While many Hillsdale students may dream of living and working in New York, few New Yorkers would consider leaving their office on Madison Avenue to go to school in south-central Michigan. But that’s just what sophomore Jonathan Bauman did after his second year working in New York as a junior broker.
In the summer of 2015, Bauman had just graduated high school and was ready to enroll at Florida State University in the fall when his brother asked him about working with him at Schiff Gold, a gold broker in New York City.
“My brother was doing very well, and the company was growing and wanted to hire on more junior brokers,” Bauman said. With the reference of his brother, Schiff hired Bauman and he started in August to train for a year, making close to 200 calls a day.
Bauman found success in his position as a gold broker and was promoted. For seven months longer he worked at Schiff, which he said helped him develop many valuable skills.
“I learned discipline,” Bauman said. “Those outbound calls build grit. When you call 20 people in a row and 19 say no, it makes you tougher.”
On top of that, Bauman said, he learned about the industry.
“I learned a lot about gold and finance, because gold, while not a financial asset, is always discussed in the context of investments. The reason why someone would want gold is a question of financial economics.”
But the daily routine eventually got to him, he said, and soon he started to look for something more.
“You wake up in the morning, bolt to the subway, and the whole time you’re not cognizant of anyone around you. You put in your time and you do your job, and then you’re too tired to do anything beside just go home, put on Arrested Development, and call it a night,” Bauman said.
Living in New York, while a great experience, eventually became a limiting force to his aspirations.
“I’ve always loved to learn, and it’s hard to learn broadly when you work in a specific job. When I was working, I learned a lot about finance and about how the specific industry works, but I didn’t learn about philosophy, or even German,” Bauman said. “When you work for 10 hours a day, you may not have the mental energy to study something you like, and Hillsdale offered the chance to be intentional about education in a community that’s aimed at a specific purpose.”
So, with all that he had come to learn about gold and its place in the financial sphere, Bauman became interested in Hillsdale.
“That’s a huge reason I came to Hillsdale,” Bauman said. “After learning about financial economics, I wanted to learn economics at Hillsdale.”
In fact, the owner of the gold brokerage, Peter Schiff, is known among the economics department.
“When I visited Hillsdale, I talked to Dr. Steele and Dr. Pongracic and they knew who Peter Schiff was,” Bauman said.
His stance in financial markets make him well suited to be known by libertarian-minded economists, according to Bauman.
“He gives recommendations on where the market is going to go. One of his biggest things he called was the 2007 financial crisis, where he put $10 to 20 million on a trade that shorted housing,” Bauman said. “Since then, he’s become a famous contrarian.”
Associate Professor of Economics Charles Steele, who is libertarian-minded, became aware of Schiff because of the financial crisis.
“He has a good understanding of economics,” Steele said. “He was spot-on in predicting the 2007 recession and 2008 financial crisis, when others, such as economist Arthur Laffer, got it completely wrong and were caught entirely off guard.”
He said while there’s no specific libertarian stance on gold, many libertarians like the idea of gold because it exists outside governments.
“Libertarianism holds individual liberty as the highest political principle, so of course libertarians are quite wary of giving governments much power. Many of us don’t believe the government should be given the power to control the money supply,” Steele said. “Hence there’s often libertarian support for commodity money, such as gold.”
While somewhat reverse, Bauman’s path actually follows a logical track toward where he’s at now. Gold trading is naturally a contrarian-style asset, according to Bauman, meaning that it’s a hedge against the financial markets. Because gold brings with it a libertarian approach to economics, many people in the field are likely to believe in that strain of economics, which Hillsdale’s economics department teaches so well.
For example, Hillsdale’s patron economist Ludwig von Mises ended up on this side of the argument surrounding monetary control.
“Mises argued the relevant question isn’t what will be money, it’s whether market participants or government decide what is to be money,” Steele said.
Though the economic angle is what excited Bauman about the college, he said his passion for learning took him away from economics and toward the study of German.
While on campus, the skills he learned at Schiff translated well into his ability to connect with his peers, as junior Jackson Frerichs recalls. Frerichs, who served as president of the Hillsdale College Investments Club, spent an evening in August talking to Bauman about gold in the context of personal investing.
“What I distinctly remember besides him being personable and fun to hang out with were his reasons for buying gold instead of bitcoin as a capital preservation as opposed to seeking a high return on investment,” Frerichs said.
From Tallahassee, to New York, to Hillsdale, and, for the spring/summer term, to Saarbrucken, Germany, Bauman said he’s happy with where the journey took him.
“FSU is nothing like Hillsdale,” he said. “It’s much more my dream school than what FSU could have been.”