Why the Economy is Totally Screwed. And How You Can Make Money Off of it Today

I’m scared.

Imagine you’re the passenger and a coke-addict speed addict drunk is driving the car and it’s on one of those James Bond cliffs where one wrong move and everybody dies in a firebomb.

That’s where the economy is. I’m not a doom and gloom guy. I’m an optimist. And the firebomb is my optimistic view of where the economy is going.

If you’re lucky they can take a skin graft from your leg and turn it into a nose. They can fix up your eyes. But nothing can replace a smile except skin from another face.

But don’t worry. I think there’s a way to avoid it. I’m an optimist because although the “economy” is screwed up, innovation is here to stay.

I put economy in quotes because there’s no such thing. The word itself is in doubt. “Economy” means a way of being prudent, of having less leg room, of being forced to check your bags all the way through. We’re an economy class world being ruled by first class plutocrats.

Again, I don’t mean to be paranoid so I won’t be. Let’s focus on the optimism.

But first, let’s not forget whose fault this is:


I don’t mean this in a bad way. The real fault is that all the 18 year old little boys in the US were sent off to shoot people in WW II.

Note this is not an anti-war post. History is written by the winners. You and I are winners.

So women took their jobs. And when the men came back the women, quite correctly, didn’t want to give those jobs back. Why should they?

Double income homes. Double income garages and white picket fences and grass and schools and big roads and mass transit into the city they left behind.

But then they needed more. Dopamine is triggered when you get your new rewards. Dopamine makes you happy. But “new” is the key word here and not “reward.” So we needed more “new” to trigger more “dopamine.”

Johnson had his Great Society, which put money into the economy. Then we had to pay for another war, another group of 18 year old coming back depressed and dead. And we needed more.

So Nixon took us off the gold standard. Suddenly we were shooting inflation into our veins. The great thing about inflation is that first you feel flush and it’s only later you feel down.

Which led us to the 1980 stock market boom, then junk market boom, until people went to jail and got cancer.

When we needed a fix again we had the peace dividend, then the need for speed got us the Internet boom (and thank God Clinton said “no sales tax” on Internet sales) and then finally a man who understood the dark side of history used Y2K as an excuse to flood the economy with money (more and more leg room in our economy class).

This created a housing boom and credit cards that were like instant mortgages on our houses. And then banks that collateralized all the loans and hedge funds that collateralized the collateral and sold them in pawn shops.

And….it was over. That was it.

The only thing left. The Federal Reserve for the first time ever actually gives interest payments (0.25%) to banks that don’t lend out money while the Fed still buys stocks.

Which leads me to….the average person is screwed. I’m on the board of a billion revenues temp agency. I can tell you, it’s not pleasant what is happening. Don’t believe the employment numbers. Look at the part-time numbers. Look at underemployment. Look at people leaving the “numbers” behind.

Which is the good news.

Because there is a separate economy. A real economy. An economy where people are driving cars with no drivers. Where robots perform surgery. Where drones kill people from thousands of miles away. Where fracking goes horizontaly into your rivers to turn the US into a new Saudi Arabia.

In other words, the innovation economy.

So if you want to avoid riding over the cliff in economy #1, you must go into economy #2. Be the lady and the tiger.

Here are the trends coming in the next ten years and the stocks to keep an eye on. Some old, some new.

(Note: To stay ahead of market trends, check out my checklist for finding profitable innovative technologies – Learn more here.)

A) Lithium shortage

Every car needs batteries. A car is just a computer with a car app on it now. And computers need better batteries. All the lithium is in…guess where…China and a tiny unheard-of country called Afghanistan.

ENS, Enersys, is a Lithium play. ENS makes the batteries and trades for 12X forward earnings although my guess is they will continue to surprise. More on this stock and all stocks I mention here in a future article.

B) Old people

Every ten years the average age of death is rising by 2.2 years. You know what happens to old people? The three top causes of death: cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

I am a big fan of diagnostics.

I own TROV (Trovagene). Here’s the key, what if Steve Jobs peed in a cup every week to keep updates on his pancreatic cancer instead of get invasive biopsies. That’s the difference between TROV and what hospitals do now. The market for this is basically every person above the age of 40. Meanwhile TROV is doing deals with every medical facility out there to test the test. I own it and I’m not selling until $70.

