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The Cassandras

Julia Barton

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Stock up on batteries while you can.
(moria)
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Peter Schiff Was Right 2006 - 2007
(jdouche)

As we look ahead to 2009, one of the most pressing questions we ask is, will our economy will get better, or worse? And how do we find any answer that is anything but pure shoulder shrugging speculation? It's natural to turn to sources who predicted the economic disaster all along. You know, the bears. The doctors of doom. The Cassandras of Wall Street. You know the story of Cassandra - it's from Greek mythology. She could predict the future, but no one would believe her. Weekend America's Julia Barton wonders what the myth has to teach us now.

ABBA Cassandra 1982
(Abbafan)

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There are many, many videos on YouTube under the title "Peter Schiff was right."

And just like Cassandra in Greek tragedies, Peter Schiff is surrounded by a chorus of skeptics on cable financial news shows.

"I think [the recession] is going to be pretty bad, and whether it starts in 07 or 08 is immaterial," Schiff predicts on an Aug. 28, 2006 edition of "Kudlow and Company" on CNBC.

His opponent, Art Laffer, jumps in: "I think Peter is totally off base, and I don't think it's gonna be, I mean, I just don't know where he's getting his stuff."

"Well, one of us is off base, but it's definitely not me," Schiff retorts.

Schiff is author of the 2007 book "Crash Proof" and an ardent believer that only the free market, not government, can solve our fiscal problems. So despite being the star of "Peter Schiff was Right," right now, Peter Schiff is not happy.

"You would think that somebody in government would want to say, 'Let's get this guy's opinion,'" he tells me. "Why don't we go to the guy that was warning us all along, right? Who everybody else was laughing at, why don't we see what he thinks? And that's what's frustrating, because I know exactly what needs to be done."

So, yes, Schiff says he feels like he has something in common with Cassandra. When she shows up as a character in the fifth-century B.C. tragedy "The Agamemnon," she also complains to the chorus that no one listens to her.

"And the first thing the chorus says after that is 'But we believe you!'" notes Whitman College professor of classics Dana Burgess (who also, you should know, co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology.") Burgess points out the paradox of the Cassandra story: the audience, of course, does believe her. They know she's right when she predicts the fall of her home town of Troy. In Aeschylus's "The Agamemnon," the chorus also gives her the benefit of the doubt. Until she starts talking about really, really bad things still to come: years of revenge, murder, misery for their world.

"The chorus is kind of freaked out by the whole thing," Burgess says. "They express some kind of dubiousness about prophets in general, and Cassandra in particular, and they don't like what she's saying. They don't really want to hear this stuff, so they're pretty discombobulated by Cassandra."

"So in 2009, I should be hiding under the covers most of the time?" I ask Peter Schiff.

"No, you should be hiding your money from the government. You should be hiding it from Ben Bernanke and getting out of the dollar."

"Should I be buying gold on my credit cards?"

"You should be buying gold with cash," Schiff laughs.

But I work in public radio, I don't have any.

"Well, you could stock up on things that don't perish," Schiff says. "You could buy batteries, you know, things that'll last for a while. Those things are going to cost a lot more in the future, so you might as well buy them now."

Batteries. Peter Schiff, the country's most popular prophet of doom, is telling me hyper-inflation is on the way and I need to stock up on batteries. So do I? Seriously. Do you?

Or do I look for a sign that he's not a true prophet?

Robert Prechter has been predicting economic trends for more than three decades, and is author of the 2002 book "Conquer the Crash."

"It's funny. When people don't like what you have to say or think you're completely wrong, it's difficult to enjoy that experience," he says. "And if suddenly they say, 'Oh, you're the smartest person that's come down the pike in a while,' anyone in this business should know better than to enjoy that either, because it simply means that you're about to be wrong."

Like Peter Schiff, Prechter's a libertarian, but he doesn't sound totally gloom and doom. He has a more cyclical view of our current crisis.

"There's a deep valley ahead, but we'll get to it fairly quickly and come out the other side, and a few years after it's over it'll be a distant memory for the history books," he predicts. "It's a sad thing, but it's also a natural thing. The ebb and flow of social mood from optimism and pessimism simply is part of the human experience."

To everything there is a season. It's an ancient, if not specifically Greek point of view. And professor Dana Burgess says the ancient Greeks actually distrusted prophets. As Cassandra sees the end of her life approaching in "The Agamemnon," she rips the tokens of her prophet-status from her robes and throws them on the ground.

