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Chris Martenson on How The Money Works In The System, The Economy, And The World
I have an individual who I’ve known for several years. His name is Chris Martenson. He’s the Cofounder of PeakProsperity.com and also the co-author of the book, Prosper!: How to Prepare for the Future and Create a World Worth Inheriting. We get into some interesting topics. We peel back some of the layers on his perspective of the world. Please welcome my guest for this episode, Chris Martenson.
Chris, it’s awesome to have you on. Thank you so much for taking the time. I imagine some of our readers know who you are. For those who don’t, would you mind telling your story and what led up to what you and Adam are doing with PeakProsperity.com?
This is a story. If I’m favorable to myself, I’ll call it enlightened self-interest. I was a genius like everybody, investing in the 2000 stock market. I was a corporate guy at that point in time. All of a sudden, my portfolio got shredded. I’m a curious guy, I started asking questions my broker couldn’t respond to. My background is a scientist, so I like data. I like digging around and forming hypotheses. One thing led to another. Soon, I was asking him uncomfortable questions that he couldn’t respond to. I read this book called The Creature from Jekyll Island by G Edward Griffin. It talks about the money system and how it works, which surprised me. I’ve got a PhD in biological science and an MBA. Somehow, in all that education more than anybody should go through, I hadn’t learned how money works in the system. I was taught how to compete for it and all that stuff, but not how it was made. This seemed like I discovered the headwaters to the Nile like, “A lot of important stuff happens here.” That led to this inquiry. Within a few years, I lost my passion for my job. I exited that carefully. I spent two or three years in sabbatical, trading the markets and developing other ideas.
I ran across this idea of how money was created and how the economy works. I was looking at macroeconomics and at debt levels. I came across energy, peak oil and all those issues. The environment wrapped in as well. I put all these pieces together and said, “I have to tell people about this.” It became a mission of mine. I was down in church basements talking to anybody who will come. It’s bad presentations when I started. These are terrible. For anybody reading who sat through those, bless you. They were awful. It was such a big amount of material, it took forever to figure out how to distill it. That’s what I did. I went through this distillation process. Somebody in the audience said, “You should put that online. A hundred people a pop are not enough.” I couldn’t figure out how to do that and struggled. I started putting it online. This thing is called The Crash Course. The last chapter was finished in October of 2008. Things fell apart and people were interested in the message. It got this thing called The Crash Course, which should be a disaster. It’s some guy speaking over about three hours of slides.
I remember it coming out. It was a voiceover PowerPoint.
It’s just a voice. I don’t even think I used my face, maybe on the first slide and that was it. It ended up catching on. People were ready for something to explain a little bit larger about the world. I’m an educator at heart so it was a very educational material. People came to me saying, “I learned something. I feel smarter. I feel like I understand something. Why isn’t anybody else talking about this? Why didn’t my teachers explain this to me?” It caught on and got translated into twelve languages. I ended up, through that experience interacting with and meeting my business partner, Adam Taggart. He’s got all the skills that I needed because I was running a one-man show. He’s got all this business and marketing savvy. He was the Vice President of marketing for North American Mobile Yahoo. He was ready to leave that. We joined forces and created this thing called Peak Prosperity, which is our website. That’s the short version of how we got here.
You used the word surprised when you read The Creature from Jekyll Island. That’s a monster of a book. What was the single most important surprise that you’ve identified?
It’s that this is an ongoing pattern of bailout and trouble. I understood that this system of capitalism we’re in is not capitalism. You have this creative destruction by Schumpeter. Businesses undergo that process quite frequently, but not the banking system. They’re shielded for everything. It’s a heads-they-win, tails-you-lose. G Edward goes through many years of history. It’s savings and loan, the railroad crisis and all these different crises to show that the banks made all this money while they were busy inflating, doing dumb things and taking risks they shouldn’t. Things crash and they got bailed out. Heads they win, tails you lose. Wash, rinse and repeat. When I read that, it was almost as eerily prescient as 1984 by George Orwell. Once I had read that, I understood the blueprint for what was going to happen from the crisis onwards. Everything that he wrote about happened again. That was surprising to me that it’s this well-known, this obvious, this repeated and it’s still not talked about. It surprised me to find it in his book. I had to go and research it. I thought, “This guy must be wrong.” It turns out he wasn’t wrong.
