Record Crowd at FreedomFest 2009

“This was the best FreedomFest yet.  Congratulations!” –John Mackey, CEO, Whole Foods Market

Highlights of FreedomFest 2009:

  • Nearly 1700 people attend this year’s FreedomFest (21% increase)
  • More than 200 register at the door
  • All Star Prediction Panel forecasts more pain ahead
  • Charles Gasparino, CNBC’s #1 reporter, calls for abolishing the SEC
  • Las Vegas Mayor steals show at Trial of the Century
  • Liberty Editors Conference is SRO
  • Amazing “mathemagician” is this year’s mystery speaker
  • Five historic figures inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame
  • Steve Forbes attends all 3 days and dances to the music of the Beatles
  • Sing a libertarian version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”
  • Media coverage by C-SPAN, LA Times, Reasontv, Newsmax, and more!

Dear Friends of Liberty,

One attendee called this year’s FreedomFest a “phenomenon.”  Over 100 speakers, 95 exhibitors and 1700 attendees showed up at “the world’s largest gathering of free minds” July 9-11, 2009, at Bally’s Events Center in Las Vegas — a record turnout, 21% increase over last year.  (This number does not include several hundred supporters of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty who attended FreedomFest on Friday and Saturday.)

They attended some 150 sessions on geo-politics, the economy, investments, philosophy, science & technology, art & literature, and healthy living.  As June Arunga said, “FreedomFest is a festival of ideas — exciting, new, and refreshing.

John Mackey calls it “The Trade Show for Liberty.”  Mark Mullins (Fraser Institute) identifies it as “the new Mecca for libertarians.”  I see it as the “focal point for free thinkers,” where independent thinkers and free minds break away from their busy schedule to come together once a year to learn, network, socialize, and re-energize their spirits.

The fight for freedom has never been more apparent since the end of the cold war.  As one attendee put it, “This is THE year to attend FreedomFest, when our freedoms and financial assets are threatened more than ever.

Given the deep recession and uncertainty this nation faces, I was surprised by the record turnout.  According to a local Las Vegas business leader, FreedomFest was the only conference this year with higher attendance.

Many more will see the Friday general sessions on C-SPAN (to be aired soon).

Attendees came from every state of the union, and as far away as Australia, Japan, Argentina, and Kenya.  Dozens of students took advantage of the $99 student discount rate.

You could feel the electricity as soon as you walked into the Exhibit Hall and the giant Laissez Faire Bookstore, run by Jim Peron and Jim Elswood.

One attendee told me, “FreedomFest changed my life and my entire way of thinking.

I learned a lot myself as a moderator, speaker, and attendee.  For every one who comes, FreedomFest is a personal creation, because so much is going on that no two people experience it the same way.  As Jerry Cameron says, “It’s like having access to all the greatest intellectual food in the world and you just couldn’t eat fast enough to sample it all!

Many buy the CDs of the entire conference every year just to keep up. (The first thing I do when I arrive is sign up for all the recorded sessions.  If you are so inclined, check out the list of audioCDs here, or call 1-866-254-2057 to order by telephone.)

The program was huge, with over 150 speeches, panels and debates. “Liberty Watch” published the entire program in its July issue. I recommend you subscribe to this top quality libertarian publication. Go to http://www.liberty-watch.com.

The World Economic Summit:

“The financial crisis is not over!”

The first day of the conference, entitled “Clear and Present Danger,” was devoted to the on-going financial crisis.  Many of the financial sessions were standing room only.  Charles Gasparino, CNBC’s #1 reporter, was our first keynote speaker.  He told the audience not to depend on the government to protect their wealth from losses or fraud.  “The SEC has failed to uncover a single major scandal in the past 30 years,” he said.  “It should be abolished.”

Other speakers throughout the conference included Steve Forbes, Larry Kudlow, Congressman Ron Paul, bestselling author Tom Woods (“Meltdown”), and John Fund.  Rick Rule (Global Resource Investments) moderated a panel on energy, telling attendees to expect oil & gas supplies to be tight in the future.  I gave a special 3-hour pre-conference seminar on “EconoPower:  Seven Power Tools for Investors, Managers, and Citizens” that was well attended.

In the “All Star Prediction Panel” last year, all the participants (Peter Schiff, Bert Dohmen, Fred Foldvary, Dennis Slothower) warned attendees about the impending crisis while the media was painting a rosy picture.  What were our prognosticators saying this year?  They remained pessimistic and recommended staying heavily in cash, gold, or foreign stocks.  Some are still shorting the market.  Bert Dohmen, editor of the highly-acclaimed Wellington Letter, remains bearish, adding as an example, “How can a company like Boeing stay in business when they have received only one major order so far this year?”  His breakout session attracted a large crowd.

Author Charles Murray (American Enterprise Institute) was more optimistic in the long run.  In his luncheon address, he spoke of three factors that will work in favor of liberty — technology that liberates individuals from centralized institutions, a coming moral crisis among social democrats, and rediscovery of the role of freedom in imbuing life with meaning.

The Trial of the Century: Free-Market Capitalism on Trial

What caused the 2008 crisis: free-market capitalism or bad government policies?  Friday night was the “big event” with defending attorney Steve Moore (Wall Street Journal Editorial Board) taking on prosecuting attorney Jeff Madrick (Emmy-award winning author of “The Case for Big Government”), with star witnesses Steve Forbes, Charles Gasparino, John Mackey, and Doug Casey.

Colorful Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was the Judge, and he stole the show with his irreverent remarks throughout the trial.  What a showman.  (He’s the former criminal defense attorney for the mob in Las Vegas!)  The ending took everyone by surprise (see the C-SPAN coverage to find out what happened).  The entire audience gave the judge and everyone involved a long standing ovation.  (Thanks to estate planning attorney Jeff Verdon for arranging for Mayor Goodman to come.)  As one attendee, Brandon Bond, said, “I’ve been attending these kinds of events for 30 years–and this one was the best ever!

Another attendee enthused, “The Trial of the Century was so good it should be made into a Broadway play!

Steve Forbes and John Mackey Attend All 3 Days

Steve Forbes has caught the vision of FreedomFest and makes a point of staying all three days.  At a luncheon on Friday, he spoke about his penetrating new book “Power Ambition Glory,” which applies Greek and Roman history to today.  He also appeared on several panels and spoke at the gala Saturday night banquet.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, is also a big fan who attends the entire conference.  He appeared on the always popular Libertarian Entrepreneurs Panel (with Newsmax president Chris Ruddy; Rick O’Donnell, president of the Acton Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence; and successful New York money manager Donald Smith).  In the debate between “Randian vs. Conscious Capitalism,” he noted significant differences between his philosophy of “conscious capitalism” and that of Ayn Rand.  “Randian capitalism is all about making profits; conscious capitalism is about seeking a greater purpose.”

John also spoke to a SRO audience about the “Whole Foods Longevity Diet:  How to Live to be 100 and Avoid Heart Disease, Cancer, Obesity, and Diabetes.”  John is a vegan.  Based on the findings of a group of health experts, he recommended reducing or eliminating meat and diary products from one’s diety, and emphasizing fruits and vegetables.  He surprised everyone when he said, “The more vegetables you eat, the more you lose weight.”  And according to John, eating vegetables and fruit is the least expensive diet.

The $100 Trillion Zimbabwe Dollar vs. the American Eagle Silver Dollar

There were lots of sessions for investors, entrepreneurs, and retirees.  In one of the tax planning sessions organized by Vern Jacobs, international tax attorney Marshall Langer spoke to a SRO crowd about “Saving Lots of Taxes by Moving to Another State or Country.”  When asked the crowd which part they were interested in, Langer was surprised that 90% said they were more interested in moving “offshore.”

