Most articles have their own pages, and some have audio files as well. Brief summaries and links for each article are below. Please note that Articles highlighted in Green have been incorporated into the free Mini-Course, "Turning Inflation Into Wealth", where they have been placed in context and integrated into a larger body of work. The first page or two are still available at the links below, to find out more about the free Mini-Course click here. For all articles with titles not highlighted in green, the full text and audio are available through following the links below.
Puncturing Deflation Myths, Part 2 - False Lessons From Japan link here 3/18/09. In this Part II we will uncover three more logical fallacies as we: 1) Revisit our central question with regard to widespread theories about rapid and uncontrollable price deflation threatening symbolic currencies (“when has it ever happened in the real world?”) and review what actually happened with modern Japan; 2) Show the true peril experienced by Japan over the last 20 years, which is not monetary deflation but the much more deadly asset deflation; 3) Uncover the extraordinarily dangerous logical fallacy that results from confusing the two types of deflation, and how this fallacy is currently leading millions of investors to mistakenly believe the value of their money is protected by bad economic times – when it has no protection at all; and 4) Briefly discuss why individual investors need to leave conventional financial wisdom behind and explore “outside of the box” solutions to these pressing issues.
Puncturing Deflation Myths, Part 1 - Inflation During The Great Depression link here 2/12/09 In this article we will: 1) Ask a crucial real world question about deflation theories; 2) Revisit the US Great Depression with a focus on 1933 rather than 1929; 3) Show that the central monetary lesson of the US Depression is not the unstoppable power of deflation, but rather, the historical proof of how a sufficiently determined government can smash monetary deflation and replace it with inflation – at will and almost instantly, even in the midst of a depression; 4) Examine two historical and logical fallacies that lead to the mistaken (albeit widespread) belief that the Depression proves the modern deflationary case, when it in fact proves the opposite; and 5) Briefly discuss the third logical fallacy that threatens many investors’ standards of living over the years to come, particularly those who are retired or investing for retirement.
AIG's Dangerous Collapse & A Credit Derivatives Risk Primer link here 9/17/08. While it may look superficially similar to the recent implosions of such investment giants as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman, the takeover and bailout of AIG is quite different, and means that the market is entering the next and even more dangerous phase. What is driving the fall of AIG – and potential government losses that may far, far exceed the $85 billion bailout announced late on September 16th - is not mortgages or real estate (directly), but fears that AIG’s huge, global credit-default swap positions will unravel. The $62 trillion dollar credit derivatives market is 50 times the size of the subprime mortgage derivatives market, and is indeed larger than the entire global economy.
Unfortunately, few people understand credit derivatives, or the full risks to the United States and global markets and economies. In this article, I will take a Credit Derivatives Primer that I published in the spring of 2008 - which anticipated this exact type of event - and update it for the current situation. Through reading this article, you should be able to greatly increase your knowledge of what credit derivatives are, and why they are a far greater danger than subprime mortgages. We will end with introducing some concepts about how individuals can protect themselves and even profit from these unprecedented market conditions – something you won’t find in recent financial history or conventional investments.
The Hidden Bailout Of $1.4 Trillion In Fannie / Freddie Credit-Default Swaps link here 9/10/08. Something extraordinary happened on Monday, September the 8th, 2008. The government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac triggered the pending settlement of $1.4 trillion in credit-default swaps. This single event could have led to a cascading series of failures that might have bankrupted Wall Street – and much of the rest of the financial world – by the end of the week. That isn’t happening, and indeed, the media is treating this as something close to a non-event. However, a very real $1.4 trillion event happened – whose resolution effectively constitutes one of the largest government bailouts in history. Nobody noticed, for even though this is occurring in “plain sight”, the simple fact is that few people outside of the financial industry understand the $600 trillion derivative securities market. In this article, written the day after the event, we will briefly explain why this hidden, massive bailout - not of Fannie and Freddie but of the financial derivatives industry - is hugely significant, with potentially profound – and arbitragable – implications for the dollar, the markets and your personal financial future.
