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The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World

Mark Spitznagel, Ron Paul (Foreword by)
ISBN: 978-1-118-34703-4
368 pages
September 2013
The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World (111834703X) cover image

As today's preeminent doomsday investor Mark Spitznagel describes his Daoist and roundabout investment approach, “one gains by losing and loses by gaining.” This is Austrian Investing, an archetypal, counterintuitive, and proven approach, gleaned from the 150-year-old Austrian School of economics, that is both timeless and exceedingly timely.

In The Dao of Capital, hedge fund manager and tail-hedging pioneer Mark Spitznagel—with one of the top returns on capital of the financial crisis, as well as over a career—takes us on a gripping, circuitous journey from the Chicago trading pits, over the coniferous boreal forests and canonical strategists from Warring States China to Napoleonic Europe to burgeoning industrial America, to the great economic thinkers of late 19th century Austria. We arrive at his central investment methodology of Austrian Investing, where victory comes not from waging the immediate decisive battle, but rather from the roundabout approach of seeking the intermediate positional advantage (what he calls shi), of aiming at the indirect means rather than directly at the ends. The monumental challenge is in seeing time differently, in a whole new intertemporal dimension, one that is so contrary to our wiring.

Spitznagel is the first to condense the theories of Ludwig von Mises and his Austrian School of economics into a cohesive and—as Spitznagel has shown—highly effective investment methodology. From identifying the monetary distortions and non-randomness of stock market routs (Spitznagel's bread and butter) to scorned highly-productive assets, in Ron Paul's words from the foreword, Spitznagel “brings Austrian economics from the ivory tower to the investment portfolio.”

The Dao of Capital provides a rare and accessible look through the lens of one of today's great investors to discover a profound harmony with the market process—a harmony that is so essential today.

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Foreword xvii

Introduction xxiii

Chapter One: THE DAOIST SAGE
Klipp's Paradox 1

The Old Master 3

The Soft and Weak Vanquish the Hard and Strong 6

Into the Pit 9

The Privileges of a Trader 12

Robinson Crusoe in the Bond Pit 15

Fishing in "McElligot's Pool" 18

Enter the Austrians: A von Karajan Moment 18

A State of Rest 21

Guiding into Emptiness . . . 23

Moving On 26

The Wisdom of the Sages 29

Chapter Two: THE FOREST IN THE PINECONE
The Roundabout and the Logic of Growth 33

The Forest and the Tree 36

The Slow Seedling 39

Wildfire and Resource Reallocation 41

The Conifer Effect 43

A Logic of Growth 49

Chapter Three: SHI
The Intertemporal Strategy 51

The Dao of Sun Wu 56

Shi and the Crossbow 58

Li—The Direct Path 59

Shi and Li at the Weiqi Board 60

A Common Thread, from East to West 64

An Attack of Misunderstanding 68

On War—An Indirect Strategy 70

Shi, Ziel, Mittel, und Zweck 74

Chapter Four: THE SEEN AND THE FORESEEN
The Roots of the Austrian Tradition 75

That Which Must Be Foreseen 78

At the Viennese Crossroads Between East and West 85

The Teleology of Baer’s Butterfly 88

Menger Establishes the Austrian School 89

Tutor to the Prince 93

Methodenstreit 97

Österreichische Schule 101

Chapter Five: UMWEG
The Roundabout Path of the Unternehmer 103

Postulating the "Positive" 105

Produktionsumweg 108

Böhm-Bawerk, the Bourgeois Marx 113

Faustmann’s Forest Economy 116

Rings of Capital 122

Henry Ford: The Roundabout Unternehmer 125

The Roundabout of Life 134

Chapter Six: TIME PREFERENCE
Overcoming That Humanness About Us 139

"Radical" Böhm-Bawerk and the Psychology of Time Preference 145

The Curious Case of Phineas Gage 149

The Shi and Li Brain 151

The Subjectivity of Time 153

The Trade-Off of an Addict 158

No Zeal for Ziel on Wall Street 161

Adapting to the Intertemporal 164

Chapter Seven: "THE MARKET IS A PROCESS" 167
The Man Who Predicted the Great Depression 169

Fleeing the Nazis 173

Human Action 175

Unternehmer in the Land of the Nibelungen 179

Genuine Change Is Afoot in Nibelungenland—A Market-Induced Drop in Interest Rates 187

