On Drones, Money Bombs and Manufacturing
Published: February 17, 2012 by RssFeed
Drones, automation and fiat currencies will reshape our world in ways impossible to predict, but here's one outcome you can take to the bank – they'll create a wealth of profit opportunities for shrewd investors.
Earlier this week, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill opening the nation's airspace to some 30,000 drones. Naturally, this has stirred concern – as well it should – among pockets of the populace who concern themselves with such arcane concepts as privacy, individual rights and the rule of law.
As I suspect that some day in the not-too-distant future, this legislation will be viewed as a rather important historical milestone, a few words on the topic seem in order.
By milestone, I mean that today you can look up and, other than the occasional contrail, expect to see little more than birds and clouds. Five or ten years down the road, however, you will find yourself wondering if that bird is actually a bird or a drone. Worried that it is the latter, you'll reflexively glance at the speedometer of your car or at the backyard burn pile, and wonder if you have observably broken a regulation.
Even in the confines of your house, you'll find yourself wondering if the drones picked up your angry comments about the latest outrages of the stifling state.
In short, the world will be a different place, and not necessarily for the better.
Is the Drone Era a Certainty?
In a word, yes. Why? In a couple of additional words, it is because drones work.
Even though drone technology is still relatively new – barely a card-flip in the bridge hand of human history – it has speedily evolved to the point where its utilitarian advantages over competing technologies are already undeniable.
Of course, one of the most visible advantages of drones involves the increasing role they play in the killing sciences. Much in the same way that the first airplanes deployed in war were used solely for aerial surveillance, then quickly morphed into bullet- and bomb-distributing aerial engines of death, so have drones quickly morphed from little more than curiosities into unmanned stealth weapons delivery platforms that can deliver those weapons virtually anywhere in the world.
Among the many functional advantages offered by a drone…
Stating the somewhat obvious, we humans have an attitude about everything. Those attitudes can be positive or negative, and they can fall anywhere on a scale from very weak to very strong… but there is literally no object on this planet that you and I do not have an attitude about, or which we wouldn't quickly form an attitude about if it came to our attention for the first time.
As far as drones are concerned, the attitude of the world's governments and the praetorian class that protects them is now strongly positive. That means that they will instinctively look for every possible opportunity to deploy them.
(And not just for their utilitarian functions, but because of their symbolic value: if you as a branch of government or even a country don't have drones, you are sooo yesterday!)
But it is mostly their utilitarian functionality that guarantees they'll be cranked out like hot cakes at an IHOP (for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for the International House of Pancakes… just so you know).
Understanding this reality of increasing drone deployments, it can be useful to ponder possible and even probable outcomes.
For example, there is currently a problem with certain Somalis who look to better their lot in life by heavily arming themselves and setting out over the deep blue sea in the quest of underprotected cargo-bearing ships and expensive yachts. When successful in their exertions, general mayhem typically follows – with guns fired, crews kidnapped, boats scuttled, lives lost, ransoms demanded, etc.
In order to defeat the aspirations of these enterprising Somalis and to end their shenanigans as a constant threat to regional shipping, the world's governments – at least those who care about such things – could get together, hold numerous meetings between bureaucrats and military attachés, designate an international task force, assign leadership roles on a rotating basis, find a nearby base from which to operate, and purchase or reassign various personnel and armaments including boats, spotter planes, helicopters, fighter jets and so forth.
Alternatively, a government looking to sharpen its skills in dronery could deploy a couple of killer drones over the contested waters, instructing the operators to be especially attentive for the sight of any fast-moving speedboats filled with armed men. Should such a speed boat be spotted, further instructions could include loosening a warning shot or, if the operator back in Nevada were late for lunch, blow said boat out of the water.
Within roughly the lifespan of the common house fly, the problem of Somali piracy would be solved – either because they would wise up, or they would exit the genetic pool.
Now, it is not my purpose to comment on the right or wrong of this particular use of the drones, but rather to try to make the point clear – these things work, and work very well. Therefore, if you are a government in possession of drones, it is only natural that you will begin to use them as replacements for older technologies. And if you're a government without drones, you will seek some of your own.