Real US Housing Losses Are $6 Trillion link here 9/5/08. Actual losses in the US real estate market are much higher than what you have been reading in the newspapers recently. Using a combination of official government statistics and the most widely used index of housing values, we will demonstrate that the US real estate market has lost a total of $6 trillion in value in the last two years. We will show that an average house that was worth about $226,000 in 2006 is, once you adjust for inflation, down to a real value of only about $160,000. To put what a $6 trillion loss is into perspective, we will show that when all factors are taken into account, the two year drop in US real estate values is equivalent to wiping out the entire retirement savings of all 78 million Baby Boomers, and annual housing losses are close to the annual GDP of China. We will close by talking about how this national disaster creates major personal profit opportunities for people who can learn to look beyond the false number of nominal dollars and into the reality of how wealth is rapidly redistributed during times of economic turmoil.
2008 US Elections & Quadrupling The Inflation Tax link here 8/14/08. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has proposed increasing the capital gains tax from 15% to 25%. Unfortunately, the biggest component of investment taxes during inflationary times is not taxation of economic income, but taxation of the government’s destruction of the value of its own currency. As we will explore in the article below, the 1-2 combination of higher inflation and higher investment taxes may mean a quadrupling of the effective real tax rate in 2009. This will have the effect of turning the capital gains tax into an effective asset tax, where all real economic earnings plus a percentage of investment principal are taken through taxation – unless investors take self-defense measures.
Please note that this is a nonpartisan article about finance and economics, with no political judgments made, and with implications that go far beyond just the United States.
Mining Mergers & Three Wealth Creation Tools link here 6/24/08. The hottest area for mergers and acquisitions has moved from financial firms to acquiring metals mines. Using the illustration of a $100 billion mega-acquisition, we will show how this strategy can dovetail with the destruction of the dollar to create a new class of mega-wealthy investors, with a $5 billion equity investment reaping a $1.5 TRILLION profit in the example shown. We will then clearly and succinctly demonstrate that the biggest source of these potential profits in real terms does NOT come from where the press articles would have you believe, but is the result of three distinct wealth creation tools. Tools that can also be used by smaller investors to create their own personal inflation-arbitrage strategies.
Credit Derivatives Dangers In 2008 & Beyond (A Primer) link here 5/2/08. The credit derivatives market is roughly 30 times the size of the subprime mortgage market – and potentially even more at risk in the coming years. In the previous article, The Subprime Crisis Is Just Starting, we explored the roots of the subprime crisis, demonstrated how mortgage securitizations work, and then used this knowledge to show why 2008 could be a much more dangerous year for the subprime mortgage markets – and the global financial system – than 2007. In this article, we show how the same fundamental – and quite human – motivations that created the subprime market crisis also imperil the $35 trillion global credit derivatives market.
The Subprime Crisis Is Just Starting link here 3/20/08. As the author of three books on mortgage finance and related derivative securities, and speaking as someone who first turned mortgages into rated securities in 1983, I’m going to let you in on an unfortunate little secret – the real subprime mortgage securitization crisis may not have even started yet. But, there is a good chance the real crisis will arrive soon.
This assertion that the crisis could just be getting started may seem absurd and extraordinarily out of touch. What about the approximately 45,000 homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure in the United States every month? What about the 8.9% plunge in nominal housing prices in 2007, the largest decline in over 20 years? What about Bear Stearns losing 94% of the value of its stock in 2 days, with even the remaining 6% in value being based on an unprecedented loan from the Fed before JP Morgan would agree to the acquisition? How much worse could it get?
Deflation Meets Inflation: Real Estate In 2007 & Beyond link here 3/6/08. It has been widely reported that the United States housing market fell by 8.9% in 2007. As we will explore in this article – when we include inflation, the real decline in single-family home values was 50% higher than reported. For 2007 was not just the worst year for housing in the 20 year history of the S&P/Schiller index, but the worst year for inflation in 17 years. The forces of asset deflation were not battling the forces of monetary inflation – they were working as a team to pull down the real net worth of tens of millions of homeowners.
As we will see, there is no time that monetaryinflation is more deceptive – or dangerous – than when it is working with asset deflation, its oftentimes partner in crime. What happens when monetary inflation meets asset deflation is not understood by most of the population. Hidden within the convergence of those two fundamental forces will be the likely “solution” to the current housing crisis, as well as opportunities for astute individuals to protect and even increase their net worth during a time of falling real home prices. (This article is part of the Why Inflation Will Trump Deflation series, and contains Reason Five. It can be read on its own, and does not require reading the previous articles in advance.)
