Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
June 2001

By Mark Skousen

Governments are generally reluctant to admit mistakes and to change mistaken policies until much harm has been done. -P.T. Bauer and B.S. Yamey

In Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?, a popular book in Egypt, author Galan Amin raises a good question. Thousands of years ago, Egypt was the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest civilizations, with remarkable advances in architecture, astronomy, mathematics and economics, and the pharaohs ruled the world for centuries.

But today Egypt is a fallen nation. My family and I visited Egypt for the first time last month, and we were appalled. Arriving in Cairo to see the ancient pyramids, we also saw filthy canals, undrinkable water, dire poverty, noisy traffic, teeming millions, incessant vendors and dust everywhere (due to cement factories nearby).

I picked up a copy of a guidebook on what it’s like for a Westerner to live in Cairo. The author, Claire Francy, lists so many shortages that she urges foreign residents to bring the following with them: answering machines, major appliances, computers, modems, printers, telephones, fax machines, cosmetics, flashlights, pantyhose, wines, books in English, clothes and shoes. Yes, shoes. “In a city with nearly as many shoe stores as feet, it is almost impossible to find decent shoes.” Oh, the joys of import substitution laws!

And yet, Egypt has tremendous resources: oil, cotton, some of the best fertile land in the world along the Nile Valley, a first-rate irrigation system, the Suez Canal, and a huge labor force (nearly 70 million and the population is growing rapidly, despite the common practice of female circumcision, which leaves women without sexual feeling but not without children). Yet true unemployment is 20% and underemployment is endemic. Egypt suffers from a huge “brain drain,” with 2.5 million Egyptians working abroad. The nation has illiteracy rates of 66% among women and 37% among men. It imports half of its food. After Israel, this Arab-African nation is the highest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world.

Anti-Market Policies

What’s the cause of this demise? The culprit is socialist interventionism in the economy. As one economist states, “The Egyptian economy bears the legacy of economic policies dating from the 1950s which were motivated by concern for equity and assistance to the poor. These policies were characterized by price regulation, subsidization of consumer goods, a dominant public sector and state control.” When Gamal Nasser gained power in 1954, he established a “democratic socialist state” and nationalized everything under the sun (including the local beer company) and dramatically increased government control of the economy. Moreover, under a Napoleonic code, Egypt suffers from a regulatory nightmare of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Fortunately, Nasser’s replacement, Anwar Sadat, began a program of reducing the role of government. After his tragic assassination in 1981, his successor, Hosni Mubarak, has accelerated market policies of privatization and foreign investment, and eliminated price and exchange controls. Yet, even today, 36% of the labor force is employed by the government, and the economy continues to suffer from overregulation and controls.

Egypt has made substantial progress since 1990, when the Fraser Institute ranked it #88 in its Economic Freedom report. Today it is ranked #52. But clearly the Egyptian leaders have a long way to go to fulfill the Koran’s promise of “wealth and children” as the “adornments of this present life.”

Are You A Company Man or An Entrepreneur?

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
May 2001

By Mark Skousen

The most dangerous advice you can give a child is “Go to school, get good grades, and look for a safe, secure job.” —Robert T. Kiyosaki, author Rich Dad, Poor Dad

I don’t normally write about the same book twice, but I received so many complaint letters about my attack on Rich Dad, Poor Dad last month that a follow-up is necessary. “I was stunned by your review,” wrote one subscriber. “My impression is very different from yours. Robert Kiyosaki comes off as someone who loves life and still has time for his two young boys fascinated by the world of business. Robert says it is the Rich Dad that has time for him, not the Poor Dad who is too busy climbing the job ladder and the rat race. Robert notes that in today’s volatile world there is no financial security—not by employers or government. You have to fill the void yourself through financial education and business entrepreneurship.”

