Sunday Story – Happy Underground

Theo was not the type who would normally sign up for bizarre medical experiments but he needed the money.  It was surprising they even recruited him because he was almost sixty and out of shape.  After too long teaching English in Saudi Arabia and sedately overindulging in local culinary delights, his gut was bigger than it ought to be.

Theo had been in shape back in the day, when he’d been a scuba diving instructor in Palawan.  Swimming every dawn, living on fish and bananas, tepid nights spent hammering sweet young things.  It paid next to nothing.  But by God, that had been the life.  He wished he could relive those years forever.

But now Theo was ready to retire and found that his savings were a bit light-on.  It was either this experiment or go back to teaching in the Kingdom for a few more years.

He chose the experiment.

It would be preferable, he calculated, to sit in a hole for six months than to ever again suffer the indignity of being jostled and abused by the ill-mannered scions of minor Saudi royalty.

The university couldn’t give Theo full details because the study was supposed to be double-blind, but was informed that it was some kind of sleep experiment.  They wanted to see how a person’s sleep patterns would alter if deprived of normal cues like sunlight, temperature changes, clocks and so on.  They would put him in a comfortable room underground for six months with no connection to the outside world and observe how he slept. 

Read More

Friday Finance – why I’m avoiding Emerging Markets

Last week I discussed the pros and cons of Emerging Markets. I explained why I would take a bet each way, investing about 10% in these markets rather than the 20% that its size would suggest appropriate for an indexing approach.

Recent events have changed my mind.

I’m not going to invest anything in Emerging Markets unless Vanguard Australia offers a product that meets my specifications.

The problem, in one word:

Read More

Who’s in charge?

PHOTO: Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden looks on during the SEIU Unions for All Summit in Los Angeles on Oct. 4, 2019.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

The Emperor has no clout on

One of the few things warring factions of the American Empire agree on is, Joe Biden is not running the show.

He might be cogent enough to implement a pet project here and there but he is not writing his press releases or tweets, he is not setting the agenda, and he probably knows little of what’s going on in the executive branch.

He has people around him doing these things. Who? Nobody seems to know, and the lack of public curiosity is itself curious. Maybe it’s his long-time staffers. His wife is another possibility. The Obama faction of the Deep State, perhaps.

Nodes of power

Read More

Sunday Story – The Intruder

Richie Rolle’s life was almost perfect.

One of the smartest young men in Barbados, he’d studied at Harvard and now relished his dazzling finance career in Tokyo.  Richie’s income was about thirty times the local average and his upscale Meguro apartment had more floorspace than the whole Caribbean villa where he’d grown up. 

Richie enjoyed Tokyo life to the fullest, particularly its nocturnal diversions.  He had three girlfriends.  All were busy office ladies so he could only see them on the weekend: thirty-something Mika on Friday nights in her messy little apartment, beautiful Kyoko on Saturday (she was the only one allowed over to his place, to avoid complication) and cute, jagged-toothed Shiori down in Yokohama most Sundays at a plush love hotel.

Herein lay one of the few difficulties in Rick’s life: his copulations were all concentrated over this thirty-hour period.  He liked to have two or three goes each time and was fully sated by Monday morning.  However, weekdays were barren and his vigorous libido made him ache with frustrated desire.

Read More

Friday Finance: should we invest in Emerging Markets?

Image by Taiwan Nans0410 / Getty Images

What are Emerging Markets?

Back in the 80s, a fellow was wondering what to call a fund that invested in poor countries. ‘Third World’ didn’t sound very enticing to investors. Nor did ‘The Dusty Countries’.

In a wave of brilliance, he struck linguistic gold: ‘Emerging Markets’.

These days the term has shifted so that it no longer necessarily means Third World. To understand it, we must compare it to ‘international’ shares.

When you put part of your money into an international fund, that doesn’t mean it invests in every country in the world. It only invests in the largest, most established and well-regulated markets: North America, Europe, Japan, Australasia and Singapore. Usually this is minus your home country. If you’re not American, two-thirds of your money in such a fund will effectively be invested in the S&P 500 because the US by far the largest market in the world. There’s more to invest in there. If you’re American, your money will be split mainly between Europe and Japan with Canada, Singapore and Australia picking up the crumbs.

These days, Emerging Market funds invest in the best of the rest. The three biggest emerging markets, in order, are China, Taiwan and South Korea. China is usually not represented according to its true market cap, otherwise an Emerging Fund would just be a China Fund with barely any diversification.

Read More

Sunday Story – The Three Surgeons

A new study found a surgeon's perception of risk drives whether or not she'll recommend an operation.

“Your predecessor went missing,” Mr. Kumar told Meira, his toad lips curling a smile.  “In any other case we would have been hiring a much more experienced surgeon but we had no choice but to accept the very first person who was basically qualified and available.”  His accent was so thick that Meira doubted any non-Indian could comprehend a word he said.  “You are extremely fortunate to enjoy this opportunity,” he continued, “and I hope you will be making the most of it, Meira.  Very fortunate, indeed.”

