February 23, 2011
Panama City, Panama
A couple of nights ago, several friends within our Atlas 400 group were invited to dinner aboard another member’s yacht who happened to be docked in Panama. At 165 feet, it was one of the largest I had ever seen, and our friend had clearly spent a great deal of time customising every last inch of it.
A physician by trade, he has spent the last several years working his butt off to build a successful chain of clinics across the southwestern United States; we’ve had the occasion to spend a lot of time together over the last year or so, and I have come to know him as an intense, detail-oriented individual.
I was really impressed at how much he knew about his ship– from the way the navigation systems work to how the toilet pumps and reverse osmosis systems fit together. Most yacht-owners that I know take a very hands-off approach… they only want to bake in the sun while the crew handles everything else.
Yachts are filled with complex systems. In fact, my friend has essentially created a floating model of sustainability. He has an independent source of energy (generator), an independent source of fresh water (reverse-osmosis desalinization), and an independent source of food (fish).
In short, he’s the type of person who enjoys being in control of his destiny… and he designed his ship with this in mind. Ironically, despite his having such a strong personality, my friend has very little control over many other important aspects of his life.
We’ve discussed before the nature of sovereign risk– if you live, work, invest, bank, hold assets, structure a company, buy property, etc. in the same country of your citizenship, you have all of your eggs in one very frail basket. Your entire life is vulnerable to the whims of legions of bureaucrats and corrupt policymakers.
He brought up the topic of second passports and foreign structures during dinner and remarked, “well… I’m not sure if I really need this sort of thing. You know, nobody has ever really come after me, and nobody has ever really come after friends of mine either. Why go through the trouble?”
It was a strange comment coming from someone who exercises so much control over other elements of his life and business, someone who takes steps to reduce his risk while on the high seas, or in his business.
What’s true, however, is that among the greatest risks we face is sovereign risk. The broke governments of the old western hierarchy are gearing up their thought police and aiming to confiscate as much wealth as possible. They’re desperate for cash, and they’re going to shake down every nickel they can get.
Coincidentally, another guest chimed in and said, “That’s funny– because on Friday afternoon I found out that my personal financial accounts in the US had been frozen. No warning, no explanation, no due process… they just froze my accounts– and they had the nerve to wait for a holiday weekend! Fortunately I have plenty tucked away overseas.”
It was an unexpected anecdote, but highlights how extortion is becoming the tactic du jour. Government freeze people out of their own accounts, present them with a bill, and essentially say, “if you pay this bill, we will unfreeze your accounts. If you choose to fight us, we will keep your accounts frozen until it’s settled in court.”
Naturally, people pay. Cut off from their financial lifeblood, they’ll do whatever they have to do to be able to put food on the table for their families again. I don’t find much difference between this and any other mob organisation, yet somehow when government’s do it, it’s perfectly legal.
The rest of our dinner conversation was highly spirited… I’m not sure if my friend changed his mind, but I truly hope he does. A lot of things don’t really seem like a risk until they happen to you. People often understand academically that risks exist, but they often convince themselves that it can’t happen to them.
People know, for example, that violent crime occurs… but nobody really expects it to happen to them. Likewise, people know that governments go after their own citizens… but not them… right?
This logic contributes to normalcy bias… but it’s completely invalid. Life changing events can often occur in the blink of an eye, and putting just a bit of effort into protecting against known risks certainly makes a lot of sense.
Speaking of risk, I’m on the way to Mexico again tomorrow. The country has been getting a horrible reputation lately for violent crime linked to the drug trade. I’ll be spending a few weeks on the ground and look forward to giving you my take. Things are seldom as they appear in the mainstream media.