My response: I have a mixed attitude about the philosophy behind Rich Dad, Poor Dad. In many places, he makes a lot of sense. I agree 100% that too many good people earn too little, spend too much and use their credit cards excessively, causing undue financial hardship and unpaid bills. I agree 100% that not enough time is spent in school educating young people on the virtues of self-discipline, budgeting, thrift, business acumen and entrepreneurship. I agree 100% that too many Americans have adopted a “bash the rich” and an “entitlement” mentality, believing that their company or government owes them a guaranteed life of benefits and security.

Kiyosaki favors the Rich Dad who sets his own hours and takes his chances in construction, chain stores and restaurants while he dabbles in real estate and penny stocks. He opposes the Poor Dad whose advice is, “Go to school, get good grades and look for a safe secure job.” He calls it “the most dangerous advice you can give a child” because in today’s global world, there’s no such thing as a safe, secure job. “That may be, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t work for several companies during your lifetime. Going out on your own as a capitalist/entrepreneur isn’t your only choice, and frankly, for most people it may not be the best choice.

Not everyone is cut out to be a capitalist/entrepreneur willing to go out on their own and invest in high-risk ventures. Most people prefer to work for a company. That’s fine—there’s no reason to be guilty about being an employee or executive of a big corporation. My advice is to work hard at that job, get up-to-date training, earn those raises, stay out of debt—and save and invest as much as possible. Many of my subscribers fit in this category.

Kiyosaki belittles his real father who had advanced degrees from Stanford and the University of Chicago but never could make ends meet as a school administrator in Hawaii. He was the Poor Dad who had little interest in “making money.” But Kiyosaki’s criticisms are misplaced. His dad’s troubles were not due to his non-pecuniary interests or in his working for the state of Hawaii. Poor Dad simply didn’t live by George Clason’s basic rules of The Richest Man in Babylon: Always save at least 10%, no matter how much you earn. That way you get richer every year, no matter what your lifestyle. Poor Dad could have been Rich Dad without taking any big risk in high-flying businesses or penny stocks. He could simply invest his 10% in index funds or even money market funds.

Who Gets Caught Up in the Rat Race?

I had to laugh when Kiyosaki accused his Poor Dad of getting caught up in the “rat race” of life with bigger homes and higher credit card bills. Believe me, the Rich Dad is also involved in the rat race. When you start your own business, that’s all you can think about. You will work 14 hours a day or more. Time for the kids and spouse? Forget it! Sure, you may show up to see your son play Little League, but more than likely you’ll be on your cell phone talking business. It’s the nature of the beast.

Rich Don’t Pay Taxes? Get Real!

One final comment. Kiyosaki boastfully declares, “The real reality is that rich are not taxed.” They use corporations and other tax breaks to beat the taxman. “It’s the middle class who pays.” That may have been the case a few years back, but not anymore. The rich are paying through the nose these days. Today the top 1% are paying over 30% of the federal income taxes. I know-I’m one of them. Sure, you may reduce your tax burden through corporations, but it’s harder and harder to escape taxes entirely.

In sum: Kiyosaki’s books are fine for self-employed risk-takers (and I’m one of them!). But for those who like working for others, don’t panic. You, too, can be a Rich Dad by following George Clason’s prudent formula, “A part of all you earn is yours to keep.”

Rich Investor, Poor Investor

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
April 2001

by Mark Skousen

“The poor and middle class work for money…. The rich have money work for them.”
—Robert T. Kiyosaki, author, Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Many of you may have read the best-seller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The author, Hawaiian-born Robert Kiyosaki, criticizes his own father, a high school teacher, for pursuing a traditional low-risk lifestyle. His “poor” dad advises his son to get a formal education, become a professional, get married and have kids, buy a nice middle-class home, and invest regularly in safe mutual funds and blue-chip stocks for long-term financial security. At one point, he refers to his father as “my socialist dad.”