When I had a chance to interview him a few years ago, I let off with a question. I said, “Your Wikipedia opening paragraph says, ‘G Edward Griffin is a noted American conspiracy theorist.’” It said all this denigrating stuff. The Creature from Jekyll Island came out somewhere back in 1996. I said, “Many years have passed. How many people have come to you with a concrete thing saying, ‘Here’s where you got this wrong in your book because it’s all names and dates and it’s all sourced?’” He said in the entire time it’s been out, he hasn’t received one single piece of counterfactual information. He hasn’t had to issue any retractions. He hasn’t had to correct anything. Still, he’s the conspiracy guy. What he did was he touched a nerve. He showed how the banking system operates. That’s a no-no in our culture. Thanks to him for doing that. The biggest surprise is, “How did I not know about this?” You’d think about all that education, going through all this system and getting to the level. I made it to vice president of SAIC. I’m not an unaccomplished person and I’d never even heard this information before. To be hidden in plain sight is a shock.
A lot of the information he goes through isn’t part of the typical narrative of what finance is and what politics is. You have that book that’s written and you have a lot of people still speaking about not exactly what that book alludes to. There’s more they’d understood in what led up to the 2008 crisis and maybe more of what’s going on with where we’re at. Yet, the typical American is not aware of how banking works. They’re also not aware of what history shows us in regards to how intervention leads to unintended consequences. Peak Prosperity is a podcast and a blog. You write a tremendous amount. What is its mission and vision? Does it carry what you have discovered over the years due to more people or is there something different?
It’s two big parts. One is problem definition and education around that. Without appropriate context, the other part of our mission, which is about helping people become more resilient and more prepared on the solution side, you can’t even start with a solution until you understand what you’re up against. We ask everybody to start with the context. You don’t have to agree with us. Look at it. You have your own opinions. Say we’re completely wrong. That’s all fine. For people who look at the world this way, it’s a lot of data. Look at all three E’s in the story: economy, energy and environment. When you look at them from a systems perspective, you go, “This is unsustainable. It’s going to change.” The big question is, “How and how do we prepare for that?” Those are the two big pieces.
It’s a little bit like Hidden Secrets of Money by Mike Maloney. He’s doing an incredible job about money, but we’re also layering in this ecological context that’s necessary. The energy context is also necessary. You get that in one spot. It gives you this point of view of where the world is going to head. What do you do about it? That’s part two. This is why we exist. Our mission at Peak Prosperity is to create a world worth inheriting. I’m pretty convinced based on all the data and trajectories I’ve got, we’re on the wrong path. We’re not doing that. I wake up every day. I’m actively trying to figure out how to create that world worth inheriting. It means, mostly, we have to change the narratives that people hold so they can align their actions with that new narrative.You can’t start with a solution until you understand what you’re up against. Click To Tweet
First off, explain what the data is telling you about where we’re at. Going to your mission, how is the context and the narrative that you see the world differently than mainstream?
Narratives are hard to change, even at the individual level. They get even, in order of magnitude, harder to change at the cultural level. At the cultural level, you might have something like, “Here’s a statement. Be fruitful and multiply.” That was a great guiding principle 2,000 years ago. It’s a little bit less obvious that’s the biggest challenge before us or the thing we should be focused on, but there it is. What we’ve had is this narrative that said humans are at risk. We’re at war with nature. Even 100 years ago, people are still battling with nature. Now we’ve hit the edge of the globe. The data is all parked there. When you look at the number of fish declines in the ocean or seabirds, the disappearing insects, what’s happening with the soils, their disappearance and the fact that glaciers are disappearing at this point in time. You can say, “We don’t have that same narrative of 100 years ago,” which our imperative is to grow as fast as possible. That’s the story we all live by. Every portfolio and every investment is geared for infinite perpetual growth. That might happen, but the data I have says, “Let’s look at that imperative for growth.” All growth comes from energy. You would know this if you were an organism and your primary source of energy is food. If you deprive an organism of food, it gets stunted. At worst, it dies. The question is, “Where is all this energy going to come from?”
When you wander with me over to the energy field, look at where we are in terms of global oil discoveries. We’re tapping more stuff in the shales place, but they’re not tasty like the old ones. They’re a little harder. It’s still worth getting but not the easy stuff. It’s like we’ve eaten through the fat on the seal. Now we’re on some ribs. That’s fine. The question is, “What’s after the ribs?” In this story, there’s nothing. The ribs in the story are the basement rocks. There are no pre-basement rocks. This is the source of stuff. We don’t have a plan for what we’re going to do when those run out. This isn’t super far in the future. This is within our lifetimes that they’ll probably tip over and go backward. The EIA itself in the United States thinks that shale grows until about 2025 and then it’s in permanent decline thereafter. 2025 is like tomorrow. Particularly if you’re a parent, you’ll realize, “These years pass quickly.” The amount of changes we’re going to have to make to live in a world where we have slightly less oil instead of slightly more oil is enormous. It impacts jobs, careers, portfolios, hopes and dreams, pensions and everything you can imagine. It touches that.