I recollect a recent article about a large show/exposition in China dedicated to the aviation industries. As recently as three years ago, just two companies – both from the United States – were exhibiting drones for sale. At that same exposition last year, there were almost 30 drone-flogging companies in evidence, with only a handful from the United States. According to the reporter, the things were virtually flying off the shelf. (Pun not intended but almost unavoidable.)
The info graphic here shows the adoption of drones by the US military alone. Ultimately, this will be viewed as a snapshot of the early days of a long uptrend.
Deep-thinking dear readers could probably fill up a notepad with the various uses that we can expect to see drones adapted for going forward, some of which are already beginning to emerge.
For example, drones are already being used to keep US borders secure from the Mexicans with their despicable aspirations of feeding their families by selling their labor on the cheap in the southern part of the United States. Likewise, we can expect the trend for local law enforcement to deploy drones in the hunt for illegal vegetation to escalate. Perhaps the drones will also be trained to track the specific thermal image and facial features of a target, and then set loose to hunt for the target in the right geographical region. No more sunbathing for Bin Ladens.
Monitoring car speeds, listening for key words muttered by the population, supporting swat teams in hostage situations, watching coastal waters for drug traffickers, monitoring environment pollution standards, gunning down bank robbers fleeing in cars, intimidating rioters or dispersing noxious gases if they still resist, assassinating foreign leaders, tracking the migratory patterns of rare birds… the uses of drones are limited only by imagination.
And it's not just in the air that drones will be deployed. As has been the case since the onset of specialized services, what the Air Force has, the Army, Navy, Marines and all other modules of what is generally lumped together as Homeland Security will also want (and vice versa). Therefore, we are now hearing about remote-controlled miniature attack subs and four-legged, weapon-firing Jaguar drones able to chase a perp to ground with extreme prejudice.
Unfortunately, having formed a strongly positive attitude about drones, the government in all its various manifestations will, in time, overdo it. Whereas today we enjoy reasonably clear skies, tomorrow there will be some percentage of 30,000 drones overhead – and the day after that, mechanized Jaguars will be patrolling the streets of Detroit.
Which Brings Us to the Topic of Fiat Currencies
Like drone technology, the adoption of fiat money works remarkably well in achieving the desired result for the issuing governments.
For instance, it allows a government to make popular choices – as opposed to unpopular ones – when it comes to mob-mollifying social programs. Furthermore, having a sheaf of blank checks connected to a bottomless bank account is very handy when it comes to creating enthusiasm in those voters seeking to better their lot in life without any additional expenditure of personal effort.
And there's no denying the impressive advantages emanating from the global adoption of fiat money – a historical first: normally fiat money was found in single countries in dire straits, but never before in all the countries of the world at once.
As most of you know, the roots of this outbreak of fiat money are found in the post-war Bretton Woods agreements but came of age when Nixon closed the window on gold-dollar convertibility. Once that window closed, instead of dumping the unbacked dollars wholesale – an act which would have reversed Nixon's decision virtually overnight – the world's governments sucked it up and, by so doing, let Nixon pull off the crime of the century.
Simply, continuing to treat US dollars as "good as gold," governments around the world became unindicted co-conspirators in a global scam to defraud their respective populations: by maintaining the fiction that their dollar-denominated central bank reserves had tangible value, and by following suit with their own vigorous money printing.
Meanwhile, as the de facto provider of the world's fiat reserve currency, the US government gained special advantages, allowing it to pay for its first-at-the-trough position with funny money for around forty years at this point.
The point I am making, albeit in my usual circuitous fashion, is that once modern governments rediscovered and fell in love with the mechanics of creating currency out of thin air, they did what governments always do in these situations – as they are beginning to do with the drones today – namely, they went overboard in a big way.
It is like the fellow who, at an early age, falls in love with the satisfying taste sensations associated with consuming large meat concoctions, yet fails to understand that too much of a good thing is not a good thing… until the very moment when the stopping of his heart brings the truth of the matter into sharp focus.
The world's fiat monetary system is now experiencing chest pains.
