Interview with Doug Casey

What's next for this best-selling author?


Doug Casey is one of the classic success stories in the investment publishing business. His book Crisis Investing was on the bestseller list for 34 weeks. Written in 1978, the book was published in 1979 just in time for all of Casey's predictions to be validated by the market. His recent update of that book, which takes a longer-term and more sophisticated perspective, is Strategic Investing, published in 1982.

Despite the commercial successes of Crisis Investing and Strategic Investing, Casey says he is most proud of his book The International Man, published in 1981. A guidebook to living and investing in more than 100 countries, The International Man is aimed at people who are seeking their fortunes or attempting to escape the shackles of government.

Himself something of an "international man," Casey has traveled and transacted business all over the world in search of wealth for himself and his clients. Around the globe he has made the most of virtually every major type of investment opportunity, including real estate, commodities, securities, insurance, and banking.

Currently, Casey is president of the Casey Group, Inc., and International Fund Management, both located in Washington, D. C. He is also a senior consulting editor for the Personal Finance Letter.

Not limiting his interests to the investment world, Casey races motorcycles and aspires to design his own futuristic race car. In the summer, he turns his attention to the arts and sciences by gathering together in Aspen, Colorado, individuals who have distinguished themselves in a variety of intellectual and physical endeavors.

Contributing Editor Joe Cobb interviewed Casey in his luxurious Georgetown residence in March, just as he was departing for another investigative trip to an unspecified Third World country.

REASON: What was your life like before you wrote your first book? In other words, what were you doing 10 or 15 years ago?

CASEY: Just attempting to make my way in the world. I graduated from college, which was a misallocation of four years of my time and $20,000 of my parents' capital, with a barely passing degree. I hoped to go out and seek my fortune and high adventure in the "southern hemisphere." In order to do that, I went to work at two jobs, teaching school as a substitute teacher in the combat zone during the day and working as a bartender at night.

REASON: This was in Washington?

CASEY: That's right. Then I met somebody who said I could make more money more quickly by selling group insurance to law firms. Of course, law firms in Washington grow like poison mushrooms. So that's what I did, and I made a lot of money at it. Then I became a stockbroker and did reasonably well at that. In the process of exploring how to make more money, I tried to answer a couple of questions to my own satisfaction as to how the world works. And I found that the difference between casual cocktail-party chatter and an integrated world view is whether or not you can put it down on paper and make it tie together logically. That led me to start working on my Crisis Investing book, which was finished in late 1978 and published in early 1979. And the rest is history.

REASON: Crisis Investing was originally published by a small California press. Then it was republished and became a smash bestseller. Who's responsible for that marketing triumph?

CASEY: Robert Ringer, who was responsible for the marketing success of his own books. Bob writes great ad copy.

REASON: He picked up your book and was able to promote it?

CASEY: It was the right book with the right idea at the right time, and it all just came together. I was very pleased about it, because I think that everybody gets what they deserve, and I'm glad to see that that rule also applies to me.

REASON: Your book The International Man surveys 159 countries of the world—their opportunities for investment, adventure, and so on. Was most of the research for that done with actual travel or by gathering information from the various Washington embassies?

CASEY: You have to do both. A lot of the information in that book is statistical in nature, so it's worth almost nothing unless it has an interpretation. I visited almost all of the countries that I wrote about.

REASON: Have you been to China and Russia and the other Communist countries?

CASEY: Yes, I have. I thought going to Russia was especially interesting. I could compare it to nothing more apt than being in Cleveland in 1933. It's a society that would certainly collapse if it wasn't for the one-way flow of loans and technology and things of that nature from the West. That's one of the things, incidentally, that makes me so confident that we're going to have a war sometime in the future. There are only two ways that you can get what you want in the world. One is to create or trade for what you want, and the other way is to steal it. The Soviet Union is totally incapable of creating anything, so that leaves one alternative, to steal it. The other thing that makes me think the international situation will end badly is the incredible stupidity of the Western governments, including the policies of the Reagan administration, which combine the very worst of an aggressive warfare state with the welfare state that it continues to nurture. I don't know where you run and hide, frankly. You can't. That's the whole problem.

