drama when every fifteen minutes proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper? No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut of an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form.”
All that being said, when he died in June 1975 of a heart attack at the painfully young age of 50 – he had long been a voracious smoker – Serling left behind him a legendary body of work that has given him iconic status amongst fans of science fiction and fantasy. He was a brave man in other respects – he also won a raft of medals during his military service in World War II including a Purple Heart. To earn extra money during his time at college he worked part-time testing parachutes for the United States Army Air Forces. On one occasion he earned $1,000 for testing a jet ejector seat that had killed its previous three testers.
Rod Serling would have had little trouble fashioning the investment and social landscape of 2023, not to say the entire previous decade, into an episode from his most famous series. For years, central banks have slashed interest rates down to zero in the misguided hope of encouraging consumers to spend. Savers everywhere, and notably in Germany, have responded to these punishment beatings by saving even more. More recently, in response to the spread of a virus the lethality of which seems to be on a par with seasonal flu, authorities throughout the world have quarantined the healthy, and voluntarily shut down most of the economy in the process. Having belatedly realised how grotesquely costly these policy mis-steps have been, governments are now scrambling to throw stimulus back into the economy. That, in turn, has led to uncomfortably high, though entirely predictable, inflation and a Götterdämmerung moment for bonds (and growth stocks).
In the face of all this madness, the only rational response for any investor – or citizen, for that matter – is to take a leaf out of the book of another iconic TV science fiction series, The X-Files, and ‘Trust No One’ – certainly not from within the mainstream media. As the actor James Woods tweeted at the start of the ‘plandemic’,
“Reading the “news” is a soul-crushing exercise in pure misery. The mainstream media have slowly, silently degraded journalism into sheer bald-faced propaganda with stealth and guile. They are like diseased weasels prowling in the night.”
Take the time, if you can, to read Bari Weiss’ damning resignation letter from the New York Times. As Douglas Murray writes in The Spectator (one of the few publications from the mainstream media that can nowadays be read without heaving),
“Publications like the NYT, who profess to be most opposed to ‘fake news’, continuously turn out to have been the era’s biggest purveyors of the thing they complain of. And campaigning journalists, imagining that they are acting in the name of decency, turn out to behave so indecently that they bully out a minority, dissenting opinion from their ranks.”
Happily, there are solutions to this problem, and many of them are completely free. One of the beauties of social media is that you can curate and therefore take complete control of your feed. You only need follow people whom you particularly rate. Among the members of Finance Twitter (for example) that we would recommend to all readers is Millionaire Mentor (@DavidIHarrison), whose self-appointed objective is to enable all his followers to achieve millionaire wealth status “by making, keeping and investing money”. Much of this comes down to simple time management and avoiding the habits of the past. So he recommends spending more time learning by:
Another of Millionaire Mentor’s recommendations, and particularly of the author Rolf Dobelli, is to discard short-form mainstream media and vacuous soundbites – a.k.a. “News” – in favour of longer form media written by people with genuine flair and expertise. In his essay Avoid News, Dobelli advocates the following change in your cultural behaviour:
“Go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey.
“Make news as inaccessible as possible. Delete the news apps from your iPhone. Sell your TV. Cancel your newspaper subscriptions. Do not pick up newspapers and magazines that lie around in airports and train stations. Do not set your browser default to a news site. Pick a site that never changes. The more stale the better. Delete all news sites from your browser’s favourites list. Delete the news widgets from your desktop.
“If you want to keep the illusion of “not missing anything important”, I suggest you glance through the summary page of the Economist once a week. Don’t spend more than five minutes on it.
“Read magazines and books which explain the world – Science, Nature, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly. Go for magazines that connect the dots and don’t shy away from presenting the complexities of life – or from purely entertaining you. The world is complicated, and we can do nothing about it. So, you must read longish and deep articles and books that represent its complexity. Try reading a book a week. Better two or three. History is good. Biology. Psychology. That way you’ll learn to understand the underlying mechanisms of the world. Go deep instead of broad. Enjoy material that truly interests you. Have fun reading.
“The first week will be the hardest. Deciding not to check the news while you are thinking, writing or reading takes discipline. You are fighting your brain’s built-in tendency. Initially, you will feel out of touch or even socially isolated. Every day you will be tempted to check your favourite news Web site. Don’t do it. Stick to the cold-turkey plan. Go 30 days without news. After 30 days, you will have a more relaxed attitude toward the news. You will find that you have more time, more concentration and a better understanding of the world.
“After a while, you will realize that despite your personal news blackout, you have not missed – and you’re not going to miss – any important facts. If some bit of information is truly important to your profession, your company, your family or your community, you will hear it in time – from your friends, your mother-in-law or whomever you talk to or see. When you are with your friends, ask them if anything important is happening in the world. The question is a great conversation starter. Most of the time, the answer will be: “not really.”
“Are you afraid that living a news-free existence will make you an outcast at parties? Well, you might not know that Lindsay Lohan went to jail, but you will have more intelligent facts to share – about the cultural meaning of the food you are eating or the discovery of exo-solar planets. Never be shy about discussing your news diet. People will be fascinated..”
