The Age of Encumbrance

Paul Goncharoff

“When it rains, it pours” is an apt saying when it comes to encounters with my neighborhood ‘Znakhar’ (witch) of whom I write about from time to time. Over the past two weeks I have run into her at least eight or nine times when in the past it might have been once or twice. It may be that the pandemic lockdown has us all bored to tears, or everyone is heading out into the sun before the winter chill settles in Moscow for at least half a year.

Today (Saturday) while hauling her bags of groceries she settled onto a bench next to the farmers market, lit a cigarette, and asked me to join her for a chatty smoke. Why not? She went over the usual pleasantries, showed me two beef hearts that she just bought, waxing poetic about how good and nutritious internal organ dishes were for the human body, then she got down to her prophesizing.

“You listened to me last year when I told you to buy St. George coins, yes?” I said yes. “You see how well you did?” I nodded. “You had better buy more of them now as we are all everywhere on this earth entering very difficult and troubling economic and political times,” I told her that her advice was well taken, but today it seems pricey to buy gold coins. “Nonsense!, a year from now if we are still around, you will thank me as we will see big changes before the snows come.”

I jokingly said that was probably due to the November elections drama in he United States, but she looked at me very seriously and added “Yes, the madness of America is a part of this, but only a part. The world is grouping into camps, blaming everyone and everything for every ill, real or imagined excluding themselves as their themes. I think it is the human race wallowing in a form of self-pity, maybe too much egoistic introspection, too little learning lessons from history, and not wanting to get on with the life we are dealt. The Americans blame the Chinese for being Chinese, and the Chinese blame the Americans for their interference and hegemonizing them into a corner. America and Europe blame each other and also fault everyone else for just about everything. It looks like no society is prepared to take any responsibility for their own shortcomings, or take any painful steps to heal themselves. We are living in a very dangerous era of hubris. This is why I keep buying my gold St. George coins, which are quite pretty as well.”

I agreed with her that we are living in unprecedented times, with many generating video feed clicks, blogging, real plus fabricated news, and real-time gossip throughout every time zone 24/7. The Znakhar might be right, and that the world each of us watches on their smartphones is tuned via artificial intelligence to each of our AI marketing preferences, from advertisements, interests to news. It may well be that instead of uniting the world with the pan-global reporting of simple facts, we are now witnessing a catering to targetted interests defined by similar beliefs and prejudgements as our own. That is a recipe for trouble as history has so often proven. Everyone can’t be individually right all of the time, that is stasis with no compromise.

“Many, even most of the countries that trade paper (equities she no doubt meant) are in a very dangerous place. I have never seen this degree of self-delusion continuing without taking pause to balance and reassess. This is why gold and I strongly are a pair. Do you not wonder why it is that a simple woman like myself here in Moscow would be aware of the stresses among the many peoples in America, Chile, Nigeria, France, or Hong Kong? It is not that I am so clever, but it is because I see some very common threads in the world fabric. I see today’s self-appointed Roman Empire pressuring everyone but themselves to conduct themselves in certain ways that they have come to see as being mostly in the empire’s immediate interests, therefore good. They use the paper dollar as both the whip and the chocolate. That means that the world will keep shying farther from depending or trusting that dollar. That is why I love St. George!”.

I then asked her what she thought about the Rouble. I expected her to answer in the typical Russian manner and start the traditionally expected poo-pooing of the Russian currency, but here she surprised me. She said “I have lived through several Roubles, the Soviet one that went bust, the Perestroika one which also went bust, but it is this new one which seems to be more or less responsibly run. I also like that they are thinking ahead and acting on their instincts, like trying to improve government services using the blockchain and being much more open to proving reasonable new ideas and technologies than in the past. I think the way the current government works is mostly OK, at least they seem to do what they say, and they do not spend too much money and effort to ‘powder our brains’, or ‘hang noodles from our ears’ (Russian expressions for delusion or nonsense). At least no more than the usual.”. 

“Look, until a few years ago I liked to keep some of my money in dollars, and despite the very high price now being paid for dollars I will not risk owning them, or Euro. Both seem to me to be full of air, that is why I keep buying St. George. I remember when the old Rouble, Reichmark, even the all mighty Pound Sterling filled with excesive hot air. At the end of the day they did not calm down but continued to expand until they burst messily. It should not surprise anyone, but it always does, these collapses are always spectacularly unexpected, although everyone afterward says they saw it coming from far away. Deluded horses asses, just wait when inflation becomes a household word again. This is why, my foreign friend, you should keep loving your St. George’s as they will be far more valuable next year than they are today. Just remember, when anyone is in deeper debt than what they earn, the collector’s thugs eventually knock on the door, and painful price of borrowing is paid one way or another. It is the very same with the money of countries that owe more than they produce or represent, they will collapse as the rouble did in 1998! Imagine, I read that an infant born in America today is already encumbered with well over $60,000 in debt, and this before it has had a chance to make its first diaper deposits!”

Oh well, another eventful Moscow vignette. Infants, money, markets, and debt aside, I hoisted my bag of chicken and veggies, thanked her for her views, bid her farewell, and headed home with my interpretations of her monologue bouncing unbidden in my mind. I was thinking maybe a quick run to Sberbank for a gold St. George, but then the miser in me backed down, maybe better to buy a fractional gold-backed cryptocurrency stablecoin instead, and from the comfort of my own home.

Moscow, September 12, 2020

Paul Goncharoff