While there's not much in this life that is certain, you can take it to the bank – and, if you have been a subscriber to one of our Casey Research services dedicated to gold and silver investments, you hopefully have – that all fiat monetary systems eventually fail.
Let me say that again, in case the import of that declarative statement didn't make the desired impression.
"All fiat monetary systems eventually fail!"
Don't take my word for it. Instead, just look at the historical record and you'll find that, according to work done by monetary scholars such as Edwin Vieira, no fiat currrency has lasted much more than about 30 to 40 years. One study I have seen referenced of 775 failed fiat currencies shows an average lifespan of around 27 years.
So, let me amend and extend my statement above as thus…
"The current global fiat monetary system is failing."
Economics and investments can be complicated – so much so that trying to figure out where things are headed through traditional academic methodologies is largely a waste of time. Therefore, at least in my view, it's helpful to step back and focus on the big picture as evidenced by undeniable truths.
To that end, a few questions to ponder:
Is it true that the world has been operating on a fiat currency system since Nixon closed the gold window in 1971? Yes.
Since 1971, have the world's governments cranked up their money printing, as they invariably do when allowed to print at will? Sure have, see the chart.
Is it possible to create large quantities of fiat currency out of thin air without eventually devaluing the existing money stocks? Nope.
Is this reflected in the steady decline of the purchasing power of global currencies since the world adopted a fiat system? You betcha. In fact, the US dollar has lost approximately 80% of its purchasing power since 1971.
Will the debasement of fiat currencies continue until it can't? Odds are good.
Do the central bankers believe that the latest experiment in fiat money is coming to an end? Seems like it, how else to explain that in recent years they switched from selling their gold to regular gold purchases?
Will gold play a role in whatever comes after the collapse of the fiat currencies? See answer just above.
Now, you will have to draw your own conclusions about such things, but because of the fundamental flaws in all fiat currency systems, I can only conclude that failure is inevitable and even imminent (within the next five years, if I were forced to guess).
If you concur, then using this understanding as a basis for your portfolio strategy makes a lot of sense.
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Not to go on overly long, I want to extend this general line of musing to a quick discussion about manufacturing here in the United States, and globally. While I have touched on this topic in past issues of this service, something came across my radar this week that really caught my eye and that seems relevant.
Houston, We Have a Problem
(and so does Tokyo, Beijing, etc)
Earlier this week, I received a copy of a long article from The Business Times of Singapore profiling my friend John Mauldin who recently spent a couple of days there on business (John may actually travel more than Doug Casey at this point, which is saying something).
In the article, the reporter quoted John as saying, and I too quote…
"Panasonic has one factory in Japan that makes 10 per cent of all the 42-inch TVs in the world. That's a lot of TVs. It has just 15 people. It's completely automated."
While there is some nuance to the actual number of workers involved – because it doesn't include support staff (shipping clerks, janitors, warehouse personnel, etc) – whether the number is 15 or 50, the point remains, and it's a doozy: manufacturing is evolving to the point where humans are increasingly viewed as an unnecessary liability, not an asset.
Now think about this in terms of the macro-picture on unemployment. How, with the world's population growing in leaps and bounds, especially in the developing world, are all these people going to be able to find work when the jobs they would have historically done are increasingly being done by machines?
It reminds me of a huge mining operation I visited in a quaint little town in Sweden. As we walked around the large buildings filled with gigantic mills, crushers and so forth, I think we saw a total of about three employees – casually checking computers and that sort of thing. Not so very long ago, dozens of employees would have been required to do the work.
In the case of manufacturing, unlike drones and fiat money, the trend of adoption is largely driven by private enterprise (to the extent that such a thing still exists these days). But the higher the hurdles governments put in front of employment – employment taxes, forced benefits, restrictions on termination, workplace regulations, etc – the quicker businesses will adopt automation.
This all represents a true paradigm shift.
In fact, I think " paradigm shift" is not nearly a strong enough term – a "quantum shift" would be more apt. That's because, like the mysterious and still unknowable aspects of quantum physics, at this point no one can say how the masses are going to find the work necessary to put bread on the table. Especially in countries such as China, for which manufacturing is such an important economic component.