But Robert is attracted more to his best friend’s dad, a seat-of-the-pants entrepreneur who runs a series of businesses out of his rundown home. His adopted “rich” dad takes a riskier approach—forget about a traditional education and profession. Be a risktaker and a dealmaker! Drop out of school and start your own business. His “rich” dad even advises that a house is a liability that ties up seed capital that could be used in a new business opportunity. This “rich” dad has no time for leisure or sports; his passion is all business and making another deal.

Robert rejects his “poor” dad’s conservative approach in favor of the high-risk adventures of the “rich” dad. He describes the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat going this route. Robert invests in income-producing real estate, business ventures and penny stocks. At one point in his mid-40s, he’s broke and sleeping in his car. But in the end, he reports, it pays off, and now he’s a multi-millionaire and a motivational speaker.

I admire hardworking, self-made entrepreneurs who honestly provide a better product and become rich. But it’s a big mistake to recommend this high-risk approach to everyone. Not everyone is suited to be a swashbuckling adventurer; most in fact are better off working for others and investing in free enterprise through the stock market.

Robert is wrong to criticize his father and his conservative investment strategies. There are many paths to the top of a mountain. Read George Clason’s Richest Man in Babylon.

I also dislike the arrogance and know-it-all attitude of the author. Sometimes he comes across as a jerk. It is simply wrong to suggest that owning a home without a mortgage is a “liability.” Businessmen who always have to make a deal, who can’t relax or enjoy spending time with the family, who can’t go out to dinner without talking business, who don’t enjoy reading, hobbies, or intellectual or spiritual pursuits, are not to be admired, but pitied. Robert Kiyosaki needs to read Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living (available from Laissez Faire Books, 800/326-0996 or click www.lfb.com). “Those who are too busy can’t be wise.”

What If Social Security Was Like a 401(k)?

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
December 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Of all social institutions, business is the only one created for the express purpose of making and managing change…. Government is a poor manager.” -Peter F. Drucker, “The Sickness of Government,” The Age of Discontinuity (1969)

In the ongoing debate over the privatization of Social Security, one story has been overlooked: The private sector in the United States has already solved its own pension fund crisis by converting their old “defined benefit” plans into individualized 401(k)s.

Here’s the story: After World War II, major U.S. companies added generous pension plans to their employee benefit programs. These “defined benefit” plans largely imitated the federal government’s Social Security plan. Companies placed funds into a large investment pool based on employees’ salaries, the trust fund was managed by company officials, and a monthly retirement income was projected for all employees when they retired at age 65.

The Old Pension Plan System Fails

But over the years, corporate executives recognized serious difficulties with their traditional pension plans, similar to the problems Social Security faces today. Corporations confronted huge unfunded liabilities as retirees lived longer and managers invested too conservatively in government bonds and blue-chip “old economy” stocks. Newer employees were also angered when they changed jobs or were laid off and didn’t have the required “vested” years to receive benefits from the company pension plan. Unlike Social Security, most corporate plans were not transferable. The Employment Retirement Income Security ACT (ERISA), passed in 1974, imposed regulations on the industry in an attempt to protect pension rights, but the headaches, red tape and lawsuits grew during an era of downsizing, job mobility and longer life expectancies.

The New Individualized Solution

The new corporate solution was a spin-off of another legislative invention-the Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The 401(k) rapidly became the business pension of choice, and there is no turning back. These “defined contribution” plans solve all the headaches facing traditional corporate “defined benefit” plans. Under 401(k) plans, employees, not company officials, control their own investments (by choosing among a variety of no-load mutual funds). Corporations no longer face unfunded liabilities because there is no guaranteed projected benefit. And workers and executives have complete mobility; they can move that, 401k savings to a new employer or roll it over into an IRA.