REASON: Having done your research for The International Man, and considering that much of the world is in a crisis now, why did you end up choosing to stay in the United States?

CASEY: Two reasons. First, inertia. Second, this is probably the most desirable country in the world to live in if you either want to make more money or you already have a lot of money. I fit into both of those categories at this time. I've thought about living in a number of different countries and am thinking about it now. But I'm still here, so the cost-benefit equation must still be favorable. But if you do this interview tomorrow morning, I might have changed my mind.

REASON: You mentioned the inertia factor. As a person looks around at other places in the world, how much should the choice of a country be based on how to avoid taxes or how to avoid a future war, especially a nuclear war, as opposed to simply enjoying the comforts where one already is?

CASEY: Well, it's all a matter of risk-reward ratios. You might have heard the story of the guy before World War II who figured that something was going to blow up, so he decided to buy himself a little plantation on the most out-of-the-way island he could possibly find in order to get out of harm's way. At the time, it was a good choice, but the island was Guadalcanal, the site of a famous World War II battle. So the answer is that you can run, but you just can't hide from these people.

REASON: Is there anywhere to go to avoid the disaster of nuclear war?

CASEY: Well, I like the idea of owning real estate in a number of places outside the country. If you own real estate outside of the United States, you should be able to get all of the tax advantages that implies, and it's going to be very helpful in beating foreign-exchange controls, which I think are certainly coming to the United States in the next few years. Better than that, you'll always have a place where you can go to live if it's no longer desirable to live here in the United States. For that reason, I'm buying quite a nice condominium in Hong Kong, where prices are down about 50 to 75 percent from their peak of several years ago. I'm buying a nice place in the mountains of Costa Rica, where prices are also down about 75 percent from a few years ago. And I'm looking to pick up some place perhaps in South America, in Argentina or Chile, where once again I can pick something up at perhaps 20 to 25 cents on the dollar.

REASON: It sounds like an application of the contrary opinion philosophy. Hong Kong is supposed to be taken over by Red China; Costa Rica is supposed to be absorbed by the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua; Argentina and Chile are supposed to have a backlash now with left-wing governments.

CASEY: Well, of course, everybody in the investment business today wants to fancy themselves as being the contrarian, but I think the true acid test of being a contrarian is to actually try to go places where the blood is running in the streets and where prices are, in point of fact, down 75 or 80 percent from their peaks. All of these goofy little countries where you can get good bargains have been having problems like this since day one of their history. They'll probably be having problems like this until the millennium comes, so if you only buy when things look rosy, then you're bound to be buying at the top. For instance, people are unaware of the fact that Nicaragua was a haven for the jet set back in the 1960s—Mick Jagger and Bianca were promoting it to their friends. Now—which is a good time to buy in Nicaragua, at probably about two cents on the dollar—nobody wants to hear about it. The way you make money is to buy when prices are down; and of course, things never look good then. That's why prices are down.

People have got to realize that these governments come and go. Today they're called communists. They used to be called agrarian reformers or socialists. There's nothing particularly different about what's going on in these countries—or for that matter, what's been going on in the Soviet Union since day one, Ronald Reagan's ridiculous rhetoric notwithstanding. I don't think the communist threat is any different from the Napoleonic threat of 150 years ago or the Kaiser's threat of 60 years ago or Alexander the Great's threat of 2,000 years ago. Nothing's special about any of the philosophical rhetoric that these people use except in the effect it has on our own rulers—to get people frothing at the mouth to build up the American military establishment. The best thing that could happen to the United States is that the US military establishment would be abolished. I think if I was president of the United States, I would immediately unilaterally disarm the United States.

REASON: That, of course, immediately brings to mind the statement from others that the Soviets at that point would attack us.