Regardless, given that the attitude of manufacturing executives around the globe toward automation is now both strong and positive – for the simple reason that it works so well – the pace of human replacement will only pick up speed in the years ahead.
It's how we humans, in government and out, operate: try it, like it, do more of it.
From this particular point in history, it's truly impossible to see how things will play out – for the drones, the global monetary system or manufacturing employment – but I suspect "business as usual" won't be one of the outcomes.
Keep your eyes open and your head down – we're living in that kind of world.
And don't forget to keep an eye out for the opportunities, even while you remain attuned to the risks. While money can't buy you love, it can buy you options unavailable to those without money.
(Editor's Note: Knowing that many of you dear readers are speculative minded, I asked our Casey Extraordinary Technology team about ways to invest in drones… here are a couple of replies:
From Managing Editor, Alex Daley: "Most drones are manufactured by big guys, like Northrup Grumman who makes the Global Hawk. Hard to invest in a way that you'll see direct shareholder benefit from the drone division growth as it's a small part. Or by private companies, for example the number-one beneficiary will be General Atomics, which is privately held. They make the Predator, the Reaper (the one they are now deploying in the big expansion).
We like ground robots better, as the market is smaller and the leaders are more pure play and publicly traded. Subscribers to Casey Extraordinary Technology recently made a great return on iRobot (IRBT), which gets about half of revenue from those ground robots now. We sold to lock in our profits, and since then it's been knocked back 35%, as we predicted. If a war in Iran happens, it could be a buy again at this price.
From Editor Chris Wood: "Just an addition to what Alex was saying – on iRobot (IRBT), overall we booked a gain of 97% in just over 15 months. We sold just above $37 leading into the Q4 earnings call, and the stock has since been knocked back to below $25 – $26 range. Their new Warrior robot has been getting a lot of press recently. )
And now, having used up my daily allocation of words, I will turn the podium over to our own ever-curious Bud Conrad who has been looking at the government's rosy economic data and trying to figure out why it seems out of sync with the real world.
Energy Usage Data Indicate Economic Slowing
By Bud Conrad
For somewhat obvious reasons, the amount of trucking fuel purchased over a certain period of time can be a useful indicator as to the state of commerce and, by extension, the economy.
That data is collected by Ceridian and the UCLA Anderson School of Management. The chart below plots what is called the Pulse of Commerce Index (PCI) and shows a slowing in those fuel purchases, albeit nothing overly dramatic. However, it is considered a reasonably reliable leading indicator, so it's well worth watching.
To get a better sense of the PCI, in the charts that follow, the PCI index is compared to several indicators of our economy to see if the slowing has been reflected in those measures. As you can see, so far the slowing of goods movement as indicated by the PCI is not reflected in the other measures.
Stocks have tracked with the PCI since 2003, and there is a small divergence in early 2012 with the PCI falling as stocks are rising.
Industrial Productions had not slowed yet in the data below, which concludes with December. The PCI latest data is January 2012.
More on the PCI can be found at UCLA in their report.
Shifting the lens somewhat, the following charts on energy supply (which is often a reflection of demand) show a big decline since the peak of 2007, and seem to show some further decline in the most recent data.
The drop in gasoline is even bigger, and the last two monthly data points are new lows.
And the drop in imports of petroleum products has shown no recovery:
In total, these indicators are not conclusive that we are facing a slowing economy, but neither are they supportive of an ongoing recovery that is the current theme of politicians and Wall Street optimists. We need more confirmation to say that the US is slowing, but energy is basic to economic growth, and these signals are not lining up with other statistics of continued growth.
COSTELLO: I want to talk about the unemployment rate in America.
ABBOTT: Good Subject. Terrible Times. It's 9%.
COSTELLO: That many people are out of work?
ABBOTT: No, that's 16%.
COSTELLO: You just said 9%.
ABBOTT: 9% unemployed.
COSTELLO: Right, 9% out of work.
ABBOTT: No, that's 16%. [Except according to John Williams, it's about 22%]
COSTELLO: Okay, so it's 16% unemployed.
ABBOTT: No, that's 9%...
COSTELLO: Wait a minute. Is it 9% or 16%?