Fed Interest RateManipulation Subsidizes Wall Street & Cheats Small Investors (Inflation Reasons 3-4) link here 2/28/08. A manipulated market is a market that is rife with arbitrage opportunities. In this article we will examine a federally sponsored market manipulation that is currently happening on a massive scale. The Federal Reserve has forced short-term borrowing and investment rates down to levels well below the rapidly rising rate of inflation. By taking this desperate measure to inflate the money supply, even as the Producer Price Index hits a 26 year high and the Consumer Price Index hits a 17 year high, the Fed is making clear its true priorities – it will destroy the value of the dollar and sacrifice the long term value of people’s savings, rather than allow Wall Street to feel the full pain of the mistakes and greed that led to the subprime debacle.
As explained in the article, this intervention also has the effect of reducing real investor yields across almost all financial asset categories, effectively cheating small investors for the benefit of major investors. For those individual investors who are knowledgeable, this quite deliberate manipulation can be turned from a net worth danger into a potentially lucrative arbitrage opportunity, as introduced at the end of the article.
Why Inflation Will Trump Deflation (Reasons 1-2) link here 2/21/08. In this first article of a series, we will discuss why the answers to the inflation versus deflation debate won’t be found in impersonal mathematical equations – but the quite personal factors of human incentives and motivations. We will show how inflation always trumps deflation with sufficient government willpower – there is simply no contest. We will show how that willpower is already being unequivocally demonstrated today, and why the results of that willpower will ultimately likely be the annihilation of most of the value of the dollar and conventional investor assets. We will close by briefly discussing how investors can not only survive, but profit from the destruction of the dollar.
Real Investment Tax Rate Is 256% Higher Than Stated (1972-2007 Illustrated) link here 1/31/08. Using simple to follow graphs and charts, in this article we will revisit the last 35 years, and show how your true historic tax rate on your investments may have been 256% higher than what appeared on your tax returns. We will then show how the hidden inflation component of taxation will likely grow still higher compared to the nominal tax rate in the years to come, and may reach confiscatory levels where all real investor income and economic growth is taken through taxes, even while nominal tax rates don’t necessarily rise at all. We will close by introducing some ways for investors to turn this problem into an opportunity.
Inflation Index Manipulation: Theft By Statistics (link (here) 12/18/07 If the United States government was an individual or corporation, and we looked at the obligations it has entered into for the decades ahead – it would be bankrupt. However, the federal government is not an individual or corporation, and has powers that make these bankruptcy analogies quite dangerous for investors who take them to heart. Thinking the United States may go bankrupt means focusing on a danger that isn’t real, while missing the dangers that are real – which are the methods the government can use to avoid bankruptcy, and the devastating impact of those methods upon retirees, salaried workers and many investment strategies.
The government’s effective immunity frombankruptcy can be found in two separate but related governmental powers: 1) the government controls the money supply, meaning it controls the degree of inflation (in broad terms); and 2) the government also controls the official inflation indexes. Many people are aware that there will likely be a major squeeze coming up that means future beneficiaries will receive much less than current beneficiaries in purchasing power terms. The contribution of this article is to flesh out how the specifics can work, and demonstrate how through steady and somewhat hidden pressure, the value of promises can be gradually stripped away even as a generation of retirees is impoverished.
$2 Million Per Household Means Doom For Dollar (link here) 11/01/07 What is the total cost of all United States retirement promises and expectations, and what are the implications for the dollar? In this article we are going to follow a five step process to find a startling answer to that question – approximately $2 million per able to pay household. We will find that our answer is an impossible sum – if the dollar in the future is worth anything close to a dollar today. Far too many symbols have been promised relative to the actual resources that will available – meaning doom for the dollar. We will close by discussing how through understanding this issue – we can find the means to turn it from major societal problem into potentially lucrative individual opportunities for building wealth on a long-term and tax-advantaged basis.
Seizing Your Assets To Cover Retirement Promises: How The Government May Do It (link here) 9/19/07 The higher the rate of future inflation – the more of your current net worth belongs to the government. Many investors do not realize the powerful financial incentives the government will have to boost inflation rates in order to pay for extraordinarily expensive Boomer retirement promises. From the government’s perspective, high inflation rates offer the ability to transform after-tax investor assets into pre-tax income, which can then be taken from individuals through the “Inflation Tax.” With substantial inflation, running the gauntlet of taxes once or twice is not enough, and even your after-tax net worth can be repeatedly raided under government tax policy, by using the pretext of non-existent income – that was itself created by government fiscal policy.