Investing in gold and silver was as popular as ever.  In the closing panel, I showed a $100 trillion Zimbabwe dollar bill and asked the panelists, “Are we headed toward hyperinflation in the United States?”  David Boaz (Cato Institute), Steve Forbes, and Richard Viguerie didn’t think so, but Peter Schiff and Doug Casey thought it was a real possibility with the government bent on out-of-control spending and entitlements (Scott Tips of the National Health Federal and Michael Tanner of Cato warned attendees about the dangers of nationalized health care).

Rick Rule, president of Global Resource Investments, offered guidance in investing in mining and natural resource stocks in several well-attended sessions.  Other investment specialists included Frank Trotter (Everbank) on the future of the US dollar (not good), Keith Fitz-Gerald on what Chinese insiders are buying now (Taiwan stocks), Van Simmons (David Hall’s Rare Coins) on the benefits of private collecting….Lou Petrossi on finding good money managers, Martin Truax on income investing, Jon Nadler (Kitco) on investing in gold, Paul Wigdor (Superfund) on beating the market with futures, Michael Checkan (Assets Strategies International) on currencies and precious metals, Peter Zipper on banking in Belize, and Adrian Day on foreign markets.  Joe Bradley (Investors Hotline), Gary Alexander, Ron Holland, and Jon Golding served as moderators.

Peter Schiff, president of EuroPacific Capital and author of the bestseller “Crash Proof,” was adamant that investing in foreign stocks and commodities was the best way to go, and that investors should “get out of the dollar.”

I suggested that the US government could readily shift to a sound money system by circulating its own gold and silver bullion coins.  I held up a American Eagle silver dollar, and gave one to each of the panelists.  I told the audience that the silver dollar is our symbol of sound money and freedom, and encouraged each attendee to buy one from the coin dealers in the exhibit hall to keep as a good luck piece, a tip, a gift, or a nice bonus to employees.

Douglas R. Casey, chairman of Casey Research, was controversial as usual.  His luncheon speech on “My Misadventures in the Third World” included an update on his efforts to privatize a small country and take it public on the New York Stock Exchange.  He said it’s now a real possibility.

Estate and tax planning is always a major topic at FreedomFest, with experts Jeff Verdon, David T. Phillips, Joe Gandolfo, Vern Jacobs, Marshall Langer, and Bill Black, among others.

Conservative marketing guru Floyd Brown led a 4-session series on powerful techniques in email, blogging, and other new media, with the world’s most successful experts. Richard Viguerie (American Target) spoke on “Magnify Your Business or Resign!”; Craig Huey on 16 strategies for business owners; and Marsha Friedman on her new book, “Celebritize Yourself”…and Nathan Tabor on “Building a Political Following on Twitter, Facebook and Blogosphere.”

Chris Ruddy (Newsmax) also moderated a popular panel, carried on C-SPAN, called “The Future of Conservatism,” with Richard Viguerie (American Target), Jon Utley (American Conservative), Tom Phillips (Eagle Publishing), and Tom Fuente (California Republican).

Sacred Text Project:  A Muslim Makes the Case for Pacifism!

Attendees had the unique opportunity to hear sessions by Jewish Mel Hecht, Christian minister Joseph Fuiten, Muslim Aslam Abdullah, Sikh Gurucharan Khalsa, and BYU Professor Dan Peterson shed light on their sacred scriptures, and then debate the role of religion in a no-holds-bar roundtable with Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine and Scientific American.  Abdullah, director of the Islamic Center of Nevada, made the case for a peaceful coexistence with Muslim neighbors, and all the panelists seemed to be in a forgiving mood at FreedomFest.

In the exhibit hall each morning, Sikh Gurucharan Khalsa led about 30 individuals in yoga exercises.

Big Debates on Wal-Mart, Illegal Immigration, and the Fed

FreedomFest wouldn’t be complete without some great debates.  This year, “Wal-Mart, Good or Bad?” pitted Ohio professor Richard Vedder against anti-Wal-Mart activist Al Norman.  I was surprised to learn that many Wal-Mart employees are paid so little that they are subsidized with Medicaid, low-income housing, and other government welfare.  In “Immigration: Will Mexico Explode?,” Roberto Salinas (Mexico Business Forum) defended his country against Dr. Eric Olsen, a Tucson chiropractor.  In “Fed Up with the Fed?,” Gene Epstein (Barron’s economics editor) and Tom Woods took on Warren Coats (former IMF official) and John Fund (Wall Street Journal); and, as mentioned earlier, John Mackey (Whole Foods) and Michael Strong (FLOW) debated the Objectivists Ed Hudgins and Rob Bradley in “Randian vs. Conscious Capitalism.”

The Liberty Editors Conference is a perennial favorite, and every session was packed, with people hanging out the doors.  Speakers included Stephen Cox, Drew Ferguson, Jim Walsh, Randal O’Toole, David Friedman, and Jo Ann Skousen.  The panels were especially popular — on the Obama administration, the bailout, and a debate on religion and liberty.  There was also a spirited debate on “Anarchy vs. Limited Government,” with me defending limited government against anarchists David Friedman and Doug Casey.   I said that we now have a case study of how well anarchy does, since the African state of Somalia has had no central government since 1991.  (The results are a mix of private services and poor public services, and a deteriorating economy.)  I challenged Friedman and Casey to provide evidence of how utopian countries would deal with (1) disease control, (2) inefficiencies in public transportation and utilities, and (3) the justice system, i.e., how to deal with criminals who refuse to acknowledge private courts.  At one point, I heard David Friedman say that a criminal who refuses to come to court would be “forced” to do so.  That sounds like some form of government to me!

Major Media and Think Tanks at FreedomFest

We had representatives from most of the major financial media at FreedomFest, including the Wall Street Journal (Steve Moore and John Fund), Barron’s (Gene Epstein), and Investors Business Daily (Terry Jones and Michael Ramirez).  Think tanks and freedom organizations were well represented:  Ed Feulner and Teri Ruddy from Heritage: David Boaz, Dan Mitchell, Richard Rahn, and Michael Tanner from Cato; David Nott, Matt Welch, and Brian Doherty from Reason; Larry Reed from FEE; Julian Morris (IPN in London); Robert Enlow from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice; Charles Murray from AEI; Byron Scholmach from the Goldwater Institute; John Taylor from the Virginia Institute; and Holly Jackson from State Policy Network (SPN).

Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty at FreedomFest

Over 1,200 attendees came to the Bally’s Events Center Friday night, July 10, to hear bestselling author Tom Woods and Congressman Ron Paul update us on the machinations of Death Star (Doug Casey’s name for Washington).  Paul is not optimistic about prospects in Washington, but was buoyed by the strong turnout in Las Vegas.

Unusual Speakers at FreedomFest

There’s always something for everyone at FreedomFest, even for those who don’t care about politics or money.  We had a science fiction mini-series with Jo Ann Skousen on “Fantasy, Science Fiction and Romance,” commenting especially on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Brian Doherty on Robert Heinlein.  They also participated in a popular panel on libertarian science fiction/fantasy with L. Neil Smith and J. Neil Schulman.

NYTimes columnist and GMU Professor Tyler Cowen answered the question, “Does Capitalism Destroy Culture?”  He concluded that global capitalism actually encourages a variety in products and services, including language and cultural differences.  Missouri history professor Steven Watts spoke on “Fantasyland, Walt Disney, and the American Dream,” followed by “Playboy, Hugh Hefner, and the American Dream”…..and Don Hauptman gave details on Ayn Rand’s famous Playboy interview, based on his purchase of the original documents with Rand’s own hand-written notes.

We also had several sessions on healthy living, including talks by John Mackey, and George and Mimi Murdock.  The Murdocks spoke on “How to Avoid America’s Impending Health Catastrophe,” and recommended the book “The China Study.”