According to recent Labor Department statistics, there are about nine times more defined-contribution plans than defined-benefit plans. Almost all of the major Fortune 500 companies have switched to 401(k) plans or hybrid “cashbalance” plans. Companies that still operate old plans include General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Delta Airlines and The New York Times Company. IBM, a company that once guaranteed lifetime employment, switched to a “cashbalance” plan two years ago, giving its 100,000 employees an individual retirement account that they can take with them in a lump sum if they leave the company before retirement (long-service workers are still eligible for IBM’s old defined-benefit plan). But virtually all “new economy” companies, such as Microsoft, AOL and Home Depot, offer 401(k) plans only.

Congress could learn a great deal studying the changes corporate America has made in pension fund reform. Converting Social Security into personal investment accounts is a step in the right direction, a policy change already achieved in Chile and other nations. Unfortunately, government – unlike business – is not prone to innovation. As Peter Drucker notes, “Government can gain greater girth and more weight, but it cannot gain strength or intelligence.” Hopefully, Bush will prove me wrong.

UPDATES

Death of Leader, Communist Party USA: Two months ago, Gus Hall, 90, longtime leader of the Communist Party USA died. In reading Hall’s life story in The New York Times, I was reminded of my father’s own story as an FBI agent in the 1940s, when he was an undercover agent and spied on Gus Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1948, Hall was convicted of espionage under the Smith Act and spent eight years in prison. My father, Leroy Skousen, lived a fascinating life as a missionary, FBI agent, lawyer, and anticommunist speaker. His life has been written up in a book titled Thunder Broke the Heavens, available from Skousen Publishing Co., P.O. Box 2488, Winter Park, Florida 32790, $20 postpaid (checks/cash only).

How Many of You Are on Food Stamps?

Personal Snapshots
Forecasts & Strategies
November 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Middle of the road policy leads to socialism.” -Ludwig von Mises

At the recent San Francisco Money Show, I asked an audience of several hundred investors, “By a show of hands, how many of you are on food stamps?” Not a single hand went up. Then I asked, “How many of you are on Social Security or Medicare?” A third of the audience raised their hands.

Finally, I asked, “How many of you think you will be on the food stamp program during your lifetime?” Again, not a single hand went up. But when I asked how many would eventually go on Social Security or Medicare, almost everyone raised their hand.

My point was simple. The food stamp program is a social welfare program limited to the very poor; there’s a means test to qualify for food stamps, and most Americans attending investment conferences don’t need food stamps. On the other hand, Social Security and Medicare are universal social insurance plans. Everyone pays these taxes and at age 65 (sometimes earlier) they all participate, even though most Americans could afford their own pension program and health care insurance. Is there any wonder voters are more worried about Social Security/Medicare than they are about food stamps?

The following table shows the stark contrast between the food stamp program and Social Security/Medicare.

U.S. SOCIAL WELFARE SYSTEMS

Program Total
Coverage
Current
Recipients
Total
Annual Expenditures
Social
Security
180.0
million
44.2
million
$375
billion
Medicare 180.0
million
38.4
million
$215
billion
Food
Stamps
19.8
million
19.8
million
$17
billion

Note: Figures for Social Security and Food Stamps are for 1998, Medicare for 1997, the latest available.

Why Not “Foodcare”?

Suppose the President of the United States proposes a new welfare program called “Foodcare.” Since food is even more vital to each American citizen than health or retirement, he argues, the food stamp program should be expanded and universalized, like Social Security and Medicare, so that everyone qualifies for food stamps and pays for the program through a special “food stamp” tax. Congress agrees and passes new welfare legislation. Thus, instead of 19.8 million Americans on food stamps, suddenly 180 million or more begin paying the “food stamp” tax and collecting food stamps, representing perhaps 10% of household budgets. What effect do you think this universal “Foodcare” plan would have on the food industry? Would we not face unprecedented costs, red tape, abuse and powerful vested interests demanding a better, more comprehensive “foodcare”? And suppose “snacks” were not covered by “Foodcare”–wouldn’twouldn’t the general public start demanding that “snacks” be covered by the government because the cast of snack foods was rising too fast? Ludwig von Mises was right: “Middle of the road policies lead to socialism.”

