In my book The Road to Ruin, I discuss a concept called “ice-nine.” It was created by author Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Cat’s Cradle. Ice-nine was an isotope of water with two unique properties. It was frozen at room temperature, and if ice-nine came in contact with water, the water would turn to ice-nine and freeze.
The ice-nine that existed was kept in sealed canisters. If any were released into water, all the water on Earth would eventually turn to ice and life on Earth would cease. I used this idea to explain how financial contagion works.
In the next crisis, central banks will be unable to print enough money to stop a liquidity crisis. Instead, regulators will close banks and exchanges and freeze accounts. This will spread quickly into a financial ice-nine in which all accounts are eventually frozen (except for daily allowances for gas and groceries).
We’re not there yet, but smaller versions of ice-nine are happening with greater frequency. In 2013, bank accounts in Cyprus were frozen. In 2015, bank accounts in Greece were frozen. This article reports that Malaysia recently froze a bank account with $330 million in it owned by a Chinese pipeline company.
Superficially, this is just a high-profile contract dispute. But it once again demonstrates that when you leave money in a bank, it’s not your money anymore; it’s controlled by the bank and state regulators. They’ll give you the money if they feel like it, and not otherwise.
Investors should be prepared for more account freezes and ice-nine activity by keeping some money outside of banks in hard assets such as gold as well as currency stored in nonbank vaults.
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