French Canadians Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoit Nadeau spoke on their bestsellers “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong” and “The Story of French”…..David Wang explained the unusual connection between Confucius and America’s Founding Fathers (especially Franklin and Jefferson)….C-SPAN filmed Alex Green on his new book, “The Secret of Shelter Island”…..FIRE president Greg Lukianoff on “Unlearning Liberty: FIRE on Campus”….Dick Bishirjian (Yorktown University) on the profit potential of “for profit” education….This year we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of two famous individuals, so we had Michael Shermer speak on Charles Darwin, and Hillsdale Professor Tom Krannawitter on “Vindicating Abe Lincoln Against his Libertarian Critics”….Santa Clara Professor Fred Foldvary defended Henry George and his single tax on land….Troy Dayton and John Mackey teamed up to discuss “Should Drugs be Legalized?”….Nelson Hultberg, author of “The Golden Mean,” on the need for a third party….And last but not least, our mystery guest speaker was Harvey Mudd Professor Art Benjamin on “The Joys and Mysteries of Mathematics.”  He held the crowd spellbound, and sold dozens of his books and tapes.

Each Room Dedicated to a Fallen Patriot

Each year we dedicate the rooms at FreedomFest to a free-market leader who has recently passed away. This year the rooms were dedicated to: Sir John Templeton; former Congressman Jack Kemp; Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller; Anti-Communist crusader Fred Schwarz; conservative leader Paul Weyrich; investment writer Larry Abraham; private education enthusiast Marshall Fritz; ISIL founder Vince Miller; coin dealer Burt Blumert; and FEE managing editor Beth Hoffman.

Free Market Hall of Fame at Gala Saturday Banquet

Every night was filled with events at FreedomFest:  On Thursday, Everbank sponsored a speakers dinner and Newsmax an attendees dinner; on Friday, Campaign for Liberty sponsored a Ron Paul reception and program in the Bally’s Events Center.

The capstone of the conference was the gala Saturday night banquet, led by emcee extraordinaire Chip Wood. After CNBC’s Larry Kudlow spoke for 20 minutes on the current state of the nation, five American writers and economists were inducted into the Free Market Hall of Fame:  Henry Hazlitt, Murray N. Rothbard, Rose Wilder Lane, H. L. Mencken, and Booker T. Washington.  After each name was announced, Chip Wood rang the Liberty Bell.  Following the ceremony, Steve Forbes paid tribute to the five inductees.

Then band leader Billy Tragesser led the audience in the singing of the FreedomFest anthem, “Freedom and Gold,” sung to an Irish tune attributed to an old pirate song.

The grand finale was the appearance on stage of the world’s #1 Beatles tribute band, “Yesterday.”  From the first chord of the first song, a large crowd immediately gathered on the dance floor and didn’t quit until an hour and a half later, dancing and singing to the classics of the Fab Four. I’ve never seen anything like it at a libertarian or conservative event.  Even Steve Forbes got out there and did a jig.

Everyone sang along with the band singing a libertarian version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”:

Imagine there’s no taxation
It’s easy if you try
No IRS below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living to be free.

Imagine no politicians.
Telling us what to do.
No forms to fill out for.
And no inflation too
Imagine all the people
Living without Social Security.

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday they’ll join us
And liberty will have won.

Imagine no regulations.
I wonder if you can
No need for laws to control us
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Competing in the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday they’ll join us
And liberty will have won.

Next Year’s Big Event:  “Declare Your Own Independence.”

We’ve already set the dates for the 7th annual FreedomFest, which promises to be bigger and better than ever before: July 7-11, 2010, at Bally’s/Paris Resort in Las Vegas.  Just think7-11 in Vegas.

We think next year’s FreedomFest will sell out (we have a maximum capacity of 2000).  So you might want to take advantage of the “early bird” special ($100 off the retail price).

We’ve also planned several other events for the coming year:

  • Our post-Davos World Economic Summit January 31-February 2 at the Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.  For more information, call Tami Holland, our conference coordinator extraordinaire, at 1-866-266-5101, or email her at tami@freedomfest.com.


In liberty, AEIOU,

Mark

Mark Skousen
Producer, FreedomFest
“The world’s largest gathering of free minds”
www.freedomfest.com
7-11 in Las Vegas (July 7-11, 2010)

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?

Perspective – Liberty Magazine – May 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?
by Mark Skousen

Few things other than a New Deal can be more painful than an economic depression. But few eras were more vital and enjoyable than the private side of the last one.

One of the rare books in my financial library is “I Like the Depression,” by Henry Ansley, the “Jackass of the Plains.” This amusing little volume was published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1932, and the price was a buck fifty.

Ansley, a newspaperman from Amarillo, Texas, described a prosperity in the 1920s that wasn’t that great. He burned candles at both ends, became a financial hotshot, and ultimately overextended himself. Then the depression hit: “Good-by twin beds, frozen salads, indigestion, credit and swelled head. Hail to the old-fashioned nightgown, buttermilk, sow bosom [a kind of food], comfort and cash.” He lost his job but found happiness by rediscovering leisure, friends, and neighborliness. Hard times taught him the value of a dollar and not to take things for granted: “My dog is my pal again; my wife my lover and my Dad my advisor.”

Ansley’s book was never a bestseller, but it started me thinking. Can the worst of times also be the best of times? The history books are replete with the evils of the 1930s — soup lines, bank closings, Hoovervilles, dustbowls, bear markets, demoralizing despair. It’s all been retold countless times, in such books as Milton Meltzer’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,” John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” and most recently Amity Shlaes’s “The Forgotten Man.” The Great Depression brought us Nazi Germany, the New Deal, Keynesianism, and, some say, World War II.

Not surprisingly, everyone from Wall Street to the halls of Congress is worried that the current recession will turn into the dreaded D, and has seized on desperate rescue measures. But was the Great Depression all bad? Did anything good come out of the 1930s? I started doing some research and was amazed to find a bright side to the gloomy ’30s — a lower cost of living, great new inventions and other technological advances, new forms of entertainment, more sports and reading, and a return to sober social behavior.

Start with leisure. Henry Ansley describes the free time he had during the depression. Indeed, millions of Americans had a lot more leisure time. Before the depression, almost everyone worked a six-day week. In the 1930s, the five-day work week became commonplace. “Spread the work!” was the rally cry. By 1937, wage earners in 57% of all manufacturing companies enjoyed a five-day week. Saturday was now a free day, and the Saturday rush hour was replaced by the Friday rush hour.

As a result, there was a tremendous increase in sports and leisure-oriented jobs. People began getting out into the sun and open air and taking a greater interest in golf, tennis, skiing, roller skating, and bicycling. Softball became a national pastime; by 1939, there were nearly half a million teams and 5 million players of all ages throughout the country. Expensive private club golf courses withered, but inexpensive public courses grew. Miniature golf was all the rage in the early ’30s. Bobby Jones became the first and only person to win the Grand Slam of golf in 1930. And black athletes became national idols for the first time, Joe Louis in boxing and Jesse Owens in track and field.

Americans traveled more. House trailers became a very big business. Camping, canoeing, and other inexpensive outdoor activities increased in popularity. People took their cameras with them, and photography became a craze of remarkable dimensions. Americans took tons of pictures with their small German cameras. Life and Look — big, glossy picture magazines — became popular.

Dancing, all the rage in the ’20s, continued to rage in the ’30s. Americans would dance their way out of the depression! Young people everywhere danced the swing, the jitterbug, and the boogie woogie to the music of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Louie Armstrong.

Indoors, parlor games such as bridge and the ingenious “Monopoly” were popular. People read more, and circulation at local public libraries increased. Kids loved comic books, especially “Superman,” the world’s first comic book superhero. Books “condensed” by Reader’s Digest saved time and money. There was an intense interest in epic novels — Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” A.J. Cronin’s “The Citadel,” Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” — as well as such how-to books as Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” (1937, with 17 printings right away).

In the same year, Lin Yutang, the Chinese-American Taoist, published “The Importance of Living,” which was to become especially popular among libertarians. It encouraged Americans to stop worrying and start “letting go.” One chapter was entitled “The Art of Loafing.” “I am quite sure,” Lin wrote, “that amidst the hustle and bustle of American life, there is a great deal of wistfulness, of the divine desire to lie on a plot of grass under tall beautiful trees of an idle afternoon and just do nothing.” Whether fortunately or unfortunately, in their own opinion, millions of Americans got to live Lin’s upbeat message of idleness.