CASEY: There's something that has to be done first if we're going to have unilateral disarmament. You have to also abolish the state, because right now all of the property of the United States is de facto owned by the US government. You might say, "Well, I own my house." And I'd say, "Oh, no, you don't own your house. Try not paying your real estate taxes for a year, and you'll find out who really owns it." If you abolish the US government—in fact, abolish all governmental units in this country—all the land in this country will become privately owned. At that point, if the Soviets wanted to tax the United States or do anything with this big geographical area of land, they'd have to land an army on the West Coast and conquer every single inhabitant of the country. They'd have to go about conquering each and every one of the more than 200,000,000 people who live here, none of whom want to have their property taken away from them. I explored that theme a little bit in the last chapter of my Crisis Investing book, a chapter which, incidentally, I think was the best thing I've ever done. I'll stand by unilateral disarmament, and I can do so fearlessly because I know that there's not a snowball's chance in hell that it's ever going to occur.

REASON: You recently wrote another book, Strategic Investing. How is that doing?

CASEY: Well, it did reasonably well. It was on the New York Times list for seven weeks, but since it's a much more sophisticated book, it, by that very fact, had a smaller audience to appreciate it. It's my swan song to the investment field. You say something once, it's enough; twice is more than enough; and three times or more is a record excess.

REASON: Do you see your career in the future remaining principally as a writer or as an investment advisor, or do you see yourself going in other directions?

CASEY: Well, the investment advisory business has been very good to me. My newsletter is successful and profitable. My fund management business is successful and profitable. So I'll continue with them, because it's nice to have a little bit of formal discipline in your life. It also helps to pay the bills. But in the future I'm going to spend more time doing things that give me a measure of excitement. My next book is going to be called "The Renaissance Man." It will probably be subtitled, "How to Do Anything You Want to and Be Anything You Want to Be." There are a lot of things I've always wanted to do. I've wanted to climb mountains; I've wanted to race motorcycles, race cars, run a triathlon, qualify myself in a number of arts and sciences—in other words, do all the things you're supposed to do if you're a Renaissance man. Since I'm doing it with a certain amount of forethought, I might as well write a book about it. I'm also planning to do a novel, which I've structured out, called "You Can Profit from the Coming Collapse of Western Civilization." It's a black comedy about the end of the world, but fortunately it has a happy ending.

REASON: You have sponsored an organization called the Eris Society.

CASEY: Yes, every summer in Aspen, which is where I live in the summer, I invite people who have distinguished themselves in arts, literature, science, sports, music, or what have you, to just come together and get to know one another. That's what the Eris Society is. Hopefully, it'll become a self-perpetuating tradition so that it can continue long after I'm bored with the concept.

REASON: What were some of the influences originally that shaped your own economic views?

CASEY: The desire just to be left alone, quite frankly, was number one. And there was a corollary to that—a desire to do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. In order to do this, you need to command certain physical resources, so I thought in terms of getting money any way I could. But since I believe that there really is such a thing as the wheel of karma, I didn't want to make money in just any way. I wouldn't want to relate to other people in making money in any way that I wouldn't want them to relate to me. The quest for money made me look into ethics, and at about that time I found Ayn Rand's books and read them. I found them of great value. The next book that was helpful in shaping my thought process was probably The Market for Liberty by Morris and Linda Tannehill. At first I was a liberal, then I was a conservative, and then, after Rand, I was an objectivist. Then I became an anarchist. Now, even being an anarchist is too dogmatic for me, so I've become a discordant.

REASON: Do you have any interest in being involved in politics to try to change the course of events?

CASEY: People who believe in political involvement, I think, are not only not helpful, but they're actually detrimental to the cause of individual freedom, because they're playing the enemy's game. They're lending credibility to the political process, and the political process itself is the problem. It is in no way a solution to the problem. Whether or not you get involved in politics is an ethical issue. It's not what kind of politics that you have, it's whether you're going to be politically involved. That's where I draw the line. People who get involved in politics have ethics of which I don't approve. All of politics is just a matter of opinion and who gets to enforce their opinion on somebody else.