C) The offense industry

Too many people mistakenly call this the defense industry. What exactly is America defending against. We have military in 74 countries. ANd the government doesn’t hire tiny companies to offend for us. They hire big companies that then hire the tiny companies.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is my choice. When we need more drones some general calls LMT who then makes the call. They trade for 15x forward earnings, 3% dividend yield and they’ve raised their dividend for 10 years in a row. BAM!

If you really like drones (and I do. I’m still waiting for Amazon to start delivering me pizzas with drones) then keep an eye on AMBA (Ambarella). They make the camera chips inside the drones. In the land of the blind, drones are king.

D) Clean energy

And by clean energy I mean coal. You ever see those vast tracts of land with those ugly wind farms that don’t work? Land that could’ve been used for food?

Coal goes straight down, and still fuels half the country with electricity.

E) The leaders.

We can argue all day long about what companies will be here in 20 years. But there are three clear leaders that are not going anywhere and keep out-innovating each other: AAPL (the iphone6 is baked into the price but not the ipad mini air), AMZN (all bookstores are dead), and GOOG (the above-mentioned driverless cars are only the starting engine).

I will follow up more on each category in future articles. This is my starting point. (Update: The Next Trillion Dollar Tech Business)

I’m very scared. If we trust that the world will fix itself, we are putting our trust in the wrong place. It never has and never will. The world will be fixed by the next generation of the economy.

And nobody can predict the future.

But I look for what demographic trends are starting to ripple with excitement today. What trends seem unstoppable by the direction the car is going.

(Related: How I make money off of trends)

In 2005 I wrote a book, “Trade Like Warren Buffett.” In the book I show how Buffett’s first criteria is not value but demographics and trends. This is the way to build for the future.

I’m scared but I have hope for the future because of the innovation that I am seeing every day. Don’t believe anyone who focuses on doom and gloom or timing shorts or hate for the news or hate for the people who think they control the economy. These people will lose money.

Focus on what works today. Because the best indicator of a successful tomorrow is a successful today.

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  • humplik

    What I want to own is the Altucher ETF Fund. Get on that James!

    • CJmoneymom


  • Prat

    I quickly looked into ENS but it seems their revenues are actually down from last year. If they were benefiting from Lithium, wouldn’t it be going up instead? Doesn’t sound like a winner to me (I’m not in any way in the profession of investing, just have a small personal portfolio).

  • Lisa

    I wish you would do more research on renewable energy. If we would follow the lead of the intelligent countries like Sweden Finland Denmark etc we could get off coal and other fossil fuels. All efforts to do this are being blocked by greedy energy corporations.

    • Vinyl Mastering Engineer

      Not to mention that wind farms and crop farms co-exist quite well.

    • Do you agree to let your power shut down each night and whenever the wind does not blow? The power at your local emergency room too?

      • Carl Mujero

        have you ever heard of batteries?

        • Waddya gonna pay for them? I don’t want to pay for yours.

          • Carl Mujero

            hospitals have backup generators, troll. there are several options for backup, ranging from battery banks or diesel generators to pumped-water storage where water is pumped at low demand periods and released to generate electricity in high demand times. having a nationwide grid is part of the problem. we need decentralized, location- based utilities. transmission of electricity wastes 10-15% of the energy produced

          • You advocate unethical and coercive methods to force others via government to pay for your preferences. Just like a thing under a bridge harassing passers-by. As between us, you are, quite figuratively, the troll.

          • Carl Mujero

            really? what am i advocating? if anything, i advocate local independent control of power rather than a centralized bureaucratic grid

  • Very good insights indeed. Analyzing social and economic trends is a good way to understand where the world will possibly be in the future and make certain predictions thereof. However, predicting whether the predictions will indeed come true is predictably a wild guess at the best!

  • Paul_Morphy

    The earth’s core is made of iron carbide. Whatever one think’s of it, that IS the reality of the world’s various ecosystems. It’s a carbon based existence.

  • Bayleaf

    I think you should sell those stocks ASAP while you’re still ahead. No economy, 1st, 2nd or 3rd will save those companies once the shit hits the fan.