New Entertainments

Idleness — and its companion, entertainment. People wanted to forget their troubles, and radio and motion pictures provided an escape. Radio really came of age during this period, with up to 80 million listeners on some evenings. There was a lot more to radio than FDR’s fireside chats. It was the way to hear worldwide news bulletins, good music, and such half-hour comedies as “Amos ’n’ Andy,” the first syndicated program, and “The Jack Benny Show.” In the late 1930s, NBC was carrying broadcasts of symphony orchestras, especially its own orchestra, conducted by the immortal Arturo Toscanini, to 10 million listeners every week. And who can forget the night of Sunday, October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles broadcast his version of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds”?

Hollywood blossomed during the ’30s. In one decade, the motion picture industry went from silent films to talkies in Technicolor. Films brought the American public together as never before. Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, John Wayne, Mickey Rooney, and Clark Gable were welcome alternatives to Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, and other demagogues of the era. Many considered Shirley Temple a gift from God during the gloomy de-pression. The motion picture event of 1938 was the first full-length animated cartoon, Walt Disney’s “Snow White.” The same year saw one of the first films in Technicolor, the blockbuster “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn. A burst of classic award-winning films came out the next year, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and the greatest of all epic films, “Gone With the Wind.”

The ’30s was the era of the first great horror films, “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “King Kong.” For a dime, Americans could go to the Saturday matinee and see double features of cowboys, adventurers, and gangsters. The silver screen brought us science fiction, serial thrillers and the Singing Cowboy (Gene Autry). The theater was filled with humor — Laurel and Hardy, W.C. Fields, the Three Stooges. Americans would laugh their way out of the depres-sion! There were reasons why Chicago economist Robert Lucas, Jr., called the 1930s “one long vacation.”

New Technology

Alvin Hansen and other Keynesian economists developed their “stagnation thesis” in the late 1930s, arguing that the United States was indefinitely stuck in an economic rut. They claimed that there was no new technology, no new frontier to drive the American economy. They ignored the tremendous economic progress that took place throughout the depression — the invention of plastics, artificial fibers, plywood, the 2-cycle diesel engine, and lighter, tougher steels.

Ernst Ruska and Max Knoll invented the electron microscope in 1932. Howard Armstrong created FM radio in 1933. Wallace Carothers manufactured nylon, and Robert A. Watson-Watt discovered radar in 1935. Hans Pabst von Ohain developed the jet engine in 1937 and the first jet airplane in 1939. Chester Carlson originated xerography in 1938. Igor Sikorsky made the first practical helicopter in 1939. Several people, including Philo T. Farnsworth and Isaac Shoenberg, developed television in the 1930s. CBS and NBC began broadcasting TV during this decade.

Manufacturers weren’t idle in getting new technology to market. New household products included electric mixers, pop-up toasters, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and irons. For the first time, consumers enjoyed sliced bread and packaged frozen foods. Union Pacific came out with fancy new streamlined, air-conditioned trains. Mass-market automobiles could now accelerate to 60 mph, carrying passengers along new highways with underpasses and cloverleafs. The dirigible, a new form of air transportation, appeared in 1936 (but disappeared with the fiery destruction of the Hindenberg a year later). The Douglas DC3 came out in 1936, traveling at 200 mph, compared to the 1932 passenger airplane speed of 110 mph. Coast-to-coast travel in overnight air sleepers was now possible. New ocean liners, such as the Queen Mary, appeared in a crowded New York harbor. Everyone came to witness the building of the 102-story Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center (the only skyscraper group to rise in the 1930s). And who could not marvel at the Golden Gate Bridge, opened to traffic on May 28, 1937?

Social historian Frederick Lewis Allen, author of “Only Yesterday” (1931), a bestselling history of the 1920s, summed it up best when he wrote in a sequel, “Since Yesterday” (1940), “the American imagination was beginning to break loose again.” At the end of the decade, the New York World’s Fair had as its theme “The World of Tomorrow.”

Society and Economics

The depression brought about a change in American social trends. People attended church more. Many retreated from the sexual revolution of the roaring ’20s. The mood was more somber and prudent, even after Prohibition was repealed in December 1933. (By the end of the decade, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded.) There was greater approval of marriage and family life. The divorce rate dropped sharply, by 23% from 1929 to 1932, though so did the marriage rate and the birth rate — possibly because marriage and children cost money.

Not all economic news was bad. The most favorable statistic was the decline in the cost of living. During the period 1929–32, retail prices dropped by an average 24%, wholesale prices by 31%, farm prices by 51%, and raw commodity prices by 42%. Of course, wages, salaries, dividends, and other forms of income declined as well, but for those who kept their jobs and held onto their assets, the loss of nominal income was offset by sharply lower prices for all consumer products. “Everything was all right in those years,” said a woman quoted in Amity Shlaes’ book, “but only if you had a job.”

Unemployment reached 25% and higher in some regions at the depths of the depression, causing enormous hardship for millions of Americans. But see it in another light: three out of every four people were employed in the worst parts of the depression. Total employment rose after 1932, reaching 90% by the end of the decade. In a sense, the Democrats were right: happy days were here again!

Businesses adjusted to the new deflation by downsizing, cutting costs, and implementing labor-saving devices. Even the farming industry mechanized. By 1936, despite persistent unemployment, real national output had nearly recovered to pre-depression levels. Auto sales exceeded all previous years except 1928–29. The steel industry was operating at close to capacity. Even the building industry was climbing briskly. Miami was having its best season since the collapse of the Florida land boom. The race tracks were crowded, lavish debutante parties flourished in the big cities, and the night clubs were full.

For bulls and bears alike, the 1930s was the most fantastic period in stock market history. Stock prices collapsed between 1929 and 1932, losing an average 88%, but industrial, rail, and utility stocks all shot up from their lows in the summer of 1932, anticipating the end of hard times. Few bull markets have ever equaled the rocket performance of the summer of 1932, when the rails tripled within eight weeks and the utility averages doubled. Wall Street went on a rampage for the next four years. The Dow rose 67% in 1933, 4% in 1934, 38% in 1935, and 25% in 1936. After a sharp 32% correction in 1937, the market re-sumed its upward trend until war broke out in Europe in September, 1939. There were also plenty of speculative opportunities on the long side of gold and other natural resource stocks during the ’30s. In sum, the bulls, not just the bears, had plenty of chances to make money in the 1930s.

There’s an old saying, “It is the irritation in the oyster that forms the pearl.” The Great Depression was an irritation that most people didn’t expect. A few people couldn’t take the hard times and jumped out of windows, but most responded to the challenge. Adversity often demonstrates the virtue and creativity of humankind. Bad news often creates good news and opportunities to learn and advance. The 1930s were no exception.

Mark Skousen is the author of Economic Logic, now available in its second edition.

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.”

Easy Living: My Two Years in the Bahamas

Memoir — LIBERTY

By Mark Skousen


The Island of June

If you’re feeling the need of real relaxation,
In a climate that’s lazy, a perfect vacation,
Away from the snow and the slush that annoys you,
Away from the worries and cares that destroy you,
Try Nassau, the Island of June.

There are bluest of seas at your door to enthral you,
With no sudden temperature changes to gall you,
And laziness comes on you, quietly stealing
Along with a cheerful, a ‘world’s all right’ feeling,
In Nassau, the Island of June.
-‘A Song of Nassau” by Fred Winslow Rust

I am near the end of a two-year adventure in the Bahamas, and I am finally getting a chance to put down my thoughts about this marvelous “island of June”…But before I get into that, will you excuse me? It’s Saturday in late November, and the sky is a cloudless blue and the temperature is 80 degrees, and my family is beckoning me to take them to Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island. Be back in a couple of hours…

Well, I’m back. The turquoise blue water and white sand are beautiful and refreshing. After living in the Bahamas for two years (1984-85), I have gotten tired of a few things, but I have never tired of the sparkling beauty of blue skies, warm breeze and turquoise waters calling me when I awake. It really makes the day pass quickly.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

As a financial writer, perhaps the most frequent question I have heard for the past two years is, “Why did you move to the Bahamas?”

