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Do you really think that an ETF was designed for your benefit?

By Salient Partners. Originally published at ValueWalk.

Epsilon Theory: The Horse in Motion

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Global ETFs-ETPs

o make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,


One clover, and a bee,


And revery.


The revery alone will do,


If bees are few.

? Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Emily Dickinson is a total badass.

When a livestock farmer is willing to “practice complexity”— to choreograph the symbiosis of several different animals, each of which has been allowed to behave and eat as it evolved to — he will find he has little need for machinery, fertilizer, and, most strikingly, chemicals. He finds he has no sanitation problem or any of the diseases that result from raising a single animal in a crowded monoculture and then feeding it things it wasn’t designed to eat.

? Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006)

In modern farming and in modern investing, we have become prisoners of the monoculture. It’s efficient. It’s necessary for a mass society of ever-increasing Desire. And yet …

Oh, and one more thing. In the investment monoculture, you’re not the farmer.

Up on the Ft. Peck Reservation


(Assiniboine and Sioux)


just as I passed two white crosses


in the ditch I hit a fledgling meadowlark,


the slightest thunk against the car’s grille.


A mean minded God


in a mean minded machine, offering


another ghost to the void to join the two


white crosses stabbing upward in the insufferable


air. Wherever we go we do harm, forgiving


ourselves as wheels do cement for wearing


each other out. We set this house


on fire forgetting that we live within.

? Jim Harrison, “To a Meadowlark” (2008)

One thing that has gone wrong in America


is the general acceptance of bad ham.

? Jim Harrison (1937 – 2016)

 After gaining widespread fame as an explorer and “Indian fighter” during the Revolutionary War (yes, that used to be a profession, and a respected one), Daniel Boone earned his living in the Kentucky wilderness by producing what was known as bear bacon. It wasn’t “bacon” as we know it today, which typically comes from the sides and bellies of pork. Instead, Boone would take the whole bear and portion it into large hunks of meat that were brined and smoked. Living out of a lean-to shelter, he and his family hunted the bears with the help of tracking hounds. They soaked the meat in handmade barrels filled with a brine of water, salt, and sugar. They got the salt from mineral licks, and they got sugar by tapping the sweet sap from maple trees. Once the meat was brined, it was smoked and loaded onto keelboats headed up the Ohio River. Riding along with the meat were barrels of lard, rendered down from bear fat, as well as stretched and dried bear hides. All of it was sold in the eastern settlements. In one particularly productive season, Boone brought to market the meat and by-products of 155 black bears.

? Steven Rinella, “First Catch Your Bear: Recipe for Smoked Black Bear Ham,” Cured v.1, Fall 2016

I had a coonskin cap when I was a wee lad, and I can still sing the Daniel Boone theme song. Not sure I can imagine Patricia Blair boiling down bear fat and living in a lean-to, any more than I can imagine Fess Parker being an “Indian fighter”. I mean … the bad Indians, sure, but Daniel Boone was a great friend to the good Indians like Mingo. Right?

Of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, … none more becoming to a free man.

? Cicero (106 – 43 BC)

Men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men.

? Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

The land is ours. We are the land’s.

Robert Frost wrote a similar line to lead off a patriotic anthem (“The Gift Outright”), most famously delivered at JFK’s inauguration when he was 87 years old. The poem rings poorly to the modern ear. Too jingoistic. Too rah-rah. But there’s a deeper meaning, I think, whether Frost intended it or not. The land is ours. There is a freedom that comes from working one’s own land, a groundedness — in the truest sense of the word — that was the foundation of Roman civilization and the republican virtues that inspired Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the rest of the Founders gang.

But the land owns us, too. That encompasses nationalism and patriotic duty, for sure, which is how I think Frost meant it. It also encompasses civic and social duty, which is how I mean it. This is the price of civilization, that we allow ourselves to be the land’s. It’s a price worth paying.

Regular Epsilon Theory readers may know that I’m originally from Alabama but now live out in the wilds of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Politically this is a failed state, but it’s still a beautiful one, and we’ve had nothing but happiness raising our four daughters here on a “farm” of 44 acres. I put that word in quotations because although we have horses and sheep and goats and chickens and bees, my grandfather — who owned a pre-electrification, pre-refrigeration, pre-pasteurization dairy farm in Alabama during the 1920s and 1930s — would surely have a good belly laugh at the notion of calling this a “farm”. But it’s a farm to us, and it’s been the bedrock for how we’ve educated our girls, who along with their mother do every bit of the work required to keep these animals alive (except for the bees, which are my thing, and anything that requires using the tractor). There are lessons from training a mustang to take a saddle, from shearing a sheep, from watching how goats defend the weak and how chickens torture the weak … lessons that have made my daughters strong and wise way beyond their years … lessons that you can’t get anywhere else but a farm.

It’s been a learning experience for me, too, of course. The dilettante farmer has been a stock comedic character since Cicero’s day, and Eddie Albert on Green Acres is a farming savant compared to me. One of the nice things about the land, though, is that it doesn’t hold a grudge. It forgives. Stick with it long enough and you can start figuring out the rhythms, or at least injure yourself less frequently. Plus, in case I wasn’t clear earlier, this is freakin’ Fairfield County, Connecticut. I’ve installed a really excellent wifi router in my barn so I can download instructional videos on, say, replacing the oil filter on my tractor. I expect Amazon Prime drone delivery service for said filter to start up any day now. And if all else fails it’s a 10-minute drive to a couple of really good bars where I can nurse my wounded pride with some artisanal Mezcal and whatever locally-sourced amuse-bouche the chef has whipped up that day. I mean, this isn’t exactly Grapes of Wrath material.

By the way, the joke in that last paragraph for farming cognoscenti is how easy it is to change an oil filter on a modern tractor. It’s a four-inch canister that pokes out from the engine. You literally unscrew

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