  • Yvette

    Reading this took me back to your FT column (pre-great financial crisis) =). I loved that column James. Your quirky personality & humor shone through even in those stodgy pages.

  • Julio

    Lithium: definitely not China. Australia and Chile (by far), and Argentina are the top three producers. The largest reserves are in Chile, and countries other than China have plenty of it too.

    • bucko1948

      I believe that there are major deposits…on the surface actually, like sand… in Bolivia…maybe Ecuador? Did all that get used up?

  • letsallbehonest

    TrovaGene best pick of all Times!

  • Wow, new sparkling words in this article James. Nice, thanks. I’m a naughty outsider, since I don’t follow the conventional, the regulated or the norms very well.

    We can’t directly predict the future, but we can indeed expect a future with some predictions based on what we choose from now on.

    I’m very much into other ways of making money other then what is considered the only way. Working for someone else. We’re in middle of a huge shift, which also will change what “economy” means, and how the whole money-organism will unfold.

  • MillenialMayHymn

    The economy will always be screwed… Of course investment banks and hedge funds get the ConocoPhillips head. While the middle class gets a flat 401k. Also have to disagree with the robots taking over jobs. They’re already here, but only programmed to look down, avoid eye contact, and proceed to hashtag. Fleeing to the mountains without a degree, draining 20% of portfolio, but god damn does it feel good. Greenspan can bail out deez goldman sachs.

  • Mob Barley

    Hey man. Good writing. Very childish, which is key here.

  • David Whitson

    You lost me at clean coal.

    • bucko1948

      see above

  • And by clean energy I mean coal. wtf?

    • bucko1948

      I don’t mean to offend, but I do mean to be very direct.

      What he is telling you is that the idea that coal is dirty is political BS. We are not looking at the lack of technology of 50-100 years ago.

      Find some sources to read other than what your Polically Correct “professor” taught you in college.

  • Mary Baechler

    Because of your book, Choose Yourself, and some of your posts, I became brave and just published my first book. Thank you for your kind and honest words, and giving others courage. Thank you, from my heart. My book is called Winning Over Diabetes; I am a licensed Nutritionist, and worked on this book the last four years.

  • Honas

    I don’t want to be a party pooper.. but TROV went from 6 to around 2.. losing nearly 60% since the article was written

  • Nick Tamble


  • Peter Varhol

    I don’t know where to begin. I’ve respected you for your intelligence and turn of the phrase, but this is about the most inaccurate thing you have ever written. Let’s start at the beginning. Women didn’t want the jobs men gave up because they went off to WW II. And they willingly gave them up to settle down once men returned. I know, my mother was one of them, dammit, working in the steel mill. Women in the workforce really didn’t begin in numbers until the 1970s, and often that was because they tore down the mills, yet the men always thought they would get called back. You spent time in Pittsburgh, you must know this. The women kept their families alive when the men gave up.

    This will get much too long if I continue pointing out your revisionist history. Maybe you’re trying to write an investment column, but you are missing out on the most relevant trends, such as machine learning (it is already touching all of us), robots, and biotech. What you have here makes no sense in any consistent context.

    I thought you were better than this drivel. I guess not.

  • James Frady

    Far, far, far from your best work. In fact, it may be the worst thing you’ve written that I have read. I got nothing out of it. I’m learning to market myself for side jobs as a consultant to factory maintenance departments, and otherwise depend on myself for income, so that if my primary job as an engineer in a factory should disappear, (not likely), then I have something to fall back on. That’s my plan: do your primary thing, but have a backup thing.

  • bbmm18

    The part I totally agree with is trends and demography. P S, survey out of MIT today, folks surveyed, whoever they are, majority not keen on driverless cars. They still want control. Could be generational or harbinger or hybrid control may be the answer. What I would like to know about all batteries large and small, will they be worse than CO2? We need to address the recycling. My two cents. BMM

    • Dean Mitchell

      The majority of people are idiots.

  • Pete Godston

    Three books from me, James: “A Citizen’s Guide to Marksmanship” (2014), “Navies, Petrol and Chocolate” (2016), “Ukraine Skies, Baltimore Lights” (first novel, 2017). Great article above, great info and inspiration, as usual..

  • Carl Mujero

    i like how you think fragments are paragraphs