The answer is not as simple as saying, “To relax on a boat every day,” to quote an acquaintance from England who moved to the Bahamas some time ago. That’s not what I want out of life anyway. I didn’t move to run away from work and responsibility, although I’ve been accused of that. If life was always carefree relaxation, how could you really enjoy relaxing? You can’t rest if all you do is rest every day.

Bertrand Russell wrote a little essay called “In Praise of Idleness,” in which he says that the “morality of work is the morality of slaves, and the modern world has no need of slavery.” There is some virtue to his vice. I think he really means to be in praise of “leisure,” for the “wise use of leisure…is a product of civilization and education…The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.” If you break out of the workaholic syndrome, you can achieve “happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia.”

You can rejuvenate your life if you want to. I’m convinced that there is a deep clandestine desire inside everyone to break out of the day-to-day routine of modern society, the nine to five job, the same old television shows and football games, the same friends, relatives and acquaintances. Something is missing in your life, and you feel it. Most people never do anything about it, but it remains a mystique.

My wife Jo Ann and I decided to make a change, hoping for the better. We had lived in Washington, D. C. for a dozen years, and we were tired of the same old routines. It’s hard to put my finger on the problem. But we felt we were in the rut of city living, the rut people get into no matter what their career. Looking back, I think one of the problems was Washington itself–I don’t think it’s a real city. It’s just a political city, like Brasilia. Financial colleague Doug Casey calls Washington the “Death Star.” He too has left Washington.

We thought that it was extremely important for us and our children to experience new cultures and peoples. Having lived outside the U.S. before, I had come to the realization that Americans often live sheltered and provincial lives, with little exposure to other languages, musical forms, and philosophies. We also wanted to move for reasons of health. Our 4-year old daughter, Lee Ann, had caught pneumonia the past year during one of those bitter cold winters in the East, and our youngest son, Todd, was chronically ill, partly because of the cold. We wanted to move to a warmer climate.

Financial and Tax Advantages

There was of course a financial motivation. I wanted to give an international flavor to my financial writings, and I knew that the best way to achieve it was by moving abroad. Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is a major financial center, with hundreds of international banks.

What about taxes? They, too, were an important consideration, but I certainly didn’t leave the country because I had to. The tax burden was becoming a real drain on me, as it is for every financially successful American. Taxes were running (ruining?) my life. It seemed that no matter what financial decision I made, whether buying a new home or investing in the stock market or some new venture, the overriding concern was the tax implications. By Christmas-time every year I would have spent my last dime on tax shelters. I was always broke by the end of the year. I’m sure you know the feeling.

Then, I started realizing that I was digging a hole that was getting deeper and deeper. I found myself writing checks this year for last year’s pension contributions or last year’s income taxes! I figured that sooner or later it was going to catch up with me. And most of the tax shelters I had invested in turned sour–they were far riskier than I had bargained for. Putting more money down the tax shelter rathole wasn’t the answer. Working longer hours, being more “productive,” and therefore earning more money was one solution, but I could only determine that it would result in bad health, a workaholic attitude, and a detrimental family life.

Fortunately Congress came to the rescue. In 1980, it passed enlightened and long-overdue tax relief for Americans working abroad. It exempted the first $80,000 in earned income from Federal income taxes and permitted further deductions for housing expenses. This still meant filing U.S. tax forms, but at least expatriates could be free from most U.S. taxes, unless they earned more than $80,000 (the exemption was reduced to $70,000 in 1986). This is not to say that Americans living abroad can live “tax free.” Not at all. They are still subject to foreign levies, which are sometimes worse than those of the U.S. That was the primary reason for the legislation in the first place, to avoid “double taxation.

The Bahamas offered an intriguing alternative. They have no income tax at all or any tax on investments. This is especially advantageous to foreigners, because it means they have no disincentives to make more money. In fact, the British, Canadians, Germans and other nationalities I met there not only don’t pay any income tax to the Bahamas or their native land, but also don’t have to file any tax forms in their home country. They had complete financial freedom! Only Americans are subject to taxation (above $70,000 a year) and filing based on their worldwide income. I looked with great envy upon my fellow expatriates in the Bahamas.

This is not to say that nobody pays any taxes at all in the Bahamas. Far from it–there are huge import duties (averaging 42%), making the cost of living there at least 50% higher than in the U.S. or Europe. Overall, I would say that I saved some money, but it would be grossly inaccurate to say that I lived “tax free” in the Bahamas. From a financial point of view, I wouldn’t recommend that people move to the Bahamas unless they can make at least $50,000 a year in earned income. (And it has to be “earned” income in order to qualify–you have to be working abroad, not retired and living on your investments and “unearned” income. Needless to say, I don’t agree with the odd and wrong-headed distinction between “earned” and “unearned” income. Obviously, congressmen making this idiotic distinction have no idea of the work involved in earning “unearned” income.)

After realizing the financial advantages of working abroad, I was surprised not to see more Americans living in the Bahamas, especially writers, who don’t need a work permit. The Americans I did meet usually worked for a bank or U.S. company. I also met a fair share of tax exiles, who were there because they couldn’t go back to the U.S. without facing criminal or tax fraud charges.

Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas, has a population of nearly 200,000. Its climate is practically ideal year round, except perhaps in the summer when it’s too hot and humid. It is a major financial center, with many Swiss, Canadian and British banks downtown. People from Canada, Britain, and the United States come to live there. The school for our children appeared to be excellent. The airport has a half dozen flights daily to Miami, or to other destinations–New York, Atlanta, Chicago, or London. Within half an hour, I could be in Miami, thence taking off to Los Angeles, or some other destination.

We considered several locations before we decided on the Bahamas. Canada was intriguing and culturally attractive, but its weather was worse than Washington’s and its taxes perhaps more burdensome. Although many Americans had chosen Mexico in the past because of its low cost of living and ideal climate, it was out of the question because of safety, both personal and financial.

We strongly considered England as a home base. London is the greatest city in the world, with its cultural, social, financial and historical background. With proper planning, British income taxes could be avoided. If it weren’t for England’s poor weather and the long distance from the United States, we probably would have moved there.

We finally chose the Bahamas.

New Year’s Eve Arrival!

We arrived in Nassau on December 31, 1983. I’ve never been more welcomed to a new home in my entire life. When we arrived at the Nassau airport, we were escorted to our newly rented house by Mike Lightbourn, our real estate agent and one of the finest people I have met. He loaned us his second car for two weeks while we got settled. Within a matter of minutes of arriving at our new home, we were greeted by two Americans who knew we were coming. Then we were invited to have dinner by some other newly found friends. In fact, that week we must have had a half-dozen invitations for dinner.

At 3 a.m. on the first night, we went downtown to view the famous annual New Year’s “Junkanoo” celebration. We saw hundreds of black Bahamians dressed up in colorful costumes dancing to the heavy beat of “Goombay” and “Reggae” music. It’s similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio, except that it occurs on the mornings of Christmas and New Year’s, the only two days of the year that the Bahamian slaves were allowed to take holidays. The festival lasts for hours, but we stayed for about 90 minutes.

Relaxing in the sun and walking along the sandy beaches were almost heaven. It was an incredible feeling to know that this new warmth was ours, not for a week, as with most American vacationers, but for months, or years.