Fortunately, there is no nightmarish “foodcare” program. Granted, there have been abuses and waste in the food stamp program, but the problems of efficiency are few compared to, say, Medicare. In fact, since 1995, the number of Americans on food stamps has declined from almost 27 million to under 20 million, and the costs have fallen from $22.8 billion to $16.9 billion. Yet has the size of Social Security or Medicare declined? Never.

Safety Net or Dragnet?

The conclusion is clear. Government welfare systems-if they should exist at allshould be limited to those who really need assistance. They should be safety nets, not dragnets that capture everyone. It was a tragic mistake to create a Social Security and a Medicare system where everyone became at some point a ward of the state. I’m convinced that if President Roosevelt had conceived Social Security in 1935 as a retirement plan for only those less fortunate to plan ahead financially, it would be a relatively inexpensive welfare program that would require taxpayers to pay at most 2%-3% of their wages/salaries to FICA, not 12.4% as they do today. If President Johnson had proposed Medicare in 1965 as a supplemental medical/ hospital plan limited to the needy, today taxpayers would be paying 0.5% of their wages/salaries to Medicare, not 2.9% as they do today. Instead, the systems were made universal, and the duplication is horrendous-and unnecessary.

Because we all pay in and we all benefit, we don’t always think straight about these “entitlements.” Example: A stockbroker recently told me about a client who called and complained bitterly about attempts by Congress to revamp Medicare. He angrily said, “They can cut spending all they want, but don’t touch my Medicare!” While the stockbroker listened patient to this man’s tirades, he pulled up the client’s account on his computer screen. He had an account worth $750,000! If anyone could afford his own medical insurance plan, it was this man. He didn’t need Medicare. Yet he saw Medicare as his right. He had paid into it all his life, and he deserved the benefits.

Imagine, what this man would be saying about Congress and food prices if we had “Foodcare.”

East and West

EAST AND WEST

“The enjoyment of books has always been regarded among the charms of a cultured life….” -Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living (1937)

One of the benefits of a cruise is that you get time to read new books. Most people read novels, but I prefer non-fiction. Two books caught my interest on my recent Australia-New Zealand cruise: East and West: China and the Future of Asia, by Christopher Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, and The Noblest Triumph, by Tom Bethell.

Both books have much in common. East and West is a fascinating account of the agonizing, yet inevitable, transfer of a free and prosperous British colony to a totalitarian and brutal communist regime. In his five years as governor (1992-97), Patten changed his views about the Asian economic miracle.

After World War II, Hong Kong was a poverty-stricken rock of only 400 square miles. Six million refugees poured in from mainland China. Over the years, Hong Kong has had no foreign aid, no natural resources, and has even had to import most of its water and food while being thousands of miles from its trading partners.

Hong Kong’s economic miracle can be explained, says Patten, “as an example of the benefactions of free trade and technological advance. It cannot be attributed to some continent-based value system. ‘Asian values’ has been a shorthand for the justification of authoritarianism, bossiness and closed collusion rather than open accountability in economic management.” He goes on to say, “Values are universal. So, too, is the case for market economics, which work everywhere better than any other economic system, and free and open economies perform most effectively in plural societies. Liberal economics and liberal democracy go hand in hand: Freedom, democracy, the rule of law, stability and prosperity…” (p.4)

THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPERTY RIGHTS

How does democratic capitalism achieve prosperity? That’s the subject of the second book, Tom Bethell’s The Noblest Triumph. Bethell says the key to stability and prosperity is the enforcement of property rights.

“When property is privatized, and the rule of law is established in such a way that all including the rulers themselves are subject to the same law, economies will prosper and civilization will blossom,” writes Bethell. Bethell goes on to say property rights include the right to use and transform the property, to buy and sell land, goods and other assets, to pass it along to your heirs, and to enforce contracts through an independent judicial system. Without property rights, all other rights mean little or nothing, as those who have lived under tyranny can testify. Bothell demonstrates that the Arabs, despite their vast oil riches, have remained relatively poor because Arabic governments don’t guarantee property rights against the state. He argues that the Irish starved during the potato famine of the 1840s because the British didn’t allow enough private ownership of Irish property. Are we in danger of losing our prosperity due to asset forfeitures, taxes, and government controls? Let’s hope not.

