Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Crash Proof, 2.0; Review

Peter Schiff’s newly published book has an unusual organization. It is the original Crash Proof, exactly as originally published, with updates written in 2009 at the end of every chapter. He has changed none of his positions. At least some of his positions and predictions came to pass. He crows about this repeatedly. I don’t hold this against him, mind you. In fact, in his business, where often even if the market goes the way you predicted, you are wrong about why, so everyone is wrong. Being right significantly is worth crowing about.

Since the whole original book is intact, all of my original problems remain. I will not repeat them (see the original review on this blog).

The “Updates” generally extend the ideas in the original text, including the ones with which I disagreed. In some cases, he makes clearer what those ideas are, and why his original ideas are not quite right.

I thought that the following quotation demonstrates what may be his biggest confusion: “…but I’m also surprised at the extent to which the European Central Bank (ECB) and other foreign central banks have adapted inflationary policies.” (p. 313) He has consistently treated the U.S. as a country that acts differently than every other country. Yet the concept of the central bank and how it should function is a European invention. The fiscal policy that our country follows was created by our old friend Keynes, an Englishman. All of the central bankers in the world went to the same schools, read the same texts and authors, and talk and communicate all the time. Why does he think that they wouldn’t all act the same?

Even worse is the following: “I’m talking prosperity and growth unlike anything we could imagine when those nations had their wings freighted with the United States' excessive debt and trade imbalances.” Does Schiff realize that all of these countries are less free than the U.S. was prior to the 60’s? Why is just not selling to the U.S. going to bring on the days of milk and honey?

Also wrong about that quotation is that the trade imbalance is the result of foreigners holding on to our dollars. If they had not held on to the dollars, the foreign central banks would not be faced with the problem with where to put the money, and they would not be funding our debt. If other nations, especiall China in recent years, had spent the money, the dollar would be much lower, we would have had to finance our own debt and interest rates would have had to be higher and there would have been more restraint. I'm not saying that our problems are the fault of other nations. They are responsible for the number of dollars they hold on to.

A criticism concerning understanding the book comes from the fact that Schiff has written and talked (audio and video posts) a great deal on the web. His stronger supporters are familiar with this material. I have read one or two things, seen two or three short videos, and heard one audio piece that went on for about an hour. In the online material somewhere, Schiff has developed some ideas that did not appear in the first book, but he mentions briefly in the 2.0. Most importantly among them is the idea of “decoupling”. This is very important in Schiff’s thinking, but it is not explained in his book. I do not think that I can adequately present the idea with its supporting argument. Generally what decouples is the Asian economies from U.S. purchases and government debt. As a result they have “prosperity and growth unlike anything we could imagine”.

I disagree. To have that growth in mature economies, they would have to have freedom. The reason they got there was the support of the country that was, and hopefully will be again, the freest in the world, the U.S. If the U.S. hadn’t existed, they would not have cleared the 19C.

The last three chapters contain advise as to how an investor can protect himself and perhaps even profit while the U.S. economy suffers. There is some interesting advise there. Schiff does recognize the major issues, e.g., timing and changes in the laws. As with my above comments, I don’t think that he realizes that what happens in the U.S. is going to have significant adverse effects elsewhere. (In my notes that I will publish after this review I discuss what would have to happen in the “decoupling”). Without considering what could happen in other countries, I think that Schiff’s discussion lacks completeness. It is still worth reading, if you keep both the shortcomings in mind.

I also think that his comments on Treasury Bonds and the actions by the Fed are decent.

Actually, if it weren’t for his shortcomings regarding the rest of the world, he would be good. Certainly much better than most of what you can find these days.

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