Our home, called Far Cry, was a refreshing change. Everyone in the family found it exciting. It was an estate on the beach with a large old house, a guest cottage, and gardens and fence surrounding. The main house was an old Bahamian-style two-story home. Each room was spacious and had high ceilings. The house was right on the seashore, so the breeze was constantly blowing and kept the place cool. Each room had a ceiling fan, which we ran during the day and at night when sleeping. We were concerned at first when we found out it didn’t have air conditioning, but we soon discovered that we didn’t need it, as long as the breeze and fans were going. The only time we felt we needed air conditioning was when the electricity went off (which happened all too often) or when we were in the car (which fortunately was air-conditioned).

The main house upstairs had four large bedrooms and a spacious balcony overlooking the sea. Jo Ann and I spent many hours on the balcony, together or separately, watching the sailboats and the moods of the sea and the clouds above. I bought a hammock when I was in Costa Rica and set it up on the balcony–the kids liked it, and Jo Ann used to read books while swinging in it.

Downstairs, there were a large living room and dining room, and an old-fashioned kitchen (too old fashioned for Jo Ann’s taste–no dishwasher, no electric disposal, etc.).

The living room looked out onto the beach and the dock. The outside of the house was decorated with palm trees and fruit trees (including bananas that taste better than you will ever taste in the States, and a special kind of cherry tree that was a natural treat throughout the year). The gardens bore a wide variety of tropical flowers, and dozens of harmless lizards that entertained the kids for hours. Our Haitian gardener did a marvelous job (almost all the gardeners and maids on the island are illegal immigrants who are generally known to be better workers than the Bahamians).

We had a small but adequate swimming pool–so refreshing and alluring that we must have spent hours poolside throughout the day. We were at first afraid of having a pool because Todd was not yet two and couldn’t swim, but after a few months, it became clear to us that the Bahamas would be only half the fun if you didn’t have a cool refreshing pool. Todd was in danger twice, once when he fell into the pool and once when he fell off the dock into the ocean, but both times we were close enough at hand to save him. My only recurring nightmare was the possibility of Todd somehow drowning. (Since then he has become a good swimmer.)

In addition to the main house, we had a guest cottage, fully furnished with two bedrooms, a kitchen, maid’s quarters, and a two-car garage. We used it for company and for my office. The guesthouse also had a nice view of both the ocean and the swimming pool, so I could write, read and research and still take a peek at the beauty around me. It was the perfect set-up for the creative writer as long as you didn’t feel like working! Leisure was at my fingertips, and I found myself succumbing to the whim of jumping into my swimming suit (actually most of the time I wore my swimming suit to the office!) and going out sailing or engaging in some other aquatic endeavor.

One Day in the Bahamas

To give you an idea of how I enjoyed living in the Bahamas, I thought I would describe a typical challenging day in the Bahamas:
8:00 — arise, take kids to school
9:00 — exercise, such as basketball, tennis, or running, following by a swim in the pool or ocean.
10:00 — breakfast on the beach terrace with Jo Ann
11:00 — go sailing
12:00 — go downtown and pick up mail, newspapers
1:00 — lunch at poolside with Jo Ann
2:00 – open mail, read newspapers, take nap
3:00 — write newsletter
4:00 — pick up kids from school, play with children
5:00 — call broker, write letters, make telephone calls
6:00 — dinner with family in dining room
7:00 — play cards or other games with family or friends, or rehearse play
8:00 — put children to bed
9:00 — free time to read a book, go to a movie, dancing or to the casino
10:00 — retire exhausted after a rough day
I guess I’m being a bit flippant, though Jo Ann would probably suggest there’s more truth in it than error. One man’s relaxation is another man’s laziness.

Be that as it may, I was able to produce some things: I wrote thirty issues of my newsletter, a 150-page biography of my father, a major updating of one of my books, and a dozen articles for other publications. I also made over a hundred speeches in the United States and around the world, and I wrote hundreds of personal letters. I also appeared, along with other members of our family, in two musical productions for the Nassau Operatic Society. I may give the appearance of leisure, but appearances can be deceiving!

No Television

Before we came to the Bahamas, we decided that we were going to enjoy the benefits of outdoor living and the relaxed atmosphere of the islands. One of the first things we decided was not to have a television. Television is not only a mindless diversion that minimizes physical and mental activity, but also a bad influence on adults as well as children. We left our TV at home, with no regrets.

When something interesting was to appear on TV–the World Series or a special show–we would go on a social outing and visit friends (like Mike Lightbourn’s family) who had a set. It made television much more enjoyable. The Bahamians, of course, are hooked on TV like everyone else, although the national station, channel 13, is awful stuff. You can get the U.S. stations from Miami on a clear day, but most Bahamians buy satellite dishes to catch the hundreds of programs in the States. For a time, it was tempting to get a satellite dish, but I believe you can waste the rest of your life watching other people do exciting things–I wanted to do these things myself and make my own contribution to life.

But you can’t deny children something without offering a good substitute. Fortunately, Far Cry provided tremendous diversions, and the kids often went exploring along the dock, the seashore and a neighboring island they called “Narnia.” We also became avid bookworms. The selection of books available in the Bahamas is not good. I must have bought hundreds of fiction and non-fiction books, usually in the States when I was traveling. Jo Ann would also buy books for herself and the children. The children devoured them at incredible speed. All of us found our interest in reading greatly heightened by the lack of television. I don’t think our “no TV” plan would have worked if we hadn’t had a decent substitute. We hungered for good novels and history and for up-to-date information.

There were quite a few books left in the house when we arrived, but we didn’t find any we wanted to read. Curiously, we found three books right next to each other: The Joy of Sex, then Open Marriage, and finally, Creative Divorce. An appropriate order, we thought.

I thoroughly enjoyed the most famous Bahamian novel, Winds from the Carolinas, by Robert Wilder, a highly thought-provoking story. I recommend that you pick up a copy if you want a novel to read while lounging on the beach in the Bahamas.

My attitude regarding sports changed. I was no longer comfortable with sitting down for several hours and watching a game. I used to spend hours at home watching baseball, football or basketball. But now I would rather be out playing the game myself.

The Bahamas, like most tropical paradises, is conducive to year-around sports activity. I tried a variety of sports to keep in physical shape. I participated in swimming, golf, tennis, water skiing, fishing, skin-diving, parasailing, basketball, softball, soccer, and weightlifting. I played basketball more than anything else. I improved quite a bit, and used to play with some Bahamians at St. Andrews; I was once asked to join the team as the only white player, but my travel schedule kept me from joining. And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand what the coach was saying. Black Bahamians speak English, but the accent is so strong that sometimes it’s difficult to understand.

To keep in shape, I prefer team games rather than individual activity. Rugby and squash are popular in Nassau, but unfamiliar to me, and rugby looked downright dangerous. Many foreigners are runners, but the roads in Nassau are narrow and threatening (I’ve seen runners hit by cars). I would rather run up and down an outdoor basketball court. Sports facilities are antiquated, to say the least. But you can find what you’re looking for if you really want to.

I took up sailing. I bought a used boat–a Force 5 single sailboat built by AMF, a vessel not much larger than a Sunfish but much speedier. Jo Ann and I spent hours out sailing in it two or three times a week–the convenience of having a boat that could be in the water in five minutes made it all worthwhile. (I know millionaires who own big boats, but because of lack of time and convenience, hardly ever use them.) I never became expert in sailing, but I learned to feel the hum of the hull, the warm breeze, the hot sun, and the cool water as I dipped down into the sea and pulled at the rig. I don’t see how others can pass up the small sailboat in favor of the large yachts–there’s such a thrill when you’re sailing so close to the sea. Now that I’m moving away, I often feel the urge to return to the sea on a small sailboat and sail away…

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

One of the most important lessons I learned in the Bahamas was to enjoy the present. I don’t think I could have I learned the value of true relaxation in Washington, D. C., or any other busy metropolis. It’s so easy to get caught up in events, people and places to go–it’s all part of the business ethic. You can’t enjoy the “now,” you have no time to unwind, you have to look to the future, and what happens next.