Bankrupt Millionaires

Personal Snapshots
Forecasts & Strategies
October 2000

Bankrupt Millionaires
by Mark Skousen

“In the midst of the biggest economic boom ever, millionaires are going bankrupt.” – Forbes (October 2, 2000)

Last March, I reported the findings of Professor Thomas J. Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind, that the rich are model citizens-frugal, well-educated, balanced, religious and happily married. But according to the October 2 Forbes, a growing number of millionaires are going bust. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and executives are declaring chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcies at record numbers during this time of prosperity, due to bad business decisions, poor budgeting, overuse of credit cards and divorce. I also know a few financial gurus who continue to dispense advice yet are strapped (but I won’t mention any names).

There are several important lessons here:

(1) An above-average income is no guarantee of financial success. Forbes describes individuals earning $300,000 a year, and some with assets exceeding $5 million, going under. Las Vegas singer Wayne Newton was earning a million dollars a year when he went bankrupt in the early 1990s. (He blamed it on his advisors for getting him into leveraged real estate projects.) Earning more money is not the answer to one’s financial problems-living within your budget is.

(2) Open-ended credit card and business debt is a major source of trouble. If you can’t pay off your credit cards every month, you are headed for trouble. Replace them with debit cards or the American Express card, which requires you to pay off your obligation every month.

(3) Avoid margin debt and leveraged business ventures. The majority of busted millionaires made the mistake of getting in over their heads in leveraged real estate deals and highflying stocks. In many cases, greed drove them to put too much of their savings into one risky scheme.

(4) Most importantly, always spend less than you make, year after year. This advice may sound simplistic, but I’m amazed at how often it is violated.

The Best Book on Avoiding Bankruptcy

There are some excellent books on the subject: Rich Man, Poor Man by Robert T. Kiyosaki, The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton or High Finance on a Low Budget, by my wife, Jo Ann, and me (all available through amazon.com). But the classic work on the subject is The Richest Man in Babylon (New Library edition). I require it in all my investment classes. It tells the story of Arkad: “In old Babylon there once lived a certain very rich man named Arkad. Far and wide he was famed for his great wealth. Also was he famed for his liberality. He was generous in his charities. He was generous with his family. He was liberal in his own expenses. But nevertheless each year his wealth increased more rapidly than he spent it.”

How could Arkad accomplish this financial miracle of being a big spender and yet still grow richer every year? Simple. Whether he earned a lot or a little, he always set aside at least 10 percent of his income, which he religiously saved and invested. He scrupulously avoided living beyond his means. Thus, in times when he earned more, he could afford to spend more-even as he added to his net worth.

My Financial Life Story

I read The Richest Man of Babylon when I was a young adult and have followed it ever since with great success. I started college with $50 in my pocket, but have always lived frugally. I pay cash for everything, including big-ticket items like cars. I seldom buy stocks on margin. I put aside 10%-20% of my income every year through my pension plan and Automatic Investment Plans (AIP) with various brokers. Like Arkad, I spend money liberally on my family, church, charities and other good causes (such as the Foundation for Economic Education). My only major debt was my home, and I paid off my mortgage several years ago, so I am totally debt free. Yes, I invest frequently in high-risk ventures, but I always diversify enough to keep out of trouble.

If you haven’t read The Richest Man in Babylon, I suggest you do so. It is entertaining and enlightening-and will keep you financially straight.