The truth is energy is the dominant thing and everything else is a subset of that. If you don’t have this energy, you get none. That’s the part I’ve been trying to alert people to is to have this bigger perspective. What I’m trying to do is teach fish about water. We’re so surrounded by this water, this energy that we don’t notice. I’ve got lights on me in 71 degrees. All this stuff that’s the equivalent of having hundreds of energy is bringing me this amazingness. That’s something to appreciate and have gratitude for. Don’t take it for granted. Think through what happens when that begins to go away. Our country is not prepared for this at all. There’s zero preparation for that.
How do you help people reconcile the advances that have been made in other energy sectors? I look at the things you’ve been saying regarding peak oil for a number of years. There have been lots of innovation and different alternatives. How do you help leaders reconcile this idea that we’re going to run out of oil and there isn’t an alternative to it?
It’s hard because the average person reading this doesn’t have almost to become an expert in it to understand it. The headlines that you might read about it are always geared towards puffing up the current narrative. I get these all the time. People say, “Look at this. The scientist took something and here’s a beaker of it,” or, “They’ve got this new battery that can do extra. Look at these ultracapacitors.” Every time I scratch at it, they go, “It’s on a bench somewhere.” They’re using rare materials so it won’t scale possibly or it’s wicked expensive. In many cases, people are confusing a source of energy with a store of energy. Once you start picking at that a little bit, you discover that the time to scale the cost in the story is extraordinary. Let’s imagine we all want to drive electric cars. What do you have to do? In the United States, we need a whole new electrical grid. We’re going to supply that amount of electricity. We need to discover new sources of electricity, which is going to be a challenge all on its own.
Is there enough lithium and cobalt? Not right now, but maybe if the price went up a lot. Are there enough plants to build this? Not yet. Do we have enough engineers? We don’t. Once you start looking at it, it’s hard in this consumer culture. I go on Amazon. I click a button and the big round rolls up. What I’m unaware of is the incredible logistics and supply chain that had to be in place for that to be true. That’s all equally true in the energy space only. We don’t have that Amazon warehouse built yet. We don’t have the supply chains. We don’t have the infrastructure in place. None of that has been done yet. That’s the thing I keep coming back to people with. It’s like, “I’m as hopeful as the next person,” but we’re not putting our attention there yet. We will. I hope not before it’s too late. Nowadays, our attention is creating trouble with Iran or pumping more money into the stock market so it goes higher. We’re doing things that are buying us time but we’re not using the time. That’s my prime complaint we’re around this.
The way in which we process information these days is superficial. We only go one or two levels deep. As I’ve followed you over the years, you could look to those innovations. They’re there. When you start to go into the third to sixth layer and see how integrated the oil world is, whether it’s in the supply chain or in the plants or the origination of the actual energy, it’s fascinating. You’re still seeing a problem even though there have been innovations and improvements on that first or second level. In those deeper levels, there are still some pretty significant issues.
It’s fairly complex, but not really if you think it through in a little bit. People say, “What about renewable energy?” Nate Hagens re-termed it for me and it stuck ever since. It’s replaceable energy. Let’s look at a solar panel. The cost has come down a lot. They can create electricity at a fairly cheap rate when the sun is shining. The question is, “How did the panel get there?” Some workers showed up. What did they eat? Food. How did the food get there? It was grown on a field. Once you find every single thing involved in getting that panel there, there was oil involved somewhere from the mining of the silica to the manufacturing plant. We have this many examples so far where we have a replaceable energy system, be it a wind tower, a solar panel or electric car where that entire thing is created using only the energy from that same system.
We understand it intuitively with farming. The sun is the energy in the system. If a farmer can’t grow more crops using that energy in calories, they’re expanding. They’re going to go into deficit. If a cheetah spends 1,000 calories catching 800 calories of gazelle, they run into trouble. The question is, “Can we create these replaceable energy systems using only their own energy?” The answer is we don’t know. That would be a great experiment instead of another $500 billion to the bankers, let’s put $10 billion towards creating a model place where that’s exactly what happens. Put up panels. Build them only with electricity using electronics from panels and create more panels. Watch what happens. Do that one or two turns of the cycle. That would be a good experiment. There’s so much hidden fossil fuel subsidy in that whole part. It’s a mistake to think that you click the button and the panel shows up. There’s a lot in between those two steps.