In this article, we will precisely demonstrate the way this deeply unfair wealth seizure strategy works, and the multiple levels of challenges it presents. We will review the particularly severe potential implications for conventional investors, and illustrate by example how the one-two combination of inflation and the inflation tax could mean that a DJIA of 75,000 by 2027 could translate into a 73% reduction in real investor net worth. We will briefly discuss investor solutions, some advantages of tangible assets, and close by introducing the concept of taking advantage of the government’s inflation blindness to Reverse the Inflation Tax, so that instead of paying real taxes on illusory income, investors can pay illusory taxes on real income.
Finding Beauty Within The Inflationary Beast (link here) 8/23/07. In this article we will meet a ravenous Beast that goes by the name of Substantial Inflation, and find out just how difficult it is to keep this Beast from shredding our investment portfolios and consuming our real net worth. Next, we’re going to find out how the exact same inflationary conditions which create the Beast, also simultaneously and necessarily create a ravishing Beauty. An easily available Beauty with a most desirable figure, for she generates after-tax and after-inflation benefits that are equivalent to a conventional investment earning 27% per year. As we continue to mangle our fairy tale metaphors, we will find out what happens when Beauty pairs up with a Prince, and how our portfolios can live happily ever after.
Apple Pie, Economic Growth & Fatal Stock Market Flaws (Audio recording & text transcript on separate page, link here) 4/24/07. In this essay we add up the pieces of investment pie we all expect to enjoy in retirement, and compare them to the economic pie that will be available. Unfortunately, the sum of what everyone expects to eat greatly exceeds what will likely be available in goods and services. We briefly go inside the financial equations that most of the public relies upon for their investment assumptions, explore the differences between hypothesized investor behavior and real financial history, and discover a simple series of fatal flaws, that show why we can all build our paper wealth together – but we can’t cash it out together.
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Inflation Pickpocket -- How Scott Used Inflation To Separate Peter From His Net Worth (link here) 4/4/07. “Inflation is not an even game, it is not a fair game, and we are not all in this boat together. For inflation is not about destroying everyone’s wealth – it is about redistributing that wealth, and if you don’t understand this, then it will likely be your wealth that will be getting redistributed.” From that beginning, we use a morality play in three acts to discover how individuals can use inflation to quite directly take net worth from other individuals – and the implications for personal protection and profits.
The Great Game, Gold Arbitrage & Three Little Pigs (link here) 3/13/07. We start with something that is deeply and fundamentally unfair: some of the very Great Game players who are risking financial collapse for all of us through their actions, are also positioning themselves for enormous personal profits if the dollar does collapse. Using the story of the Three Little Pigs, we revisit history and explore a way that individual investors can use similar strategies to survive and prosper during times of financial turmoil.
Publication of New Book: The Secret Power Within Your Mortgage (link here) 2/28/07
The Boomer Effect: Market Disaster or Arbitrage Opportunity? (Audio recording & text transcript on separate page, link here) 11/09/06. This is the most conceptually challenging of the articles to follow, and drew the least initial reader interest. It is also the article that keeps going and going, for it is the most e-mailed of the “back” articles on the website, and some weeks can draw almost as much traffic as the rest of the articles combined – six months after publication. Read or listen to this essay, and discover why an interlocking set of upcoming major problems also constitute what may be the greatest set of arbitrage opportunities we will see in our careers.
Pirates Of The Boomer Bust! (The Investor of the Future, on separate page, link here) 10/19/06. “For the Boomers took their best corporate treasure galleons, loaded them so high with extravagant financial promises to themselves that the decks were barely above water, attached a flotilla of pension and health care promises to be dragged behind them, and then sent them off to sail on a multi-decade voyage into that sea of creative destruction known as capitalism. A sea where the future turned out to be like the past after all – unpredictable and full of storms.” Sail the seven seas with the young pirate who might (or might not) buy your retirement investments in this essay…
Fed Chairman Bernanke & Boomer Demographics (link here) 10/05/06. In this article we explore a major speech by Fed Chairman Bernanke in which he states: “In coming decades, many forces will shape our economy and our society, but in all likelihood no single factor will have as pervasive an effect as the aging of our population”, and “the aging of the population is likely to lead to lower average living standards than those that would have been experienced without this demographic change.” We then go on to show why following the common advice for avoiding these problems instead locks us into buying high and selling low, and how our perspective turns upside down when consider the interests of the following generations.