Distortion Comes to Nibelungenland—The Central Bank Lowers Rates 190

Time Inconsistency and the Term Structure 194

The Day of Reckoning Comes to Nibelungenland 198

The Austrian View 199

The Market Process Prevails 201

Chapter Eight: HOMEOSTASIS
Seeking Balance in the Midst of Distortion 203

The Teleology of the Market 205

The Yellowstone Effect 207

Lessons from the Distorted Forest 209

Market Cybernetics 213

How Things "Go Right" 216

Spontaneous Order 217

Distortion 219

The Sand Pile Effect 220

Distortion’s Message: "Do Nothing" 222

The Shi of Capital 223

Chapter Nine: AUSTRIAN INVESTING I: THE EAGLE AND THE SWAN
Exploiting Distortion with Misesian Tools 227

Homeostasis en force 229

Witness to the Distortion 231

An Initial Misesian Investment Strategy 236

The Eagle and the Swan 240

Case Study: Prototypical Tail Hedging 244

The Ziel and the Zweck: Central Bank Hedging 248

The Roundabout Investor 251

Chapter Ten: AUSTRIAN INVESTING II: SIEGFRIED
Exploiting the Böhm-Bawerkian Roundabout 253

Siegfried, the Dragon Slayer 255

Case Study: Buying the Siegfrieds 263

Value Investing: Austrian Investing’s Estranged Heir 269

A Zweck Finally Attained 275

Epilogue: THE SISU OF THE BOREAL FOREST 277

The World Learns Sisu from the Victorious Finns 278

Sisu—Of Character and Character-Building 284

Notes 293

Acknowledgments 309

About the Author 311

Index 313

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Mark Spitznagel is the founder and President of Universa Investments, an investment advisor that specializes in equity tail-hedging—or profiting from extreme stock market losses as a means of enhancing investment returns. In addition to hedge fund investing, Spitznagel's twenty-year investment career has ranged from independent pit trader at the Chicago Board of Trade to proprietary trading head at Morgan Stanley. He also owns and operates Idyll Farms in northern Michigan.

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"Spitznagel has written an essential new book. Indeed, The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World might be one of the most important books of the year, or any year for that matter."
Forbes

“The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing In A Distorted World
by Mark Spitznagel (Wiley, 2013) is a beautifully crafted book, one I can recommend to readers of all political/economic persuasions… it is impossible not to be shaped by its carefully presented history and logic.”
Seeking Alpha

“There is no shortage of market bears who take a grim view of the stock market. But Mr. Spitznagel has gained credibility in the investment world by predicting two market routs in the past decade, first in 2000 and then in 2008. Still, Mr. Spitznagel’s approach is unusual for a money manager.”
The New York Times

“A fascinating and radical break from the investment dogma of the past several decades”
Fortune

“While The Dao of Capital makes for demanding reading, it repays the effort as a heady historical and intellectual feast.”
Barron’s

“Spitznagel could simply have written that investors need patience and must avoid the temptation of the quick profit; that building a successful strategy, and life, involves a longer-term approach foregoing instant gratification; that establishing a solid foundation while appearing not to create progress puts you in position for much greater success later on. He did not do that. Instead, he takes you on a tour of history and nature that illuminates these long held truths. In the end his message is simple, but by providing the historical underpinnings he brings them to life in a much more vibrant way.”
—Futures Magazine

“I applaud the book as a look into the thinking process of a great investor, especially one that has a clear and consistent understanding of the market process, the dangers of government intervention, and the benefits of Austrian economics.”
—Ludwig von Mises Institute

“At last, a real book by a real risk-taking practitioner. You cannot afford not to read this!”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Author of The Black Swan

“Investors of all kinds will find immeasurable value in this convincing and thoroughly researched book where Mark champions the roundabout.”
Paul Tudor Jones II, Founder, Tudor Investment Corporation

“A timely, original, right-economic principles and history-based approach to investing. Drawing on impressive philosophical building blocks, The Dao of Capital illuminates the wellsprings of capital creation, innovation and economic progress. Dazzling!”
Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media

“This is a magnificent, scintillating book that I will read over and over again. Every page is eye-opening, with numerous areas for testing and profits in every chapter. Here’s an unqualified, total, heartfelt recommendation, which coming from me is a rarity, and possibly unique.”
Victor Niederhoffer, Author of The Education of a Speculator