Especially with what’s going on in the Middle East, the turmoil is increasing. No one knows what’s going to happen. Typically, it’s always associated with oil to some degree.
If you don’t understand where we are in the oil story, none of the geopolitics makes sense. It has nothing to do with Iran. We don’t like their leaders. There are horrible leaders all over the world that the United States never says anything about. They don’t happen to be sitting on any oil. I’ve been to China. I’ve talked with people that are fairly high up in the Chinese leadership structure. There are a lot of scientists there. They got a lot of PhDs. One gentleman there said to me, this was when Obama was president. He somewhat caustically said, “We don’t have any community organizers at the top.” That’s Obama’s background. He was a community organizer. “What do you mean by that?” He said, “To get anywhere in China, you have to have managed at least 100 million people for a couple of years. You break your way up and you work through. Everybody has an advanced degree.” They don’t have lawyers. That’s not a specialty that they revere. Compare that with Washington, DC. Almost all are lawyers.Unfairness is one of the worst social sins you can commit. Click To Tweet
When I talked with them about the resource stuff, they get it. They said, “The business of China is business. The business of the United States is war.” That’s fine. We think we’d rather go about this with our magic checkbook. They understand where they are in the oil story. They admitted to themselves when their own peak of oil was going to happen, which was 2018. It’s in the rearview mirror. China has publicly announced that. They know they’ve got big issues. They also know they can walk to the Middle East, which is a distinct advantage to countries that have to sail there. They’ve got their eye on the prize. That’s the larger game that’s happening here behind the scenes. You want to know about Russia and why the United States is so at odds with Russia. You have to understand the power Russia has, given that it’s very few people have massive eight times their own property with a lot of natural resources. It includes oil and gas, which they’re supplying to Europe and increasingly to China. That’s an important lens to have in the story.
I’m assuming your audiences are not just domestic. You have audiences that are around the world. What are you seeing them take away from what you’re teaching them regarding these points and the other things you write and talk about?
In the English-speaking countries, primarily the UK and Australia, I’m noticing a lot of people who are gravitating to this message saying, “We’re on the same path.” There’s no, “Here’s how we’re doing this amazingly over here.” There’s almost a resignation that it looks like things are going to have to get worse before they get better. This is noted in every English-speaking country. Most of Europe too is on the same path, which is increasing totalitarian age. It means the organization of their society. It’s more oversight, fewer civilian liberties as it were and an increasing neoliberal event, which means very few people are getting most of the gains. The pyramid is getting tall and top-heavy. Italy broke that model. We’re all starting to see that rise of populous pressure as the unfairness of that. In the tippy top of this pyramid, these people didn’t get there because they built more awesome stuff for the most part. Most of them got there because they siphoned money out of a system that creates money. They’re skimmers. That’s fine, but it’s a very unfair thing. We’re all primates. We don’t like unfairness. Unfairness is one of the worst social sins you can commit. It was Plutarch, all the way back. He said, “The oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics is the gap between the rich and the poor.” If that gap is created out of thin air at no work and no risk and handed to a small crew of people, it’s where the unfairness builds.
The strong narrative regarding media and news is you still have a huge influence from that top. Do you see that going away?
They’re working harder at it. They’ve gotten a lot better at that control as well. This is something that myself, and a number of people I consider colleagues, are observing very much. We get heavily throttled on places like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other places where they have algorithms. As soon as you say something about the system and about the unfairness of it, you’ll notice that you put that tweet out and it’ll get maybe 8% to 9% of the engagement that would be typical. It was throttled in some way, shape or form. That ability to shape the narrative is critical. There are two ways about that as well. One is the sin of commission. They lie and make stuff up. There’s omission where they don’t talk about stuff. One of the biggest omissions I saw has been the yellow vests movement in France. There are hundreds of thousands of people and lots of injuries. It’s got blood, violence and gore. It wasn’t picked up. It wasn’t talked about. There was almost a virtual ban on that in the US media. I talked to people all the time. They’re like, “I didn’t hear about that.” It’s one of the biggest things ever. That’s the sin of omission, where they leave stuff out.
