Douglas Casey, the latest pop economist with a No. 1 best seller, has a brazenness that the rest of his breed either lacks or hides. In "Crisis Investing," one of his preachments about money is "keep what you have." After paying $12.50 for his book, you are already one down in playing the game by the Casey rules.
Having failed to practice what Casey profitably preaches, the reader is put in the losing frame of mind most receptive to the author's beguiling message: "A massive depression" is on the way, one that is "absolutely inevitable."
"I am convinced," says Casey, "that gale-forced winds will soon hit us, followed by tidal waves of panic and collapse. Most investors will be stunned by their losses; many will be utterly destroyed; a canny few will not only survive, but prosper."
As we head for dry land, where no doubt the Casey mansion will be maintained by butlers and gardeners who are former millionaires who scoffed at "Crisis Investing," a momentary detour into an earlier Casey book is necessary. In "The International Man," we get a glimpse of Casey's business ethics. He tells of being "a bit disgusted" in 1974 when some American corporations were caught in overseas bribery. "I was not disgusted that it happened," writes Casey, "but at the cowardly attitudes of the corporate officials. They sheepishly admitted to their inquisitor that they did it, as if they were guilty of criminal action."
This was a moment for the corporations to denounce government meddling, believes Casey, as he goes on to argue that "a smuggler or black-marketeer is not a moral criminal. He may well be a moral here who creates wealth, increases satisfaction and makes a profit by giving the individual citizen what he wants."
With that as his moral base, Casey prepares the reader for his sermon on laissez-faire capitalism. No mistake should be made: The world's plunge toward economic disaster won't be halted until we accept "undiluted laissez faire in all respects. It is very much a case of black and white."
There, precisely, is the appeal of "Crisis Investing," and much of the reason it has been at the top of the best-seller list for the past three months. Casey matches a black -- abolish all regulatory agencies -- with a white: Eliminate foreign aid and public welfare. A black: Let producers produce, "instead of filling out government forms." A white: Do away with the Federal Reserve System.
With politics and economics so simplified, Casey exploits the current national moods of anger and fear. The boisterous New Right was well ahead of him in its angry damnation of government. But it lags behind the whipping up of fears that a cataclysmic crisis is about to engulf us.
With anger and fear as raw materials, almost anyone could weigh in with a few "insider" tips on smart investing while the rest of the world, suckers all, goes under. Casey's hottest tips are about as inventive as the device in the daily horoscope columns: Buy gold, stash your money in Swiss banks, collect Greek and Roman coins and head for the bahamas for your tax haven. As though he actually were writing a horoscope column, Casey concludes that if you take his "material to heart, it will give you a tremendous financial and psychological advantage over your neighbors in the years to come."
That's always the trouble: neighbors. The planet has too many of them. They are across the street, across town (asking for welfare) and across the oceans (asking for foreign aid). Beat the other guy down, is Casey's method. Bribe him if you can and dupe him if you wish.
Although $12.50 is too much to throw away on gibberish, there is at least some value in seeing Casey reveal in grotesque blacks and whites what many on the political right -- perhaps fearful of straying further into the cuckoo fringes -- hesitate to endorse.
Casey did find one ultraconservative willing to cheer him on. In the book's foreward, none other than Rep. Philip Crane, last noticed struggling to catch John Connally in the polls before the New Hampshire primaries, informs us that Casey "sees deeply into our current plight." Crane is as unconvincing about Casey as he was in offering himself to be president.
Casey himself was smarter. He packaged his nonsense into a book, not a campaign.