ABBOTT: 9% are unemployed. 16% are out of work.
COSTELLO: If you are out of work, you are unemployed.
ABBOTT: No, you can't count the "Out of Work" as the unemployed. You have to look for work to be unemployed.
COSTELLO: But they are out of work!!!
ABBOTT: No, you miss my point.
COSTELLO: What point?
ABBOTT: Someone who doesn't look for work can't be counted with those who look for work. It wouldn't be fair.
COSTELLO: To who?
ABBOTT: The unemployed.
COSTELLO: But they are all out of work.
ABBOTT: No, the unemployed are actively looking for work... Those who are out of work stopped looking. They gave up. And if you give up, you are no longer in the ranks of the unemployed.
COSTELLO: So if you're off the unemployment rolls, that would count as less unemployment?
ABBOTT: Unemployment would go down. Absolutely!
COSTELLO: The unemployment just goes down because you don't look for work?
ABBOTT: Absolutely it goes down. That's how you get to 9%. Otherwise it would be 16%. You don't want to read about 16% unemployment, do ya?
COSTELLO: That would be frightening.
COSTELLO: Wait, I got a question for you. That means there are two ways to bring down the unemployment number?
ABBOTT: Two ways is correct.
COSTELLO: Unemployment can go down if someone gets a job?
COSTELLO: And unemployment can also go down if you stop looking for a job?
COSTELLO: So there are two ways to bring unemployment down, and the easier of the two is to just stop looking for work.
ABBOTT: Now you're thinking like an economist.
COSTELLO: I don't even know what the hell I just said!
And now you know why the government's unemployment figures are improving!
Speaking of suspect numbers, I have no idea how these things work, but they do. Cut and paste the URL in your browser window and follow the instructions. I guarantee (most of) you will be flummoxed.
Hailing from a small town in an isolated corner of the Big Island of Hawaii, I have zero understanding of the basis for most intra-national, or intra-cultural humor. For instance, why the New Zealanders and Aussies are always making fun of each other. Or why it is that a number of our Canadian subscribers like to send us jokes about people from Newfoundland (which, I am assuming, is the origin of the word "Newfie"). Even so, the following struck me as somewhat funny, in a juvenile sort of way, so I'm sharing it here. (If you are a Newfie, feel free to send me back something that makes fun of folks who hail from Toronto, whence the sender of this particular joke emanated.)
A Newfie had two red ears and so went to the doctor. The doctor asked the Newfie, "What happened to the ears?"
"Well, I was ironing me shirt and the phone rang… and instead of picking up the phone, I accidentally picked up me iron and stuck it to me ear."
"Oh dear!" the doctor exclaimed in disbelief. "But that doesn't explain the other red ear. What happened to your other ear?"
"The son-of-a-bitch called back."
The Golfing Nun
A nun walked into Mother Superior's office and plunked down into a chair. She let out a sigh heavy with frustration.
"What troubles you, Sister?" asked the Mother Superior. "I thought this was the day you spent with your family."
"It was," sighed the Sister. "And I went to play golf with my brother. We try to play golf as often as we can. You know I was quite a talented golfer before I devoted my life to Christ."
"I seem to recall that," the Mother Superior agreed. "So I take it your day of recreation was not relaxing?"
"Far from it," snorted the Sister. "In fact, I even took the Lord's name in vain today!"
"Goodness, Sister!" gasped the Mother Superior, astonished. "You must tell me all about it!"
"Well, we were on the fifth tee... and this hole is a monster, Mother – 540 yard Par 5, with a nasty dogleg right and a hidden green – and I hit the drive of my life. I creamed it. The sweetest swing I ever made. And it's flying straight and true, right along the line I wanted... and it hits a bird in mid-flight!"
"Oh my!' commiserated the Mother. "How unfortunate! But surely that didn't make you blaspheme, Sister!"
"No, that wasn't it," admitted the Sister. "While I was still trying to fathom what had happened, this squirrel runs out of the woods, grabs my ball and runs off down the fairway!"
"Oh, that would have made me blaspheme!" sympathized the Mother.