Publication of New Book: “THE SECRET POWER WITHIN YOUR MORTGAGE: Use Historically Proven Methods to Protect Your Net Worth Against a Fall in the Dollar & Prosper During Inflationary Times – Updated With Modern Hedge Fund Techniques & Optimized With Your Insider Knowledge”.
I listened carefully to what I learned from readers in their letters, and what you are seeking. In brief, what people want most is solutions. So, I moved my planned book number four up to book number two, and have just published The Secret Power Within Your Mortgage, a 200 page book of applied solutions that is available at the website link below (as well as the main site):
There is plenty of information available on that site including a free sample chapter, but let me sum it up with three points:
1) If you think the markets aren’t properly priced for the risk levels – the answer is not to run from these problems. Instead, you should seek to protect yourself from the downside even as you simultaneously attempt to exploit the mispricing for your personal gain. This is a detailed book about one practical and historically proven method of doing so, that is accessible to most people.
2) In the 1970s and 1980s, a major bout of inflation caused one of the greatest transfers of wealth in American history, from financial institutions to average Americans. This was a transfer that essentially bankrupted an entire industry, that of Savings & Loans. The financial losses that devastated an industry didn’t occur in a vacuum – but were directly tied to the enormous benefits being realized by millions of households, benefits that still form the core of the net worth of many people today. If we are concerned about another upcoming bout of inflation, and we seek to not only protect ourselves but to take advantage of it – then we need to fully understand what happened the last time
3) Sometimes if the front door is locked, you need to check out the back door. If direct asset purchases are problematic, and your net worth is equal to your assets less your liabilities – liability management becomes your back door. A back door which is standing wide open -- and constitutes a highly effective way of shorting the value of the dollar in a long-term and tax-advantaged manner.
Thanks for your time and best regards,
Dan Amerman (02/28/07)
(The above is the first letter to go out to subscribers in four months. While I hope to send letters a little more frequently in the future, I have no interest in cluttering up your already too full mailbox. You will only hear from me when I have something to say -- something that will hopefully be of value to you. You can sign up for a free subscription here if interested.)
By coincidence, even as The Great Retirement Experiment website officially launches, Benjamin S. Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has just made a substantive speech about the powerful economic changes that the aging of the Baby Boom will bring to the United States. Here are three selected quotes from his speech to the Washington Economic Club on October 4th, 2006
“In coming decades, many forces will shape our economy and our society, but in all likelihood no single factor will have as pervasive an effect as the aging of our population.”
“…the aging of the population is likely to lead to lower average living standards than those that would have been experienced without this demographic change. How that burden of lower living standards is divided between the present and the future has important implications for both intergenerational fairness and economic efficiency.”
“…each worker’s output will have to be shared among more people. Thus, all else being the same, the expected declines in labor force participation will reduce per capita real GDP and thus per capita consumption relative to what they would have been without population aging.”
(Click here for the
full text of Bernanke’s important speech.)
For the last seven years I have been developing a body of work that basically says that the fundamental factors of workers per consumer and per capita real GDP are what really matter, and that these will determine the boundaries within which the fate of the Boomers’ retirements and retirement investments will be found. That the focus on the Social Security trust fund, and the exponential projections of historical investment returns for the financial future of the Boomers, are looking at the wrong factors. After having felt like a bit of heretic in the financial wilderness when reading so many hundreds of articles that miss the underlying fundamentals over those years, it is gratifying to see that at least the Chairman of the Fed gets it, and he sees those exact same measures as being the vital ones.
All that said, and with respect, I do vigorously disagree with much of what Bernanke has said, and I feel so strongly about those disagreements with the way that many economists and financial professionals see the future, that I wrote a book about it. Or more accurately, I’ve written three books (though the second two are still presently in rough draft form), with more books to follow behind those. Here are a few comments, many of which tie into Bernanke’s language later in the speech.