It’s a horse race where social media and the internet for a while was allowing people to go out and find that new information. There are throttles on it. You’ve seen YouTube say, “We’ve got algorithms. We’re going to ban anything that they consider hate speech, a conspiracy theory or whatever. These things always start with one thing you could justify. It spreads rapidly. If you wanted a better definition of fascism, it’s a merger of corporate and state. The so-called progressives in this story are engaging in some of the most fascist behavior I’ve seen, which is, “We’re going to burn books.” That’s the equivalent of burning books when you’re like, “We know which ideas are harmful.” I grew up at a time when ideas, even if they were harmful, you were free to go, “I don’t like this one.” You could encounter them and wrestle with them. I don’t agree with this idea that there are harmful ideas and if you expose people to them, it ruins them. I don’t fall under that. For the many state people, they do. They think they hold the right views and they have to protect other people who aren’t as sophisticated as them. It’s a very patronizing I’m-better-than-you thing.
The funny part is a lot of people who are ideologues on both sides are some of the most misinformed people I know about. They get their own little echo chambers around things. That polarization is strong. I never thought I’d find myself here in the United States as quickly. I understand the seeds of civil war now. I never quite got the Balkans and what happened. Now I get it. What happens is you have powerful people who splinter groups and stand them up against each other. What I’ve been trying to do is to get those two groups to understand, “You’re fighting the wrong people in the story.” Police and protesters are on the same side of the story. These protesters are usually saying, “I’m getting screwed somehow.” If the police understood what was happening with their pensions, they’d understand that this is where the problem is. Everything that can be done to prevent that discussion of the top, it’s what I see going on. It’s a shame on those in the media who are complicit in that, whether overtly or covertly, whether they understand that or not. They ought to be asking questions about freedom of speech and providing appropriate context so we can have the right conversations. The trend we’re on ends in a bad future that I want to avoid. I’m not dark, gloom and doom. I’m a very hopeful guy, but we don’t have a lot of time to wrestle the ship to a new direction.
What do you see as some signs of hope out there? It sounds like, from your perspective, there may not be any. Do you see any reasons to be optimistic?
There are plenty of reasons. A lot of the young people in the story have a surprising amount. All revolutions start with the young, in some way, shape or form. This is setting up to be a generational thing. I do talk to a lot of the older generation because they have the wealth they want to preserve. I get that. You don’t want to spend your whole life building up. There’s the brass ring. Now would be a bad time for it to all go away. The young people are looking at the story increasingly and saying, “I don’t have anything to gain from preserving the status quo.” We’ve seen the million-plus student marches against climate change in Europe.
Young people I talked to are out there doing incredible and creative things around farming, in a way that’s regenerative and not disruptive or extractive. It’s hard work, but you have to understand systems on a whole different level. It’s different from saying, “I know exactly when to apply the roundup and the Unix.” It’s a different story. I see people wanting to do the right thing. I see people doing the right thing. The enemy in the story, if there has to be one, is the keepers of the status quo. They don’t want anything to change. They want to keep their power. They’ll do increasingly desperate things to keep that power locked in. The more they do, the more this gets compressed. The hope that exists for me is there will come a time when it breaks again. We can then have the right conversations. It’s only if people have the right understanding, the right context and are ready to take the right actions.
Going into the way in which you analyze things, which is very quantitative, where do you see the role of the entrepreneur? Sometimes it’s difficult to put into an equation. Do you see that there are those that are young or maybe even aware of these issues and trying to do something about it?
A couple of things are nested in there. First is the role of the entrepreneur. I’ve trained all my kids to be entrepreneurs. I don’t believe in working for a paycheck anymore. I haven’t for a long time. You need to have multiple sources of income. Lots of people have been forced into that regime anyway. You’ve got to be an Uber driver on the side to make ends meet or the so-called gig economy thing. An entrepreneur is saying, “There are needs out there. I can meet those needs in some way, shape or form. Here’s what I’m good at. Here’s what I’m not good at. I’ll get a team together. We’ll go and do that.” That is the way to the future. Anybody who’s just sitting there and relying on a single source paycheck is exposed. In the next big downturn, it could go away. I don’t care if you’re a highfalutin lawyer at a white-shoe firm or you’re a driver for a long-haul trucking company. If all you got is that one paycheck, you’re at risk. Everybody needs to understand assets and understand the system, as it exists. I get to talk with and hear a lot of stuff from Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad. He keeps drawing the same grid. He keeps pointing out that the people who draw a paycheck are tax donkeys. They get hit the hardest.All revolutions start with the young in some way, shape, or form. Click To Tweet
If you’re a small businessperson, you’re the so-called entrepreneur. If you have a practice, a CPA firm, dentistry or something like that, you’re the worst. They’re crushing you. It’s 60% marginal tax rates when all is said and done. For people who are out in real estate or the investor class, the taxes go away. When I came in contact with them, they’re like, “Where was this information? Where was my dad with this information? Where were my schools?” It’s like this hidden secret. It came out into the fore when Hillary Clinton, during the primary debates, asks Trump, “You pay zero in taxes.” He said, “That’s because I’m smart.” It’s true if humans respond to incentives. There are incentive structures out there that entrepreneurs find out about faster. Everybody should learn what the system is, how it works, what it punishes and what it rewards. I came to that story late in life. Once I found it out, I’m like, “I’m going to use the system as it exists.” It’s not something that’s widely talked about.