The Rise and Fall of an American Icon

Forecasts & Strategies
Personal Snapshots
August 2000

by Mark Skousen

“The Chief didn’t believe in the Protestant ethic or trust in Poor Richard’s aphorisms. A penny saved might be a penny earned, but a penny borrowed was worth even more.”
– David Nasaw, author The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst

In the past year, I’ve had the chance of visiting the two biggest mansions in the United States, the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, erected by the Vanderbilts, and the Hearst Castle, built by William Randolph Hearst. Both are monuments of capitalist extravagance, and both bankrupted the owners. The Vanderbilts never recovered and not a single Vanderbilt appears on today’s list of the Forbes 400 Richest People in America. The Hearst family was luckier and somehow survived the excesses of the Chief. Several of the Hearst sons are listed today as billionaires on the Forbes list.

In reading his latest biography, The Chief (Houghton Mifflin), I was surprised to learn that William Randolph’s father, George Hearst, started out as a forty-niner prospector who made a fortune in Homestake Mining and Anaconda Copper. He bought the San Francisco Examiner to advance his political career as a U.S. Senator. His only son, William, was trained by his ambitious mother, Phoebe, who took him overseas and sent him to private schools, where he learned Greek, Latin, French and German. Learning business and finance at a course in “political economy” at Harvard, he took over the Examiner and made it profitable. He had the patience to wait on his investments, which paid off handsomely in the future after heavy initial outlays. He was an incurable optimist, a necessary characteristic to succeed in business. Gradually, Hearst built his media dynasty throughout the nation, and wielded influence like no other publisher in American politics. He was the baron of publishing, just as Carnegie was in steel, Rockefeller in oil, and Morgan in banking.

But, sadly, Hearst omitted a cardinal principle of finance: Live within your means! His newspapers were mostly profitable, but he could never retain the earnings. He was a man of insatiable appetites-in politics, high society and personal possessions. He spent all his profits and borrowed to the hilt to make movies, live the high life with his actress-mistress, and build his dream homes (at his peak, he held over 40 homes, beach houses, castles and other kinds of real estate around the world). During the Great Depression of the 1930s, it all came crashing down, and in many ways he died a broken and friendless man.

William Randolph Hearst was bigger than life, but he could have learned from Poor Richard’s Almanac: “Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a great ship.”

A Tax by Any Other Name

Personal Snapshots
FORECASTS & STRATEGIES
July 2000

A Tax by Any Other Name
by Mark Skousen

“Do they realize that every measure leading to capital decumulation jeopardizes their prosperity?” – Ludwig von Mises

A tax by any other name….

Whether you call it an estate tax, an inheritance tax or a death tax, it’s all the same — a tax on capital!

Capital is the lifeblood of the economy. It builds and maintains our roads, buildings, bridges, water systems and other infrastructure. It educates our youth and trains our workers. It finances inventions and new technology. In short, capital is the engine of economic growth and makes possible a higher standard of living for all of us. In his 1920 best-seller The Economic Consequences of the Peace, the economist John Maynard Keynes hoped to see the day when capital would be “allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus of population,” resulting in an economic nirvana, with no “overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding.”

Keynes’s book warned about one of the greatest threats to capital formation-world war. But today the biggest threat to capital formation and economic growth is taxes, particularly estate taxes and capital gains taxes. Politicians call them “death” taxes and “profit” taxes, but these taxes have the same effect. They systematically reduce the pool of investment capital in the world, the seeds of economic progress. In 1999, the federal estate tax removed over $30 billion from the capital investment pool of this nation, and the capital gains tax removed over $100 billion-money sent to Washington that will never return to the private sector to be invested. What a tragedy!

I laud the House of Representatives for taking the “revolutionary” step of eliminating the federal estate-tax. But while one hand giveth, the other taketh away. The House also added to their “radical” bill a provision that would actually do worse-tax the gains on all inherited assets at the time of death! Under current law, heirs don’t have to pay taxes on capital gains of stocks and other assets inherited from a deceased loved one. They automatically receive a “stepped up” basis on all stocks, bonds, etc.But under the new law, that “stepped up” basis is eliminated.