"But I didn't, Mother!" sobbed the Sister. "And I was so proud of myself! And while I was pondering whether this was a sign from God, this hawk swoops out of the sky and grabs the squirrel and flies off, with my ball still clutched in his paws!"
"So that's when you cursed," said the Mother with a knowing smile.
"Nope, that wasn't it either," cried the Sister, anguished, "because as the hawk started to fly out of sight, the squirrel started struggling, and the hawk dropped him right there on the green, and the ball popped out of his paws and rolled to about 18 inches from the cup!"
Mother Superior sat back in her chair, folded her arms across her chest, fixed the Sister with a baleful stare and said...
"You missed the goddamn putt, didn't you?"
And, Finally, a Wee Bit of Election Humor
A conservative Republican, a moderate Republican and a liberal Republican walked into a bar – the bartender raised his hand and said, "Hello, Mitt."
Movie Review, Atlas Shrugged
I'm running late, but I did want to mention that earlier this week my wife and I finally got around to watching Atlas Shrugged, the movie adaption of Ayn Rand's best-selling novel.
I approached the movie with some trepidation, seeing how it has been soundly criticized by pretty much everybody. And once it began, I understood why, starting with the "Television Movie of the Week" production qualities and continuing with poor scripting delivered by decidedly B-caliber actors.
That said, the story itself kept us watching and despite a fair bit of eye rolling, by the end of it we didn't consider it a complete waste of time.
Of course, the shame of it is that this should have been a BIG movie – or even a television special event rather than the low-budget hack job that it is. Ironically, much of the fault for this being the case rests with Ayn Rand herself. That's because she demanded the rights to sign off on the final cut – something that no director and no studio would ever allow (for the simple reason that they could spend hundreds of millions of dollars, only to have the author squash the movie out of artistic differences). Once Rand died, her heir stubbornly followed suit, dragging the process out for years until sheer gravity saw the movie made, albeit as the weak-soup production we watched.
I know something about the subject, because at one point I was quite close with Ayn's intellectual heir, having met him along with her while hosting them at the New Orleans Investment Conference. At one point following the conference, due to connections I had in the movie industry at the time, I tried to broker a deal with a powerful and sound-minded producer who was very interested in making the movie, but because of the issue over the final cut, the discussions ran into a dead end.
Coincidentally, earlier this week Doug Casey debated Yaron Brook, head of the Ayn Rand Institute. Their debate is definitely worth a listen, which you can do by clicking here.
While I don't agree completely with Doug's vision for how societies should organize themselves – i.e., essentially without any government – I found Yaron Brook's comments to differ little in essence from the sort of petty bureaucratic attitudes found in the antagonists of Ayn Rand's stories.
Despite the failings of her followers, failings that ultimately resulted in the poor-quality movie version of Atlas Shrugged, I think it is safe to say that Ayn Rand's ideas will live on. And that's a very good thing.
Sunspot Mayhem? Speaking of Doug Casey, he has often observed that the thing that finally tips over the applecart – historically speaking – tends to be something that people just don't anticipate happening. While very much an outlier candidate in that regard, it is possible that the thing that triggers the big clampdown and societal chaos that many fear could be extraterrestrial in nature. I'm not talking about aliens but a massive solar flare on a scale that has not been seen for better than 100 years, when the "Carrington Event" literally shocked telegraph operators and set papers on fire.
I don't need to tell you what the implications of an electromagnetic punch that strong would have on the modern world with all its computers and fragile electrical systems. As one observer put it, it could "bomb us back to the Stone Age." At which point, of course, who knows how the populace – or the praetorian class – cut off from pretty much all forms of communication and modern life support systems, would react. But I suspect a quiet little corner in an agriculture town in the outback of Argentina will be a pretty good place to be.
Here's a good story on the topic, from WattsUpWithThat.com.
Drat, Fooled Again! Think the government won't bail the banks out again? Think again… that's exactly what's about to happen. Here's the story.
And with that, dear reader, I must rush off to other engagements. I hope you have a wonderful weekend, unmarred by sudden solar flares!
Until next week, thanks for reading and for subscribing to a (paid?) Casey Research service!
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