The Dao of Capital is an impressive work. Spitznagel’s approach is refreshing—scholarly without being tedious. What a broad look at economic history it provides!”
Byron Wien, Vice Chairman, Blackstone Advisory Partners LP

“Wall Street gamblers who believe the Fed has their back need to read this book. Mark Spitznagel provides a brilliant demonstration that the gang of money printers currently resident in the Eccles Building have not repealed the laws of sound money nor have they rescinded the historical lessons on which they are based.”
David Stockman, Former U.S. Congressman, Budget Director under Ronald Reagan, and Author of The Great Deformation

“Mark Spitznagel assembles the best insights in human nature and economics to bring order out of the chaos of our world. Economists, investors and lay persons alike will find abundant treasures in The Dao of Capital, one remarkably useful and exciting book!”
Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education and President Emeritus, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

“Spitznagel’s excellent book is a powerful presentation of how monetary policy deceives entrepreneurs and investors into making poor investing decisions. I highly recommend The Dao of Capital as a guide to avoiding these deceptions and thus to better investment results.”
Marc Faber, Publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report

“Spitznagel’s sound analytical foundations combined with shrewd strategic thinking provide the reader with a broad philosophy for long run success in wealth creation—where understanding the process that puts you in a position to win is more important than simply stating the goal of winning. I greatly recommend this book.”
Peter Boettke, Professor of Economics and Philosophy, George Mason University

“Mark Spitznagel has done a remarkable job summarizing, synthesizing, and extending the great Austrian tradition, and weaving it into a wonderful set of practical lessons. What’s more, he is a great writer and storyteller in the tradition of Bastiat, Hazlitt, and Rothbard, bringing subtle and sometimes complex ideas to life with memorable examples and sparkling prose. Highly recommended!”
Peter Klein, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Missouri and Carl Menger Fellow, Ludwig von Mises Institute

“A highly successful investor, Mark brings Austrian economics from the ivory tower to the investment portfolio.”
Ron Paul, Former U.S. Congressman (from the Foreword)

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September 17, 2013
The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World

NEW YORK - As today’s preeminent doomsday investor Mark Spitznagel describes his Daoist and roundabout investment approach, “one gains by losing and loses by gaining.” This is Austrian investing, an archetypal, counterintuitive, and proven approached, gleaned from the 150-year-old Austrian School of economics.

In THE DAO OF CAPITAL: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World (WILEY; August 2013; Hardcover & eBook; $29.95), hedge fund manager and tail-hedging pioneer Mark Spitznagel—with one of the top returns on capital of the financial crisis, as well as over a career—takes readers on a circuitous journey from the Chicago trading pits, over the coniferous boreal forests and canonical military strategists from Warring States China to Napoleonic Europe to burgeoning industrial America, to the great economic thinkers of the late 19th century Austria. We arrive at his central investment methodology of Austrian investing, where victory comes not from waging the immediate decisive battle, but rather from the roundabout approach of seeking the intermediate positional advantage (what he calls shi), of aiming at the indirect means rather than directly at the ends.

From identifying and exploiting the monetary distortions and non-randomness of stock market routs (Spitznagel's bread and butter) to scorned highly-productive assets, in Ron Paul's words from the foreword, Spitznagel “brings Austrian economics from the ivory tower to the investment portfolio.”

According to Spitznagel, this roundabout strategy was the source of his high returns during the financial crisis and is how he is exploiting the next major market correction that he predicts is coming soon.

“The market is vastly overvalued right now, thanks to vast monetary distortions. The current markets and economy are an illusion and a trap for investors,” said Spitznagel. “Investors need to think to and prepare for the great opportunities to come, following a likely crash, not the current ones.”

The book’s timing is prescient as the current low interest rate environment has sent yield-hungry investors down a dangerous path, ignoring the long-term ramifications of their decisions in favor of seemingly quick and easy profits. Their oversight is fueling the market forces that inevitably lead to a crash—though revealing new investment opportunities as the market returns to balance (just as wildfires allow the forest to refertilize).

Spitznagel shows why investors should build tail-hedging into their portfolios to insure against and, even more importantly, exploit precipitous drops in the market that result from quantifiable, Fed- induced cycles.

Due to these circumstances, Spitznagel notes that this scenario has helped create the comprehensive Austrian setup for today’s markets and economy, the events that experts always see as the unfortunate effects of hazardous and haphazard market forces—what have come to be routinely though erringly called black swans.

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