So even under the new bill-if it ever becomes law-estate planning won’t go away. Lawyers and accountants don’t have to worry about seeking added work. They will be busy finding ways to get around the new rules that confiscate capital upon death.

My favorite strategy for avoiding the various capital/estate/wealth taxes is to quietly, privately and legally transfer assets to your heirs. In small amounts, this means investing in gold and silver coins, artworks and other collectibles, all of which can be easily given away. For larger estates, the best strategy involves trusts and foundations. As Larry Abraham says, “There’s never been a tax law without legal loopholes.”

Too Many Free-Market Think Tanks?

Personal Snapshots
FORECASTS & STRATEGIES
May 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Stimulating independent thought… is being done by all too few individuals and institutions, not only in the U.K. but here in the U.S. as well.” — Milton Friedman (1981)

Donating money to a few of my favorite free-market organizations used to be a pleasant duty, but now I’m literally inundated with demands from hundreds of think tanks and public-policy groups, all vying for my limited funds. Maybe you’re wondering if we really need so many foundations and political organizations.

Back in 1946, there was only one free-market organization in the United States: the Foundation for Economic Education, run by Leonard Read. If you were a classical liberal, you wrote for The Freeman (now Ideas for Liberty) and contributed to FEE. (I write a regular column called “Economics on Trial”; to subscribe, call 800/452-3518, only $35 a year! Or see their web site, www.fee.org) But then along came a British chicken farmer, Sir Anthony Fisher (1915-1988), who established the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. Tony was so enamored with the idea of setting up free-market foundations that he created an organization for the very purpose of creating more institutes around the world: The Atlas Economic Research Foundation, based in Fairfax, Virginia.

Over 350 Institutes in over 50 Countries

By going to their web site, www.atlas-fdn.org, you’ll discover its virtual directory, which contains the web site links of hundreds of public-policy institutes in 50 countries. Of course, the big names are there, such as Heritage, Cato and the American Enterprise Institute. But you’ll also find dozens of smaller, lesser-known groups in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Think tanks sometimes have an objective name, like the Independent Institute or the National Center for Policy Analysis, while others are purposeful and include in their title terms like reason, liberty, sound economy or free enterprise. Others are named after a location like Manhattan or Mont Pelerin. Many are linked to famous classical liberal philosophers like Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, James Madison, Alexis de Tocqueville, Lord Acton and Edmund Burke.

Atlas Leads the Charge

The Atlas Foundation doesn’t think there are enough think tanks. It has a section of its web site devoted to showing you how to set up your own institute. In “The Need for More Institutes,” Atlas quotes Milton Friedman (see above). I noticed several free-market think tanks devoted to environmental issues. None of them are very big. Maybe if they combined forces, they could offer a countervailing power” to the Sierra Club or Earth First.

The Growth of State Think Tanks

There are two strong arguments favoring an ever-growing number of educational foundations and public-policy think tanks. First, the wider number of institutes, the greater the ability to specialize and fulfill the needs of reformers. Adam Smith made this point in The Wealth of Nations. An expanding market permits greater specialization and higher consumer satisfaction.

For example, state and local organizations can deal with local issues. Recently a proliferation of state think tanks have attracted substantial sums and made valuable contributions: The Mackinac Center in Michigan, the James Madison Institute in Florida, the Sutherland Institute in Utah, the Cascade Policy Institute in Oregon. Clearly, these organizations are making fresh contributions and avoiding duplication.

Second, increased competition not only means more specialized demands are being met, but the total amount of contributions to free-market causes is maximized.

What is the optimal number of think tanks? The market test is the ultimate decision-maker: whatever the market will bear. Apparently the optimal level has not been reached. When I asked Mary Thoreau of the Independent Institute, “Are there too many think tanks?” her reply was succinct: “Is the world free? Is competition bad?”