REASON: Most of the people who read this interview may have no interest at all in being candidates or working for candidates, but they might be interested in spending money to try to influence the political course of history. How should they spend, or rather invest, that money?

CASEY: Politics is probably a poor investment in any event. I'd say first of all, if you want to do something, do it for your own personal gratification rather than because you expect to actually change people's ideas. Nobody can convince anybody else of anything. People come to conclusions and opinions that they have because of a lifetime of experiences. They'll change those conclusions or opinions in their own good time. Going out and proselytizing and standing on stump posts trying to expose people to the way, the truth, and the light is almost always a waste of time. The only people you convert are people looking for something that they can be true believers in. If they didn't become libertarians, they would have become Jehovah's Witnesses or Black Muslims. It's all the same thing.

REASON: Do you have any specific investment ideas that our readers can look forward to?

CASEY: I've got a lot of specific investment ideas, but whether or not they make a little or a lot of money in the grander scheme of things, they're very trivial. Investment advice is just a matter of opinion. I think that the best advice I can give anybody who wants investment help is not to follow anybody's advice, including my own. If you follow my advice today, you'll probably follow somebody else's advice tomorrow and somebody else's the next, and that's a guaranteed formula for disaster. Certainly, when I do research on investment subjects, I try not to read brokerage reports in other newsletters. Those just clutter your mind up with even more trivialities. I try to base any conclusions on things like my reading and science, in particular. There, at least, you're dealing with a real hard physical world, whereas when you're talking to other investment people, you're really just exchanging opinions that may or may not have any relationship to reality.

REASON: There are a number of trends that might be sources of optimism: the development of technology, computers, electronics, and so forth. Do you have any thoughts about the impact they will have on society?

CASEY: Yes, I love technology. Technology is the one consistent theme throughout all of human history that has both increased the average man's standard of living and liberated him in every way possible. It has not been the actions of placard carriers and people running around trying to convince other people that they should do something that has increased the freedom of the average person. It's been scientists and technologists who have done so, and it's very often destructive things that have acted as catalysts for the good. For instance, it was the invention of gunpowder that gave the average guys on the street the power to blow the hell out of the castle on top of the hill where the lord was living who was dominating them. It gave foot soldiers the firearms to put a hole in the armor that only the knight could afford previously, that overthrew the entire feudal system. It was technology in the form of the Industrial Revolution that overthrew preindustrial civilization and gave us what we have today. And of course, it is still continuing in the form of the computer. I'd like to think that I'm doing my little part. For instance, I love automobiles. I've raced cars since I was in high school, and in the near future I hope to build a high-technology automobile which I'll christen, appropriately, I think, the Millennium Falcon. It will be to the James Bond Astin-Martin of the 1960s what an F-15 is to an old B-51. It's the type of car such that if you don't like the government speed laws, and if you don't like being harassed by police on the street, you'll be able to stop them cold. I'll be able to put that car together for only $15,000 and go out hunting enemies, go out hunting operatives of the state, on nights when I get bored. It's going to be done because of various types of electronics and technology that enable me to liberate myself.

There are many areas of technology that augur very well for the future that you can use personally. In fact, one book I was going to put together was going to be called "The Layman's Guide to High Technology," which would describe various devices that are presently available that you could apply to keep the bad guys off your tail. Of course, like gunpowder and like the Millennium Falcon, these things can be destructive, so I decided not to do the book. It worried me that other people would probably say, "That book should be entitled 'The Terrorist's Guide.'" I'm much more interested in things like technology than I am in investments. Investments are just the means to acquire the technology; they're certainly not an end in themselves.

REASON: You have a lot of ideas for more books. Besides your own personal satisfaction, what, if anything, do you think you accomplish with your books?

CASEY: I think that by having written the books that I've written, which have reached millions of people, and by writing some others, I'll catch a certain number of people at a certain stage in their emotional and intellectual evolution. Perhaps by a stream of argument or a presentation of a fact, I might act as a catalyst to bring them to a conclusion a little bit earlier than they might otherwise have come to that conclusion.