That’s an example. You said, “What are the narratives that have to be changed?” Do you know how hard it is to convince somebody that the whole narrative of, “I go to a good school. I got to Harvard and I’m working for McKinsey on a partner,” even in that job arc, it’s still a job. Nobody ever got rich working for a paycheck. Those people are still plugged into that system of, “I have to give the right answers and do the right things to earn this paycheck.” It takes time to back people away from that, deconstruct the narrative, help them understand what the tax code looks like. Help them think about where their value is. Help them think about what wealth is and how you generate it. Not all things can be measured in dollars. There’s a lot of unpacking. It has to be done before somebody is ready to step off, bite the bullet and go down that particular path. The future is going to belong to people who can be nimble, be flexible and add value to whatever situation. The way I waggishly put this is I tell people, even if you were in Leavenworth supermax prison, there’s an economy in there. You can get whatever you want. Humans will always have an economy. Don’t worry about that. The question always in any circumstance is, “What’s an offer? What do I have to offer? How do I get what I want?” Those are the pieces that entrepreneurs figure out earlier and faster.
I’ve heard you speak about this before and you’ve written about it as well. You have those entrepreneurs that are naturally driven, that will take the initiative, see problems and come up with solutions. Normally, the process is there is some extreme pain. There’s extreme adversity where the narrative changes. The context and the way of doing things change. Speak to that. You have been writing a lot about potential Black Swan events. Can you comment on those two things?
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re out taking risks. You’re going to fail. Things are going to go wrong. With entrepreneurs, you need to learn quickly that failure is another way of finding out more rapidly what doesn’t work. That took me a lot of deprogramming. If we’re thinking about, “What’s a new campaign? How can we reach more people?” I’m going to try and plot this whole thing out. There’s something to be said for the fail early, often fail and fail quickly. Try something. Learn from it and keep going. Our school system punishes that behavior. Everything is supposed to be the next right step. Entrepreneurs, you need to find out very quickly what you’re good at, what you’re not good at and who are people you can rely on. Build your team. Do all of that stuff and figure out how you can move quickly. Some people are wired for that. They end up being entrepreneurs. They drop out of Harvard because they have to start something called Microsoft. For other people and for me, it’s a learning process. How can I be okay with that? I know people who changed me because I watched them. They’re excited by their failures like, “That bidded early.” I would be a little bit more hesitant around that.
Even though with everything that’s going on in the world, as you and I are talking, I don’t know that a tanker didn’t get sunk in the strait and oils are about to triple in price, which could blow up a million business plans. You need to be aware that these Black Swan events can happen. For people reading, the Black Swan event is coined by Nassim Taleb. He’s a quantic economist guy. A Black Swan event has three characteristics. One is nobody saw it coming. It’s rather unanticipated. It has a big impact. Afterward, all the experts are going to tell you why it happened. They’ll explain it post-facto. It’s because they didn’t see it coming, they probably didn’t have a good understanding. Black Swans are a feature, not a bug. They’re a feature of complex systems. All the scene was trying to say is in a normal bell curve of possible outcomes, the tails are fatter than we’re wired to believe. These things happen more frequently. We need to plan for them. How do you plan for something that you can’t anticipate? You have to have resilience and buffers. You have to be ready to change your operating methods very rapidly if something happens.
China decides they’re not going to trade with the US anymore and shuts their ports down. A million companies are screwed because their supply chains are entirely linked to that. The ones that survive are going to be those that spent zero minutes worrying about that and saying, “That’s a done deal.” They found a new supply chain. These things happen. You’ve got to be adaptable and flexible. What we found though is that this is almost entirely a psychological process. It’s not something you can teach at a martial arts studio like, “Do this. Wave your hand like that and you’ll be good.” Instead it’s like, “Can you train yourself to be flexible so that when something comes, you’re able to have something other than a tunnel vision still?” “I’m ruined.” That’s a point of view. “I’m not going to be ruined. Other people will. I’m moving. I’ve got to keep skating in this story.” The psychology of it is very important. That’s why we talk about eight forms of capital people can build up. That’s on the solution side. We didn’t spend a lot of time there.