We had a number of friends visit us. One of Jo Ann’s friends brought her husband down from Washington. He was constantly on the go–he couldn’t just sit there and relax, play a game with us, read a book, or put his feet in the ocean. He had to talk business; he had to make a deal. Finally, after one night, he contacted someone at a local hotel and took off. I think he cut his “vacation” short and headed home. Needless to say, the Bahamas wasn’t his style. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this man died an early death. I suppose his motto was, “Life is too short–I don’t have time to relax.

Then there are those who boast, “I work hard and I play hard.” These are the super-competitive types. Whether it’s business or a game, it’s push, push, push, and win, win, win. They can’t relax and just let someone else win. No, they have to do their best every time. I had the same problem, and believe me, it’s difficult to overcome. But the Bahamas set the stage for me.

Some famous people have moved to the Bahamas. The “mutual fund king,” John Templeton, lives there. I had a chance to meet with him for several hours, and he is still very sharp, despite his age (in the seventies). He lives modestly. He told me that he and his wife moved to the Bahamas in the mid-1960s, and his investment record actually improved because he was able to see investment trends more clearly by being away from New York and other financial centers. I think my own investment record improved as well–during 1984-85, I turned bullish on the stock market when many analysts and colleagues were timid, and I was also bearish on gold while many gold bugs were bullish.

We also met Arthur Hailey (author of Hotel, Airport, etc.) Unfortunately, the meeting was largely superficial. We learned the lesson that Ernest Hemingway taught, “Never get to know the author of your favorite books.”

Like most of the rich, Templeton and Hailey live on Lyford Cay on the western end of the island. We took a look at it when we first arrived but decided against it because it was too far away from the children’s school and city activity. We didn’t want to be a part of a millionaires’ retirement haven, uninvolved in the community.

Easy Living: for Whom?

Jo Ann, I suppose, would disagree with the title of this little essay. “Easy Living for Whom?” she would ask. I think I started relying too heavily on Jo Ann to do all the domestic chores. She was doing most of the hard work while I was basking in the sun. By the summer of 1984, she had had enough of my “relaxing,” and let me know it. I think it had a beneficial effect on our relationship–it became more of a partnership.

Jo Ann had some problems adjusting to the Bahamas. Sure, they spoke the same language, but not necessarily the same social language. It takes time to get involved with friends and acquaintances, especially when I didn’t have a regular salaried job with a local company. Gradually, over two years, we developed friendships, but it was tough initially. Mike Lightbourn helped by inviting us to some family events, and the local church helped out. We also became friends with the U.S. ambassador and his wife, Mr. & Mrs. Lev Dobriansky. After a year, we were being invited to many social events in the Bahamas.

Jo Ann had trouble writing her financial newsletter, Jo Ann Skousen’s Money Letter for Women. I confess it was mostly my idea to get her to write it, and that was part of the problem. It was more my field than hers. She felt she was always getting involved in my world, but I wasn’t getting involved in her world. Her first loves are music, dance and fiction–far from the world of Wall Street! I had shown some interest in her areas, but not enough.

That was another thing that changed in the summer of 1984. I became involved in many of her interests. I took ballroom dancing lessons in Miami (they weren’t available in Nassau), and we went dancing many times, especially when we traveled together to investment seminars. She has a natural talent for dancing, having danced since a teenager, while I struggled with my steps. I also became a member of the Nassau Operatic Society and acted in two plays, Annie and The Music Man. Jo Ann had previously joined and performed in Oklahoma. Jo Ann encouraged me to participate in the next play, Annie, which stared our 11-year-old daughter, Valerie. She received rave reviews by the local papers, one of which said “she carried the show.”

I even went to “jazz dance” for six weeks–I really felt awkward. I wasn’t too successful at any of these, and it was frustrating. But at least I was learning new things, which is something I did a lot of in the Bahamas. It’s good for the soul–and a marriage!

The Kids at St. Andrews

I think our four children will miss the Bahamas. I don’t think any of them ever came up to me and said, “Dad, I’m bored.” There was so much going on. At home, they could go swimming, fishing, exploring, play badminton, soccer, basketball or other sports, play cards and other games, read, help with the dishes or other chores, and so on.

School was one of our main concerns before we left, but we were luckily able to get into the private St. Andrews School, regarded by most people as the best school in the Bahamas. It had an excellent facility, and all four of our children seemed to enjoy it. Discipline was very good, and the teachers, primarily British, emphasized handwriting far more than American schools do. In practically every way, I considered St. Andrews a better primary school than most I had seen in the United States.

Economic Life

Like any country, the Bahamas has its pluses and minuses. Its standard of living is high compared to that of most Caribbean countries, though it is certainly lower than that of the United States. The roads were constantly in need of repair, the power went out frequently (at least once a week, and often more), and the telephone system left much to be desired. While we lived at Far Cry, it went out a dozen times a year; heavy rain was especially bad for it.

Nothing was cheap on the islands. Rent was high by U.S. standards. A simple three-bedroom house in a middle class neighborhood away from the ocean might run $1,000 to $2,000 per month; a nice place on the ocean might run $3,000 to $4,000. Utilities were also expensive, especially for water, which has to be brought to Nassau from Andros Island by barge. Phone calls to the states are about one dollar per minute, and to other countries as much as $4 per minute. But, remember, rent and utilities are tax deductible for expatriates, making the high cost seem more affordable.

You could get virtually anything you could get in the States–for a price. Fresh food, imported from the states, usually cost double or more. Milk was over $4 a gallon! Other food products were usually 50% higher than stateside.

The reason for this is not just transportation costs, which could explain perhaps 10-15% higher prices. The rest was caused by extremely high import duties imposed by the Bahamian government. Because it has no income, investment or sales tax, customs duties are its primary source of revenue (the rest coming from banking fees, a $5 departure tax, etc.) The average import duty is 42%. No wonder the Customs House is the biggest business in the Bahamas! A less competitive environment also means higher prices. For example, even though the duty on clothing is 40%, clothing prices are often 200% higher than in the States. Because of these high prices, many Bahamians go to Miami to do their shopping.

Smuggling is highly profitable and popular, and you see it occurring everywhere–even in front of customs officials at the airport. Bribery of customs officers is frequent.

Five Point Economic Plan for the Bahamas

This economic debacle could be cured if the Bahamian government would adopt a policy of gradually reducing customs duties across the board. They have already done this on a number of items, always with great success. The result would be a tremendous business boom. Competition would increase, prices would drop significantly, and locals would not try to do all their shopping in Miami. Government revenues may not even drop if the increased business means a sharp increase in imports from the United States.

Second, the Bahamas should privatize its public utilities. The standard of living could be greatly improved by having a reliable telephone system, decent roads, uninterrupted electricity, reliable garbage pick-up, competent hospitals, responsive police department, etc. All of these public facilities are state-run at the present time, and run badly. Creating private corporations through the issuance of public shares would go a long ways to relieve declining economic standards in the Bahamas.

The biggest concern we had in the Bahamas was for our safety and health in the case of a personal attack or accident. Our daughter was bitten on the nose by a Doberman pinscher, and we learned first hand how incompetent the public hospitals are: people in the “emergency” section can wait several hours to get help. Our “doctor” told us that surgery was unnecessary–the nose would simply grow back on its own! Finally, in desperation, we flew to Miami, which everyone else does in a real emergency. There’s no reason for this violation of the public trust.

The bus system in Nassau is an excellent example of what could be done. It is private, with several competing companies. It is reliable and cheap, only 50 cents anywhere on the island. Similar efficiencies could be realized in garbage collection, road maintenance, telephones and electricity.

