Back in the Saddle….

Sorry for the slowdown at the site.  I got interrupted by the rare vacation.  Things will be back to normal once I decompress and wake up to the reality that is “work”.  But first, some travel thoughts:

  • Asia is an incredible place.  It was my first time there and I can’t say enough good things about it.
  • Chinese immigration and customs are a nightmare.  If you think the TSA is bad you’ve never seen a Chinese bag checker scan every piece of electronics you have – 1 by 1 multiple times.  You want thorough – these are your guys.
  • The Thais could possibly be the nicest people on the planet.  If you’ve never been to Thailand you’re missing out on one of the most beautiful places on earth and some of the most friendly people on the planet.   If I could begin to comprehend the language I wouldn’t have ever come back.
  • After a nightmare ordeal with Chinese airlines and immigration I couldn’t have been happier to see a US customs and immigration agent.  Then he started berating me like I was from Mars and I quickly realized how much I missed the Thai customs and immigration agents.  The berating for non-residents looked 10X worse.
  • It’s amazing to see the undeveloped portions of some nations in Asia.  Americans complain about how bad things are, but the standard of living is comparatively off the charts in so many ways.   I hate to downplay our problems, but many of the developed nations have so much to be thankful for.
  • As I complained about my flights I was constantly trying to keep things in perspective.  I was flying around the world in metal tubes at 500 MPH and staying in hotels in amazing parts of the world.  If you’re reading this you’ve likely experienced the same things that appear all too “normal” for many of us, but are in fact extraordinary normalcies compared to what much of the world has access to.  Odds are, if you spend your time worrying about the concerns expressed on this website you’re in a pretty good place to begin with.  I for one am extremely thankful and try to keep that in perspective.  It’s nice to get out of the US “bubble” every once in a while to help reinforce the point.
  • The mostly cash/coin centric undeveloped countries had my monetary mind constantly asking my fellow travellers annoying monetary theory questions.  As I see the developed countries moving towards electronic money economies I couldn’t help but think that the paper bugs are simply the next monetary evolution from hard money bugs.  And just as quickly going extinct….I guess you can call me an electronic money bug.  Money is fast moving away from being a “thing” and more towards a mere record of account.

My brain is fried.  I’ll be fully operational by some point this week.  And by “fully operational” I mean that I hope to have all 75 IQ points firing on all cylinders.



Got a comment or question about this post? Feel free to use the Ask Cullen section, leave a comment in the forum or send me a message on Twitter.

Cullen Roche

Mr. Roche is the Founder of Orcam Financial Group, LLC. Orcam is a financial services firm offering research, private advisory, institutional consulting and educational services.

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  • Very Serious Sam

    Welcome back. Yes, Asia, all of its countries, is amazing. And yes, the US immigration officiers are a very special sort of people (more so in San Diego and Washington DC than, say, Atlanta or LAX), especially if you are not an US citizen…

    As for flying around the world, visiting innumerable exotic places and staying in luxury hotels, collecting (and spending for upgrades) some million frequent flyer miles: I did this for about 10 years. And on top of this I was nicely paid for it instead of having to pay!

    These days are long gone, and this is perfectly fine with me, there is a time for everything. But without any doubt my life would be missing pricelessly valuable experiences and encounters w/o these years of crazy business travelling.

  • GLH34

    I can imagine you sitting in a 3rd world restaurant fiddling with chopsticks discussing monetary theory. Sounds like you had fun. Well deserved and welcome back.

  • Frances Coppola

    Welcome back, Cullen.

  • Wulfram

    Welcome back. I haven’t heard you mention this topic before, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.

    Money doesn’t even have to be a “record” of a credit in an account in the traditional sense. Economists have mostly been ignoring it, but some anonymous guy on the internet released a peer-to-peer program that calculates answers to a very hard math problem. The same program verifies, and records the owner of the answers in a peer-to-peer fashion, marking which answers have been “spent”. The discovered answers are called “bitcoins” and hundreds of thousands of people exchange them for goods and services.

    There are even banks, quasi-investment funds, forex exchanges dealing with bitcoins.

    See on a better overview of it, and one author’s experience on using bitcoins to purchase food at a restaurant.

  • JKH

    “Flying around the world in metal tubes at 500 MPH”

    Good point

    Here’s another MRist expressing a similar sentiment:

  • Frances Coppola

    JKH, that is brilliant. I laughed so much!

  • JKH


  • JK

    “As I complained about my flights I was constantly trying to keep things in perspective. I was flying around the world in metal tubes at 500 MPH and staying in hotels in amazing parts of the world.”

    On a recent flight I was blowing someone’s mind with modern money perspectives, and after saying it’s amazing how none of our politcians and news media seem to understand much of this, the guy I was talking to said:

    “so things are pretty bad?”

    and I responded:

    “Well, we’re having this conversation in a machine that is 30,000 feet in the air and eating snacks and drinking soda, so I mean, things could be worse.” :)

  • Cowpoke

    Welcome Back, Tailand is also know for pretty decent Medical Services on the Cheap.
    You can get a heart bypass for only 10 grand. Hundreds of thousands of people from the US and Europe fly there every year
    They call it Medical Tourism:

  • godot10

    Mobile and cloud technology and ‘electronic money” mean privatized currencies will become feasible anywhere where the rule-of-law and property rights are respected, and people will be able to seize control of money and money creation back from the government and banking cartel.

    “Revenge of the Savers” from the Empire with its Death Star printing presses and bankster drone armies.

  • William Bedloe

    Or – it could simply transfer from the current lot of bankers to a new era of e-bankers/hackers who control the digital world…we may simply be exchanging one master for another. The digital world is one of equal opportunity -it opens new avenues for both legitimate business and criminal enterprise.