A key advantage of going cold turkey on news and mainstream media in 2023 is that for any number of reasons you will simply feel better. Much of the news comes across as dreadful today for the simple reason that the underlying problems genuinely are dreadful. The global debt predicament was already precarious even before governments around the world overreacted to the Covid-19 “pandemic”, crashed their economies into a brick wall, and are now fire-hosing those same broken economies with future taxpayers’ money. Now our own government seems to be making policy decisions as if guided by a weathervane. The Rishi Sunak administration is displaying more flip-flops than a 1970s Ibizan beach holiday. So from an investment perspective there is merit in insulating your portfolio, as far as reasonably possible, from all the various forms of exposure to government risk.
How to help insure against financial repression
If you listen carefully, you will hear the wind getting up, as governments cast around in desperation to raise money they do not possess. Pretty soon there will be a gale blowing. The fiscal environment seems increasingly hostile to both wealth and income. So even though the status of legitimate tax shelters may change in the future, there is no harm in exploiting them to the maximum while they still exist today. Make the most of legal tax wrappers such as Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) and, where permissible, Self Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs) – or any other pension wrappers available to you.
Given the inflationary impact of Covid-related government spending within a broken economy, it still makes sense to limit or eliminate your exposure to UK Gilts.
For similar reasons, avoid maintaining lumpy amounts of cash in banking institutions. Some level of ‘rainy day’ money in the bank makes sense, but it also makes sense to take advantage of the protections offered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and its £85,000 compensation limit per institution. As ever, if in doubt, diversify. For what it’s worth, we’ve seen the government playbook in the event of a repeat of a 2008-style banking crisis – when faced with ailing financial institutions, they will almost certainly just print money now.
By a process of elimination, this leaves listed equities as rational investments in a post-Covid world, but there is the stock market, and then there is the market of individual stocks. We favour the latter, and have next to no interest in the direction of the former.
These are strange times culturally, too, with the rise of a political group calling itself Antifa which, as far as most objective observers can tell, uses distinctly fascistic tactics of its own. And more recently, a wave of hysteria and statue-toppling has accompanied the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of dubious woke ‘celebrities’ from the worlds of sports and entertainment electing to ‘take the knee’ to supposed white privilege. Rod Serling even has a relevance to today’s fractious debates about racism. Here, for example, is what he wrote to The Los Angeles Times in response to the assassination of the civil rights activist Martin Luther King, in April 1968:
“In his grave, we praise him for his decency – but when he walked amongst us, we responded with no decency of our own. When he suggested that all men should have a place in the sun – we put a special sanctity on the right of ownership and the privilege of prejudice by maintaining that to deny homes to Negroes was a democratic right. Now we acknowledge his compassion – but we exercised no compassion of our own. When he asked us to understand that men take to the streets out of anguish and hopelessness and a vision of that dream dying, we bought guns and speculated about roving agitators and subversive conspiracies and demanded law and order. We felt anger at the effects, but did little to acknowledge the causes. We extol all the virtues of the man – but we chose not to call them virtues before his death. And now, belatedly, we talk of this man’s worth – but the judgement comes late in the day as part of a eulogy when it should have been made a matter of record while he existed as a living force. If we are to lend credence to our mourning, there are acknowledgements that must be made now, albeit belatedly. We must act on the altogether proper assumption that Martin Luther King asked for nothing but that which was his due.. He asked only for equality, and it is that which we denied him.”
This correspondent has recently been dipping into a box set of the full original series of The Twilight Zone that he acquired some time before the spread of Covid-19. Each episode is a 25-minute wonder, a masterpiece of concision and allusion, touching on elements of fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes horror. As a commentary on our current condition – with a government seemingly in office but not in power, with politicians flailing around to try and reverse an appalling recession that they themselves have provoked, with people legitimately scared by the effectiveness of the government’s own propaganda, with the rise of social tensions inevitable after months of enforced house arrest and years of psychological battery, with the continued spread of loathsome identitarian politics, and with a mainstream news media reflexively hostile to all conventional behaviour and unfit for purpose – we can think of few types of entertainment more relevant to our current time.
What once seemed impossible has now become probable. In some cases, it has even come to pass, and it is actually here. In the wake of lockdowns we are now assailed by the Big State on multiple fronts: more attempts to impose digital ID; trial balloons for CBDC; the continued promotion of crass green energy econo-suicide; ‘15 minute cities’.. And as they have done ever more aggressively since the global launch of Convid and all its attendant counter-measures, government and its Big Media goons are going all out in their attempt to suppress any dissent. As George Orwell once said, in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
As you may know, we also manage bespoke investment portfolios for private clients internationally. We would be delighted to help you, too. Because of the current heightened market volatility we are offering a completely free financial review, with no strings attached, to see if our value-oriented approach might benefit your portfolio -with no obligation at all:
Tim Price is co-manager of the VT Price Value Portfolio and author of ‘Investing through the Looking Glass: a rational guide to irrational financial markets’. You can access a full archive of these weekly investment commentaries here. You can listen to our regular ‘State of the Markets’ podcasts, with Paul Rodriguez of ThinkTrading.com, here. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Price Value Partners manage investment portfolios for private clients. We also manage the VT Price Value Portfolio, an unconstrained global fund investing in Benjamin Graham-style value stocks and specialist managed funds.
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