A recent dinner with other Bay Area econobloggers yielded numerous insights.
Longtime reader/correspondent Adam Taggart was kind enough to invite me to a presentation given by Chris Martenson at Yahoo! headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA.Adam (Vice President of Marketing at Yahoo!) also invited Axel Merk, writer, author and founder of the Merk Hard Currency Funds, and Patrick Killelea, founder and proprietor of the top housing bust/crash site, patrick.net.
The guests shared two traits: we live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we each have found an audience on the dynamic meritocracy known as the World Wide Web.
As we all know, you can put up anything you want on the Web, and read what you want on the Web, effectively dispensing with the services of Old Media "gatekeepers" such as editors and publishers.
The trick in such a free-form meritocracy is attracting and engaging a large audience.
By that simple metric, I was among the giants of the econoblogosphere, as Chris, Axel and Patrick are among the most well-known bloggers/writers around.
It's true: you learn so much more if your colleagues are smarter than you are, and so the dinner gathering of Chris, Axel, Patrick, Adam and myself was extremely valuable to me professionally and as a citizen.
I first heard about Chris in 2008 when dozens of readers began recommending The Crash Course ( Chris Martenson.com) as the best summary of our collective plight.
There are many fine public speakers, but Chris is one of the best I've seen--concise, fast-paced, well-organized and yet informal. The large room was SRO (standing room only), and after his lecture Chris fielded numerous questions from the engineer-heavy audience, many of whom questioned the inescapable conclusion that exponential growth of consumption and debt in a world of diminishing real commodities dooms the status quo.
As Chris put it, "The next 20 years will not be like the past 20 years."
I have read Axel's articles on gold and currencies for years on sites such as Safe Haven and Kitco, and Patrick greatly boosted the audience of oftwominds.com in 2005 and 2006 by posting some of my housing-related articles on patrick.net.
After the lecture, we met up at a restaurant in Palo Alto, where Adam graciously treated us to a fine dinner (Patrick picked the wine, an excellent--and "cheap"--choice.)
To say the conversation was wide-ranging would be an understatement--we practically closed the place, even though several guests needed to arise at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.
Part of what made the evening sparkle with insights (at least to me) is that each of us comes from a different perspective. Chris is a PhD scientist/researcher by profession, Axel an economist/fund manager, Patrick a software/Web engineer turned econoblog entrepreneur, Adam (his Yahoo! position was unknown to me, as his email had a Stanford alumni address) an executive with a Silicon Valley icon, and myself a philosophy major/carpenter/free-lance journalist/author. (How I gained an audience remains a mystery.)
While Chris and Axel often speak/present at conferences and other events, and Patrick was invited to speak at Google earlier this year, I am the classic isolated writer tapping away amidst a horrific clutter of paper, magazines, books and notes. I write what I think is important and interesting, and who knows what happens to it afterward.
Dinner topics included gold (all paper currencies are doomed, so it's just a race to zero from here), the possibility of a gold-backed currency (unlikely in Axel's view), best locales for "bug-out" cabins (make sure you get water rights, Chris advised), and perhaps most broadly, the possibilities for sparking real change from the relatively modest position of econobloggers.
Could we distill down some key principles which might serve as rallying points for bloggers across the Web? It was an exciting idea, yet the discussion on taxes revealed how difficult it will be to agree on specific principles. Some saw value in the idea of land taxes being the foundation of taxation, freeing productive labor from taxes, while other reckoned the Power Elites would simply sell land and move their capital into whatever wasn't heavily taxed.
Since four of the five participants have school-age children, the conversation veered to education and this key question: how can we prepare our kids for such a challenging, disruptive and potentially difficult environment? Chris (he and his wife home-school their children) suggested that the key traits we need to encourage are creativity and flexibility--traits woefully under-emphasized in today's "tests are the the only metric" public education ideology.
Since three of us make a living (in my case, a very marginal one) as independent econobloggers/speakers/writers, the conversation also touched on the challenge of gathering some sort of income from what is essentially a "free" offering of content.
This is the core conundrum facing anyone who provides freely offered content online, be it a solo blogger or a news aggregator/journal/newspaper: what will readers/users/clients pay for?
There are no pat answers, as there is no history to turn to; we are "the bleeding edge" of New Media--those of us creating content that attracts millions of readers every year, and you, the readers.
Speaking of attracting millions of viewers a year, I want to thank one of the econoblogosphere's superstars, Mish of Mish's Global Economic Analysis, for adding the oftwominds.com feed to his site: a rare honor, as Mish only posts feeds from four other sites. Mish has offered me valuable advice via phone conversations and emails over the years, and his generosity is a trademark of the other top bloggers I have had the pleasure to meet or correspond with, who include James Howard Kunstler, Michael Panzner (Financial Armageddon), Richard Metzger (Dangerous Minds) and Jesse of Jesse's Cafe Americain.
It was an honor and pleasure to meet the "real people" behind hugely successful sites: extremely bright, extremely hard-working, excellent listeners, quick studies, open-minded, deeply informed. It doesn't get any better than this, and I think that's why you turn to these econobloggers for insight and what I call an integrated understanding--precisely what a scattershot, corporate/Power Elite-dominated Old Media is failing to deliver because an integrated understanding intrinsically threatens a Status Quo dependent on propaganda, ignorance, tiresomely empty shouting that passes for "debate" and the mindless distractions of 24/7 "entertainment."
Thank you, Adam, for assembling Chris, Patrick, Axel and myself. It was an honor to be in such fine company.
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