1. As a classically trained economist who has likely thought classic economic thoughts throughout his academic career, Bernanke apparently sees savings in classic economic terms: there is a permanent shortage of funds for capital projects of merit, and we must defer current consumption to build the factories and develop the technologies, that will allow us all to enjoy higher standards of living in the future. True enough for the 18th and 19th centuries, and even much of the 20th century. But the investment world of the early 21st century is a world awash in paper wealth. The low interest rates of recent years, as well as the savings by the Boomers and their international counterparts, have filled the system with cash for investments, with too few available capital projects of genuine merit to spend that cash upon. This shortage of desirable projects has led to some of the lowest risk premiums (and highest prices) in history, as trillions of dollars chase around the world, investing in high risk securities which carry historically irrational low premiums for that risk – because returns have to be found somewhere. Cranking up the paper wealth another notch, absent any other changes, just reduces the risk premiums another notch – or phrased alternatively, increases the irrationally high price paid by the buyers.
2. At the other end of long term investing lies the future when we cash out, the subject of the books and pamphlets herein. As Bernanke discusses, because of the decline in workers relative to consumers, there is highly likely to be a decline in the per capita GDP growth rate, and therefore “lower average living standards” than there would otherwise have been. Unfortunately, underlying the current high market prices as all that paper wealth seeks a home, are long term assumptions of unending growth in prosperity. Remove that assumption of unending exponentially compounded growth in consumer spending, and justifiable market price levels implode. While he may not have meant it in this way, the bottom line of what Bernanke advocates is to push up the price of investments today, in preparation for when security prices implode as part of reaching those “lower average living standards”, even as the ratio of investment buyers to sellers is simultaneously declining. Fine from a grand economic perspective – but do you want to dedicate your personal retirement savings to a strategy of buy high and sell low?
3. Chairman Bernanke is a powerful man in his prime of life, and my interpretation of his comments, is that he is sharing in the biggest mistake that most of the Boomers are collectively making, as we financially prepare for retirement. In his discussion of generational fairness, and whether we are laying undue burdens on the generations behind the Boomers, it becomes clear that he seems to believe that we can control what will be happening legally and economically in fifteen years and thirty years. Nonsense! The generations who will be running the world and buying the Boomers investments when we have retired will not be our helpless and passive pawns, trapped by the promises that we have made to ourselves today. No more so than we passively follow the dictates of policymakers during the Nixon and Carter administrations. We can strongly influence the future – but we cannot control it, and in our hubris we risk creating incentives so powerful, that the generations behind us may have no choice (when acting in their own self-interest) but to effectively dismantle our attempts to control the future. With a myriad array of tools at their disposal, as discussed in the second and third books. Bernanke does make references to reducing entitlements and high tax burdens reducing economic growth, but the implications go far beyond there, with particularly profound implications for long-term investing. For the exchange over time of real wealth between generations is not a contract we can make today (at least not an enforceable one) – but is itself a negotiated marketplace. A marketplace where the negotiations between generations occur anew each and every year, even as the real wealth of goods and services are created anew each year.
Posted by Dan Amerman, October 5th, 2006
The author worked hard in the pamphlets and books to keep them understandable by someone who has never had a finance or economics course in their life. As a professional who has worked with a financial institution client base for almost 25 years, this is difficult to do, and I frequently had to leave out the things I really wanted to say. So, in the commentaries above, I sometimes release myself from those self-imposed limits, for a conversation that assumes a certain degree of economic and financial knowledge.
I like to read blogs, but can make no commitment to write one daily or even weekly, my priority needs to stay with the books, pamphlets and clients. Check back as you like, and while it is not the top of the priority list, this will eventually be moved to more of a blogger format with RSS, links, and more blog functionality.
This website, including the pamphlets, books and recordings, contains the ideas and opinions of the author. It is a conceptual exploration of general economic principles, and how people may – or may not – interact in the future. As with any discussion of the future, there cannot be any absolute certainty. What this website does not contain is specific investment, legal or any other form of professional advice. If specific advice is needed, it should be sought from an appropriate professional. Any liability, responsibility or warranty for the results of the application of principles contained in the website, pamphlets, recordings, books and other products, either directly or indirectly, are expressly disclaimed by the author.