The most important form of capital is not financial capital. It’s your emotional capital. If you fall apart at the first sign of trouble, I don’t care how much money you have. That’s what we learned from all these crises that you study how and why people thrived if not beyond survived. They thrived in Zimbabwe. Even now, certain families are making their new fortunes down in Venezuela. You see all the chaos and the people who are screwed. Their tunnel vision is too tight. Russia broke apart in the USSR into Russia and the satellite states, fabulous fortunes were made. The difference in every single time was there were people who looked at that breaking moment, saw the opportunity in it and skated into it as hard and fast as they could. Luck plays a little bit of a role, but chance favors the prepared. That’s how we’re looking at this. It’s to understand the context so that you aren’t surprised. You can spend the least amount of time being surprised. You can keep moving. There’s going to be a lot of opportunity in the story and a lot of loss too.
The catalyst for those that win in the end is preparation.
I like what Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, says about this in a book. He says, “Goals are for losers. It’s systems.” The example he says is if you say, “I want to lose ten pounds. That’s my goal.” Almost nobody achieves that goal. You put a system in place, which is, “I’m going to wake up fifteen minutes earlier. I’m going to eat like this instead of that.” You put your system in place. Your system runs. Before you know it, you’ve achieved all these other goals.” The question is, “What are your systems of mental preparation? How are you taking the time in any given day to make sure that you are as balanced and have as much mental space in your life?” It’s that you’re appropriately charged, recharged, looking at the right things, asking the right questions and not being afraid to ask the hard questions, which is, “Am I doing the right thing or should I even be doing this at all?” Those are the successful practices that are going to separate those who thrive from those who don’t.
What are some of the things that you are paying attention to? You’re focused on it as information that’s worthy of what you have learned about the past, whether it’s stuff that’s going on in the Middle East, whether it’s the political environment, the economic environment in some of those micro sectors? What are you paying attention to that you’re assuming is going to tell you about what’s to come in the future?
Nobody can predict Black Swans. They come when they come. Afterward, we’ll all try and figure out what happened. I’m fortunate to have this job that I do, to call it a job even. It’s to read all day. I’m probably reading close to eight to ten hours a day and then writing and synthesizing. I spent about a quarter of that on world events. I’m not a geopolitical specialist or analyst. That’s most likely where we’re going to see a Black Swan event come. I spent about a quarter there. I spent maybe 40% on watching the financial markets. We have this theory. It’s called from the outside end. Troubles are always going to start at the periphery. Everybody’s talking about the stock market, “Did you see what the NASDAQ did?” I’m watching the edge of this thing. I’m looking at the triple C junk debt. I’m looking at funding that’s happening at the margins. I’m watching the weaker countries. This is where you’re going to see the first warning signs that something’s gathering steam towards the center. I spend the rest of it stretching my mind out.
I’m checking out a full lecture series by a Stanford professor on human behavior. I’m trying to understand how humans are wired. There’s a biological side. That’s fun. You can get a Stanford education for free if you have YouTube. There are great lecture series there. I’m reading a lot of books about things like NLP, human psychology, trauma and things like that. I’m trying to understand how we’re wired and how that comes together. What I care about is not that people have information but that they take actions. There’s always a gap between those two things. Understanding belief systems and how we’re wired are critical things to understand. You give somebody all the information in the world, but they may still not make the right decision. Marketers have known this for years. People make decisions based on an emotional. This is not denigrated. Emotions have steered us well for many millions of years of evolution. They’re finely tuned. I tell people to trust their intuition a lot. The question is, “Is there a way to hack into that system and understand how I can change my own belief system even faster?” If I find that, I’ll share that.Failure is another way of finding out more rapidly what doesn’t work. Click To Tweet
There are lots of books out there that discuss our unique way of looking at the world and our decision-making process, which you’ve alluded to is, for the most part, done through our emotional and instinctive reactions to things. You find people very seldom that are able to create that system of making a decision, where they’re able to balance or mitigate their emotion. Oftentimes, emotion doesn’t do the best outcome. Have you read Robert Greene’s new book, The Laws of Human Nature?
I have not.
He wrote The 48 Laws of Power and a few other New York Times best-selling books.