Meira fumed stonily, a carved idol slighted.  “Thank you, Mr. Kumar.  I’m sure the hospital will find my performance more than satisfactory.  If you don’t mind terribly, in my previous position at Boston General Hospital I was accustomed to being addressed as Dr. Ram.  I would prefer to keep things formal, especially in the Middle East given that I am both a woman and a foreigner.”  Her accent was similar to his though softened by years abroad.

“Of course, Dr. Ram!” he said, emphasizing her Dalit surname.  “In America they address surgeons as ‘doctor,’ isn’t that correct?  We British surgeons go by ‘mister’.  Or missus, of course.  But at BGH you were not yet a fully qualified surgeon so I guess the difference is not relevant in this case.  How is your house?”

Read More

Friday Finance: The Apocalyptic Emergency Fund™

Turbocharging your emergency fund

When circumstances change, we must change with them.

A traditional emergency fund is enough cash to survive for three to six months. Being very risk-averse, in The Poor Man’s Guide to Financial Freedom I recommend holding enough cash to get you by for six to twelve months.

However, I’ve noticed that some in the ‘sphere are concerned about cancellation, rolling lockdowns, vaccine mandates and whatever may hit us next. They are saving for an emergency much greater than being downsized and spending a year or so out of work.

They want a fund sufficient to last several years – enough to get them established somewhere else, perhaps overseas, with a new career and a new life.

This is fair enough. I had the same idea and ended up having sufficient resources to survive two years (and counting) out of work during the Great Coof.

Missteps and tradeoffs
Read More

Sunday Story – Love Never Runs on Time

Source (NSFW)

On his fiftieth birthday, Stephan bought himself a True Beauty™ doll.  It was the most advanced in the range: an intensely lifelike silicone model equipped with some movement and conversational AI.

Stephan was well-off.  He’d risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the army and had diligently saved and invested his income over the years.  He now had a house worth half a million euros, almost paid off, and a salary that he found difficult to spend as a single man with no children.

Read More

Friday Finance: relax about retirement

Explicating the problem

I know a guy who’s a bit of a character.

He tells the story of the time he was driving home from a job in a distant suburb and noticed he was very low on fuel. The dial was a little under the ‘E’ line. Nevertheless, he chose to drive past several inferior servos until he reached his favourite BP another 10km down the road. As he pulled in, the engine died and he had just enough momentum to roll to a vacant bowser, coming to a halt exactly in the right place without having to apply the brakes.

The story’s funny because, while he had a win, he might not have. It was a silly thing to do.

Retirement strategies are similar.

Imagine a ‘perfect’ outcome of a given strategy: You are 98 years old. You have 7 yuan remaining in your nest egg. You hobble down to the 7-11 and spend your last 7 yuan on a Mars Bar.

You eat the Mars Bar on the way home, enjoying the full utility of the saved value of your much earlier labour. Then you get home, lie down for a nap and peacefully pass away.


Read More

Multiculturalism and social trust

If the headline’s assertion is not already familiar to you, read this first.

I was once flying back to Sydney from Bangladesh and the flight was delayed by twelve hours – a common occurrence in those parts. The airline put us up in a nice hotel by the airport, twin-share. I was travelling alone.

An Aussie guy spotted me and suggested we share because he didn’t want to spend the night with ‘some random Bangladeshi.’ I looked him up and down, decided he was alright and agreed.

The night passed without incident.

I was younger and more pious then, so I thought we’d been a bit racist. Now that I’m older, I can see why it made sense.

When I see an Aussie, I can sum him up at a glance with a very high degree of accuracy. Toffy Poms sometimes complain that they can’t ‘place’ Australians in terms of class because we all speak the same, but we can tell who’s who.

Read More

Sunday Story – The Bunker

First published in Terror House Magazine

Bill, Mark, and Elon sat down in the control room, preparing to argue again. Their families and the others sheltered deep below. Only the Steering Committee were allowed to come up here. Only they could be trusted to remain calm when scrutinizing data, and to make the right, critical decisions.

After all, they’d paid more than their fair share for a place in the bunker.

Read More

Made a New Year’s resolution to sort your finances? Here are the next 10 steps

Good morning or evening wherever you are and Happy New Year!

Let me guess. You had a big night, woke up and had an epiphany. You need to get your life back on track.

If the thing you need to fix is money-related and you don’t know where to start, here are the ten steps you need to follow in order to go from debt-addled stressburger to solvent, chillaxed man-with-a plan:

1. Don’t get into (more) debt

Stop living on credit. Cut your cards if you must. Avoid fintech products that are glorified credit cards.

From now on, don’t buy anything until you can afford cash up front.

You must fix this or you will not get anywhere because those interest payments are dragging you backwards.

2. Make a frugal budget
Read More