Is it a finance book or a travel monologue? At the end of reading Adventure Capitalist I'm still not entirely sure. Either way, it qualifies for inclusion in The Gateway because I like it. The book recounts the travels of wanderlusting hedge fund manager Jim Rogers who, having decided to broaden his horizons beyond Wall Street, embarks on a three year round the world voyage in a custom made yellow convertible.
The record breaking trip (according to the Guinness Book of Record Rogers is to date the only hedge fund manager to have undertaken a round-the-world voyage, a call-out to any neurobiologists or corrosion engineers seeking a quick claim to fame) takes in 245,000 miles, 166 countries and 15 war zones. The appeal of the book, however, is less in Rogers' personal quest for knowledge and savvy investment returns than the insight his trip allows into the changes taking place in the world economy. We get a unique view of how countries differ in their approach to business and trade and what their economic future is as a result.
One of the dominant themes of the book is Rogers' advocacy of globalisation and free trade. Countries which have embraced globalisation, such as China, have thrived and will likely continue to do so over the long term. They receive Rogers' investor's stamp of approval. Other nations like Korea, who have a fierce protectionist trade policy which blocks all imports from abroad, may have brought them economic success in the short term but earns them a black mark against their name for the future: "Forget Korea as a place to invest". It is perhaps less surprising in this context that the author lends his support to a Bush-led proposal - a plan to abolish all US manufacturing tariffs by 2015.
He is equally critical of Japan's rigid immigration policy whereby third generation immigrants born in the country are denied the right to vote. Japan has one of the fastest aging populations in the world, a trait which Rogers predicts will have severe repercussions for its economy in the not too distant future. Japan entered recession the other day after a decade of stagnant economic growth. Watch this space.
With six years having elapsed since the completion of the trip, a proportion of Rogers' calls have already proved successful. He makes a quick stop to the Argentine Capital Buenos Aires with the sole objective of withdrawing the entirety of his Argentine Peso current account. Rogers had been perturbed by the pegging of Argentina's currency to the US Dollar which was rising steadily in value, dragging the Peso with it and forcing the Argentine government to borrow huge amounts of capital from abroad to keep its economy above water. He predicted that the country would be forced to default on its loans, causing bank accounts to be frozen and its currency to be worthless. This was August 2001. Three months later Rogers' predictions came true as news of the collapse of the Argentine economy broke all over the world.
Meanwhile, a few of the wilder predictions have yet to materialise - his view that Brazil's industrialised South would split away from the economic backwater of the northern states failed to anticipate the economic boom in the north which is currently driving the country's economic growth.
Though it is now slightly outdated (Rogers began his trip in 1999), for those interested in global affairs, Adventure Capitalist is a great introduction to the economic, political and business make-up of the world. In 300 pages, Rogers has managed to condense as much region-specific insight as you would find in about ten issues of The Economist. Obviously the defining feature of current affairs is that they are current, however, the author possesses enough nous to look at themes affecting each region which are still relevant in 2008 and should be for some time to come.