Third, the Bahamian government should rescind its anti-foreign investment rules. The Bahamas desperately needs foreign capital, but it can’t seem to understand why little is forthcoming. Miami is booming, while Nassau is left behind. There are thousands of acres, some with excellent views of the ocean, left empty and undeveloped–by government edict. The Bahamas should do away with laws requiring government approval for foreigners to set up business or buy real estate (laws which have seriously hurt the real estate market). Some industries, such as the hotels, have certain exemptions, but the exemptions should be expanded to stimulate all business activity, not just tourism. The key to getting foreign capital is to establish long-term political stability, a free market atmosphere, and most importantly, the right to own and control business property without government authorization.

Fourth, the Bahamas would be wise to drop its work permit requirements. Work permits, like closed union shops, provide benefits to those who have jobs at the expense of the rest of the country. Efforts to protect some Bahamians only backfire and hurt Bahamians in general. Guaranteeing that jobs are only filled by Bahamians encourages inefficient work–and the Bahamian laborer has a reputation of slothfulness. Waiters are slow and unresponsive. But I don’t blame them–it’s the fault of the work permit law that prohibits foreigners from coming in and competing with them. If this competition were allowed, Bahamians would have to be responsive and efficient or lose their jobs. At the same time, the unit cost of labor would fall, bringing prices down and encouraging an expansion of business activity in other areas.

Fortunately, the Bahamas is still fairly open as far as illegal aliens are concerned. Immigration occasionally engages in a crackdown, but it’s never very effective. Most of the gardeners and construction workers are Haitian, illegally resident. Maids come from all over the Caribbean. Because of the competition, Bahamian maids can hold their own although, admittedly, we went through five maids (from the Bahamas as well as other countries) trying to find a decent worker.

I was happy to learn that writers aren’t required to get work permits in the Bahamas–residency is required if you stay longer than six months, but it’s easy to come and go in the Bahamas as a tourist. (Yes, writers, like the rich, are different! But being a writer doesn’t automatically make you rich.) I traveled frequently while residing in the Bahamas–probably once a month, either to Europe or the U.S. Getting in and out of the Bahamas and the United States was no problem. I didn’t need a visa, or even a passport–just a birth certificate. Bahamas immigration is easy for most foreigners, except perhaps for people from the Caribbean.

The biggest complaint I heard was not about Bahamian immigration, but U.S. immigration. You can’t believe how much the United States is “hated” (a commonly used word by foreigners and Bahamians) because of the power-hungry, arbitrary, abusive, and insulting immigration officers. U.S. Customs and Immigration is located at the Nassau airport, which is quite convenient. But Bahamians and other foreigners are often delayed for lengthy interviews at the airport to make sure they come into the U.S. legally and don’t plan to stay longer than permitted. (Overheard conversation between a U.S. officer and Bahamian: “What is the purpose of your visit?” “To see my relatives.” “How long will you be in the U.S.?” “Four weeks.” “Do you really need four weeks to see your relatives?”) Immigration policy is giving a bad name to America.

Fifth, the Bahamas should adopt the U.S. dollar as its national currency, anti-American feelings notwithstanding. And it should do away with exchange controls. Panama has such a policy, with favorable consequences. The Bahamian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar (though it sells at a discount in Miami), so the transition would not be difficult. The U.S. is the Bahamas’ major trading partner, and the vast majority of tourists come from the U.S. There are plenty of dollars circulating and really no need for Bahamian dollars.

Of course, adopting a U.S. dollar standard would eliminate the Bahamian government’s exchange control power, but there’s no reason for exchange controls anyway except as a counterproductive economic policy. Bahamians are virtually prohibited from investing outside the Bahamas (for example, investing in the stock market in the United States and other countries)–surely a silly policy that even Britain abolished several years ago. Why should the Bahamian government fear its own citizens investing in the United States–doesn’t that say something about the stability of its leaders? Besides, intelligent Bahamians already know how to circumvent the law. The exchange control law should be abolished. It serves no purpose other than to enhance the power of government officials and let the central bank play games with the local currency.

One thing I commend the Bahamas for is establishing Nassau as a major financial center. Having major banks from Canada, the United States, and Europe has tremendously increased the Bahamas’ prestige and economic power. Having branches of major Swiss banks has done a great deal to create a stable, favorable atmosphere for international business and private banking in Nassau.

Political Crisis in Nassau

It’s sometimes hard for Americans to understand that the history, culture and background of the Bahamians are different from, though in some ways dependent on, our own. The Bahamas is known as a haven for the drug trade. During the American civil war, Bahamians were gunrunners to the rebel South. During Prohibition, they were bootleggers. The illegalities of popular substances and products in the U.S. have made business good in the Bahamas, and that story will never end–despite the best efforts of the Federal bureaucrats in Washington.

While we lived in the Bahamas, the Bahamian government went through a political crisis not unlike Watergate. The Prime Minster, Sir Lynden Pindling, whom we never met personally but saw driving around in his chauffeured Rolls Royce, was accused of protecting drug dealers, taking bribes, and failing to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in income. He built a $2 million mansion on a $100,000 salary. The whole affair cast a cloud over the economic and political future of the Bahamas, but so far, Pindling and his majority party, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), have weathered the storm. I think there was a lot of truth to the charges, but the Commission of Inquiry set up to examine the evidence concluded in December 1984, that it was circumstantial and the accusations unprovable. The Pindling government won another five-year term in 1987.

In the United States, such bad publicity would surely result in resignation, as it did with Richard Nixon. But the Bahamas is not the United States. The PLP will survive, at least for now. Probably it’s not going to make much difference who runs the government, which is likely to remain middle-of-the-road. As one Swiss banker in Nassau told me, “It doesn’t matter which political party is in office–both parties strongly support this country as a tax haven…without the tax and privacy advantages, the banks would disappear overnight.”

I don’t think there’s much chance of a radical takeover. Such possibilities are just not in the make-up or history of the Bahamian people. Radical communist influence is very small–the socialist Vanguard Party received only 1% of the vote in the last election. The Bahamians are too worldly wise for that to happen. The Bahamas have no generals, no secret police, no political prisoners. The government submits to a general election every five years, and the courts, modeled after the British system, are open to all citizens (although they may not work as well as the British courts).

I highly recommend the Bahamas, from Nassau to the “out islands,” for their ideal climate, aquatic delights, and private bank accounts. I don’t generally recommend getting involved in business or real estate ventures. The business climate still isn’t what it should be. The investment climate is favorable and relatively safe–I recommend particularly the Swiss banks. Foreign banks are prohibited from domestic investing in the Bahamas. Your funds are actually in Europe or the United States under the name of the bank. Foreign banks just act as middlemen, and that they do very well, as efficiently as the banks in New York, London or Zurich. Until economic policy changes in Nassau, I don’t recommend putting your money in the Bahamas, just have it go through the Bahamas.

Why We Left Paradise

If I have painted a rosy picture of the Bahamas, you may be wondering why we left. There are several reasons why we decided not to make Nassau our permanent home. We felt that the medical facilities were inadequate. With four young children who loved exploring, medical care was a constant concern. The Bahamian doctors are fine for routine illnesses, checkups and minor accidents. But in my opinion the hospital facilities are a (high) risk in case of a major threat to life. Frankly, we were extremely wary of the hospital facilities in Nassau, based on our own experience and the horror stories of others.

At times, we were concerned about our safety. Crime is a constant problem in Nassau, especially with the high level of drug use by many Bahamians. So is safety on the roads, which are often narrow, winding, and full of potholes. Traffic accidents are often fatal.

We felt that the Bahamas did not offer adequate education in the upper level high school. When children reach 13 or 14, the Bahamian system concentrates entirely on preparing the teenager for “O levels” and “A levels”, the strict exams which determine whether British students will be allowed to attend college. American parents face a difficult decision. Many parents send their children away to boarding school when they turn twelve, and there are few classmates remaining in the upper school. This was one of our chief reasons for returning to the States when our oldest daughter turned 12–we didn’t want to send her to boarding school!

These caveats aside, our experience in the Bahamas was enchanting, enriching, and unforgettable. I will always look back on my two years in paradise with tremendous nostalgia. And someday I may even return to the island of June.

Liberty – December 1987