I'm talking about Jim Rogers' "Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Investor's Road Trip" (Random House, $26.95, 342 pages). If the name and title sound a bit familiar, they should. Mr. Rogers is the investment manager who wrote "Investment Biker", the story of his trip around the world on a BMW motorcycle in the early nineties. Now he has done it again, this time with a custom made Mercedes, created by grafting the tiny body of a bright yellow SLK coupe to a 4-wheel drive frame powered by a diesel engine.
My copy is prematurely dog-eared, covered with margin notes and underlined passages, many of which I read aloud to my wife.
Starting in 1999 and ending in 2001, Mr. Rogers and his wife Paige drove through 116 countries around the world. They drove through the 'stans' of the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, and China. They drove up and down the East and West coasts of Africa. In the Americas they drove as far south as Tierra del Fuego and as far north as Juneau, Alaska. In the process, they went through more than a dozen of the world's numerous civil wars. They covered 152,000 miles, eating snakes, insects, and drinking beer as necessary along the way. This was not a 'round the world' cruise.
"The trip," he writes at the start of the book, "would be both an adventure and a part of the continuing education I had been engaged in all my life, from rural Demopolis, Alabama, where I grew up, through Yale, Oxford, and the U.S. Army, and eventually to Wall Street, where experience taught me that the 'experts' were usually wrong. My travels tended to be characterized by the slaughter of sacred cows, the puncturing of various balloons, and the laying to rest of preconceptions of the world held by certain 'authorities,' many of whom rarely left home."
Sure enough, he tells us story after story that portend a good or bad future for country after country. Broken down in the former Soviet Union, he tells us about Eugen, the master Mercedes mechanic who tends the cars of Russian leaders and Russian mobsters. Then he shows that the large number of Mercedes in Moscow is a good indicator that hard currency from the IMF and World Bank isn't being used for investment. Instead, it ends up in the hands of Russia's rising criminal class.
In Ethiopia, he shows how charitable gifts of clothing from American churches are collected for good purposes but sold at the port of entry, where they become part of a retail distribution industry that has put local tailors and fabric makers out of business. International food aid has done much the same, he details, with Ethiopian agriculture.
In China, the last of the big communist nations, he marvels at their work ethic and the size of their currency reserves. Indeed, China is one of the large bright spots he finds in a world dominated by bureaucracy, international meddling, and outright theft by thug governments.
"Gee, sounds depressing," you might say.
Not so. This is a work of bright lucidity by a man who observes and accepts the world as it is--- but has the heart to celebrate the moveable feast that we are. He sees a future in which people survive but many nations disappear. Why? Politicians who ignored geography and culture created many borders.
What does he see ahead for investors?
Hold on to your hats. He sees a renewal of investment return for commodities after decades of global under-investment. He also sees growing inflation and currency instability.
For America, he sees a powerful country mis-using its power, carelessly making enemies. He sees us moving down the same path of overspending, undersaving, and inflation that marked the end of empire for Great Britain, Spain, and Rome.
Another good read on the value and power of free trade: the just released annual report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Read it at: www.dallasfed.org
Read earlier columns about Jim Rogers:
Visit Rogers' website and see videos from The Millennium Adventure
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