I’ve read that one. That was a great one.
I haven’t commented that much but this is what we’ve been discussing on the show. It’s a lot of these topics. It’s interesting to see the alignment. I see a lot of others that are speaking to these things as well. Hopefully, this convergence of theory around what’s to come in the future allows there to have some breakthroughs by people to take control. In the end, the theory and the strength of that theory aren’t one person. It comes down to a larger group of people that are able to help to combat the status quo, which is also in a sense gaining power.
I love the topic area. I’m learning a lot about it. It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science. I love where science is going with this. Once upon a time, you had this crude ego, id, Carl Jung, great giants. We’ve learned more since then. We understand the neurobiology and the neuroendocrinology. We understand the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system. We understand our amygdala. We understand the wiring a little bit. Even with that, understanding is nice but insufficient. We can understand how to take our associate thought trees and begin to use those to rewire things. Our brains are more plastic than we thought. This is a dialogue between the emotion and the cortex. There are ways to get to change that more rapidly.
Seeing how that’s advanced and how that’s developed and you’re watching all these bright people start to put some pieces together, here’s my operative model. It’s mind, body and spirit or energy. If you get all three of those in alignment, I’ve seen people make changes in minutes, including people who have been stuck in so-called talk therapy or pharma therapy for years if not decades. In minutes, with the right combination, those changes happen. Most of those things are found at the edges. That’s why I told you I spend my time at the edges. It’s a mainstream orthodoxy. Go get your main clinical psychology degree out of Case Western. They’re many years behind, what’s out there on the forefront. It proves into putting. It’s to work or not work. I’ve seen with my own eyes and my own experience that these things work. That’s good enough for me. I’m a pretty skeptical guy.
I would love to go off on that tangent about all of what you said. I’m assuming you’ve written about that on your blog and talked about that in your podcast.
It’s smattered around. It’s there, but I have all these big areas that we’re looking at. I’m trying to synthesize them into some coherent story. It’s a lot to look at. We live in the information age.
We’re overwhelmed with it. How can readers learn more about you, Peak Prosperity, your podcast and what you’re up to?
There are lots of ways. PeakProsperity.com is the main website. It has a public and also a subscription newsletter service. The subscription side is for people who want to go a little deeper into these topics and have these conversations one-on-one in a commentary behind the scene. We’re on Twitter, @ChrisMartenson. We’re also on YouTube, @ChrisMartensondotcom. You’ll find lots of people who want to start somewhere. The first time they’ve heard of me, they haven’t watched anything. Start with the Accelerated Crash Course. It’s 53 minutes. It takes the entire body of the three E’s and plunks it down into one spot. That will change your life if you haven’t watched it before. It has for a lot of people. Start there. Our book, Prosper!, on Amazon is the solution set. We go into each of those eight forms of capital, financial capital and emotional capital. There are six others. We break each one of those down with the hypothesis that if you’re rich across all eight, you’re going to be resilient, happier, healthier and more ready for whatever’s coming in the future, whatever that is and whenever it comes.
Chris, it’s been an honor to have you on. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.
- Prosper!: How to Prepare for the Future and Create a World Worth Inheriting
- The Creature from Jekyll Island
- The Crash Course
- Adam Taggart
- Podcast – Peak Prosperity
- Blog – Peak Prosperity
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- The Laws of Human Nature
- The 48 Laws of Power
- @ChrisMartenson – Twitter
- @ChrisMartensondotcom – YouTube
- Accelerated Crash Course
- Prosper! on Amazon
About Chris Martenson
Chris Martenson, Ph.D. (Duke), MBA (Cornell) is an economic researcher and futurist specializing in energy and resource depletion, and co-founder of PeakProsperity.com (along with Adam Taggart). As one of the early Econo-bloggers who forecasted the housing market collapse and stock market correction, Chris rose to prominence with the launch of his seminal video seminar: The Crash Course (also published in book form, Wiley, March 2011).
It’s a popular and well-regarded distillation of the interconnected forces in the Economy, Energy and the Environment (the “Three Es” as Chris calls them) that are shaping the future, one that will be defined by increasing challenges to growth as we have known it. Of course, such warnings need solutions, which is why he and Taggart published the manual Prosper! How to Prepare for the Future and Create a World Worth Inheriting.
In addition to the analysis and commentary he writes for millions of readers at his site PeakProsperity.com, Chris’ insights are in high demand by the media as well as academic, civic and private organizations around the world, including institutions such as the UN, the UK House of Commons and US State Legislatures.