"I think she recognizes that knowing what will be is not a good thing," Burgess muses. "And we might, you know, say well we want to know what's going to happen next week, is my boss going to give me a raise or whatever, but she, I think in that moment, sort of reveals that knowing the future is a kind of curse."

Only fools and the cursed are certain of what will come in that world. So maybe it's best to leave those batteries on the shelf and hope for the best.

If not, I say, nine-volts are the way to go. Who's going to think about nine-volts until it's too late?

  • Music Bridge:
    The Golden Apple Pie
    Artist: Nonloc
    CD: Between Hemispheres (Strange Attractors Audio House)

Comments

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  • By ron paulite

    From San Francisco, 01/23/2009

    That's why you are just a public radio host and don't have any cash. You don't want to learn. You prefer to follow the crowd. Peter is trying to help you. The batteries is just an example. Don't take it literally. What he meant is you have to prepare yourself for hard times ahead. If you need him to tell you exactly what you should do, good luck to you!

    By larry hoyt

    From SC, 01/13/2009

    Frank C the government has already spent over a trillion on bailouts and the only thing that has gone up in price are Dollars and T-Bills/Bonds. If you want to understand the ongoing deflation either study what has happened in Japan since the early nineties or read Conquer the Crash.

    By Ben Hall

    01/05/2009

    Glenn, Robert Prechter's published his book "Conquer the Crash" in 2002. Peter Schiff wrote his book titled "Crash Proof" in 2007.

    By Glenn Peters

    From Perth, 01/05/2009

    Who wrote "Conquer the Crash" and in what year?

    By Greg J

    From IL, 01/03/2009

    A 60-month battery for your car won't need replacing until January of 2014. If Mr. Schiff thinks inflation will abate by then, maybe he's not truly a "permabear". You must have thrown him off with that joke about buying gold with a credit card! HA good one.

    By Michael Dunton

    From Fairbanks, AK, 01/02/2009

    Gee Julia, did you borrow the story idea from Friday's Wall Street Journal? Look, Americans are deeply in denial that this whole house of cards of an economy is coming down. It doesn't matter if Peter Schiff said it or not, it's happening before our very eyes. People fail to see that this modern American Ideal of consumption and debt is bankrupting us. We've become so conceited into believing that nothing bad is ever going to happen to us--we're blinded to the truth around us and attack those who sound the alarm that the Empire is on fire. How are the bailouts working? Do you really think doing more of the same (consumption and debt) is going to help us get out of the mess we're in? Do you think creating all this debt and printing all this money is not going to ultimately torch the average American household by destroying our currency? Instead of mocking someone's suggestion of stocking up on necessities, we ought to spend time taking a hard look of what America has become and not wait around for Washington to figure things out (i.e. Hurricane Katrina).

    By eric regdren

    From NJ, 01/02/2009

    Buy batteries? What a dumb thing to say. Batteries are very perishable, they only have a shelf life of a couple of years.

    Here is the deal. Permabulls constantly are predicting market downturns. There are always business cycles, bubbles and whatnot. So sooner or later these guys are going to get lucky and be right. But if you look at the number of times they are right divided by the number of predictions they make you will find out that on the whole it is very rare that they are right. Schiff is having his 15 minutes of fame. When the business cycle reverses he will quickly be forgotten.

    By Frank C

    From Portland, OR, 01/02/2009

    Batteries are just an example of a commodity that will cost more later. Mr. Schiff has also stated that anything we'll need to consume--such as food, clothing, razor blade, whatever--will cost more in the future. One does not need a crystal ball to see the impending effects of government "stimulus". Mr. Schiff's most salient point in other interviews is: Stimulus=Inflation. As the new president unleashes a torrent of public works, rebate checks, bailouts, and other trillions of government spending, look for the dollar to sink. This "stimulus" comes on foreign credit cards; we haven't produced anything nor have taxes been cut. A deluge of government credit equates to tidal waves of massive inflation. So stock up on bread; you can freeze it. Or better yet, buy the ingredients to make bread and baking supplies. Stock up on razors, clothes, beans, rice, toilet paper, anything that you must consume over the next year or more. These things will be far more expensive next year, so turn each dollar into a commodity at each opportunity.

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