  • LVG

    I disagree. I think electronic money means the governmwnt will track money more closely and result in even more growth in banking as everyone moves to convenient forma of online banking. if anything, electronic money increases the power of banks because it means more business for them and more creative ways to leverage their assets.

  • Aaron

    US Customs…my best friend is a permanent resident. He’s lived in the U.S. for 25 years. On a business trip back from Mexico, they handcuffed him in the airport and took him away because he got in a fight in high school and it was on his police record. He now has to go through a 2 year trial process to see if he’s going to get kicked out of the country. Ridiculous.

  • Pierce Inverarity

    Seems like that’s still a record keeping program.

  • Pierce Inverarity

    Louis C.K. is a godsend. I recommend his FX series Louie to anyone who reads this site regularly.

  • Android

    Welcome back Cullen from a well-deserved vacation!

  • The Undergrad

    Good to have you back Cullen. My standard of living is much higher when you are regularly posting.

    Where were you in Thailand? I lived there for a year after high school and it was a life changing experience.

  • Erik V

    Phom pud pasa Thai dai cup.

    That’s how you say “I can speak Thai” in Thai. Hopefully that starts you on the right path Cullen. My wife is from Thailand and I also made a trip there recently and can echo many of your sentiments. They are very friendly, airport security is much easier and seeing the mass poverty is really striking. Like you said, don’t want to downplay our own problems, but people don’t what “poor” means til you’ve been to a place like that. Upper middle class there is working class at best here and there are millions living in shacks.

  • Nils

    Do you have a good explanation of “cloud technology”? I work in IT and I always thought it’s pretty much bullshit, but the gist of it seems to be that you stop having (physical) custody of your own data and software. Not really a good prerequisite for strong privacy or property rights.

  • Nils

    You should hear people complain about trains. I can take a train from Hamburg to Berlin, be there in about an hour, and there is even a fucking bar in the train. No demeaning and pointless security measures, no waiting for your luggage at the conveyor belt, no walking/waiting from point to point. Just arrive on time and get on the train. You can buy the ticket online and print it, you can buy it on your phone etc…

    But let the train be 5-10 minutes late and people start losing it. It’s always the last 10% needed to perfection that get to you.

  • Cullen Roche

    I was in Chiang Mai, Phuket, Bangkok and Krabi (different beaches). I loved all 4, but Chiang Mai and Krabi were especially cool. That must have been fun living there. Wonderful place.

  • Cullen Roche

    HI Erik,

    Yes, the poverty was striking. Eye opening to say the least. You’re a lucky man to be married to a Thai woman. :-)

  • Cullen Roche

    Your problem is your public transportation is overly efficient. :-) I’ll never forget being in Munich riding the public transportation and continually having my mind blown by the efficiency and sheer expansiveness of the system. You’re incredibly lucky to have access to the German public transport system. It’s one of the best in the world. And you get the good beer on the train. Damn you!

  • Jason H

    ya, Thailand beaches are beautiful. I used to live in Thailand as well as China/Hong Kong & Cambodia. One of my family friends is also a Thai millionaires & retired general.

    Keep in mind Thailand suffered from years of austerity & more poverty with cuts in gov spending when it foolishly pegged it’s currency to the US dollar & borrowed billions in FOREIGN currency & then tried to balance it’s budget via austerity –even now, it’s average gov deficit spending is a tiny fraction of the US, with minimal gov spending on infrastructure & social services

    didn’t you write an article on PragCap on how the Eurozone had similar problems with Thailands/SouthEast Asia ‘finacial crisis’ with borrowing in foreign-currency & austerity?

    the IMF imposed austerity on Thailand with diasterous results when Thailand should have done massive deficit spending instead of trying to balance it’s budget –even the IMF admitted it’s austerity program was wrong & too austere for Thailand

    Thailand suffered just like the austerity imposed on the EURO Zone now

    Nobel Price winning economist Joseph Stiglitz on Tuesday said the chances of austerity measures improving economies in Europe is close to zero.

    Speaking at a public discussion in Bangalore, the former chief economist of the World Bank said austerity measures would work only if a country’s exports were able to fill the hole left by cuts to government expenditure.

    “That cannot happen in Europe or the United States,” he said. “The prospect of this working is close to zero or none.”

    Referring to a study by Harvard economists on expansionary contraction, Stiglitz said the only instances of economies growing after governments cut expenditure were those where the countries’ trading partners were also growing.

    Stiglitz said the International Monetary Fund had performed several austerity experiments in Thailand, Bolivia, Indonesia and Argentina, and all of them had failed.

    “The experiments have a 100% track record,” he said. “Every time austerity was tried, the economy went from a downturn to a recession, and from a recession to a depression.”

    He pointed to Greece and Spain, which are currently battling depression and unemployment rates close to 25%. “I don’t understand why so many countries, after having seen this, have one after the other tried it. It’s very hard to understand how people persistently work against the evidence.”

    In the US, Stiglitz said inequality has increased significantly in the past 30 years. The richest 1% of the population get 20-25% of the nation’s income and about a third of the wealth. This has worsened since the economic crisis of 2008, he added. “One year after the crisis, 93% of growth went to the top 1%,” he said.

    Stiglitz said the overall median income in the US now is lower than it was in 1996, and the median income for a full-time male worker is lower today than it was in 1965.

    “These inequalities are reflected in health indicators. For instance, while overall longevity has increased in the long run, at the bottom, longevity is decreasing.”

    Stiglitz argued that inequality eventually led to a weaker economy as it prioritized rent-seeking activities over more productive activities.

    Inequality also leads to instability and it’s not a coincidence that there was an increase in inequality in the run-up to the Great Depression in the 1930s or the 2008 financial crash, he added.