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Investor Political Priorities - A Survey
by Steve Selengut
Here we are, in the midst of a presidential campaign, trying to select a new leader for what is still the most economically powerful nation on Earth. The candidates are kissing all the babies they can get their palms on and smiling until their cheek muscles ache; but will they be able to produce any of the changes they talk about? Do we really want them to?
90% of all Americans are investors and, as such, there are issues that we need to hear about from the man who would be king. None of our could-be leaders are addressing the issues that would allow us to achieve our financial goals. What we all want is to keep more of what we make, and then to spend it as we see fit. It's not clear how the candidates intend to help us. Is investor enemy number one a tax, a budding foreign economy, a scarce commodity, the powerful institutions, lobbyists, index funds, or the politicians themselves?
While the campaigns focus on social issues, they purposely ignore the economic realities of their proposals. Politics and Economics are like oil and water; they don't mix well, but both are necessities. The very rich, and the corporations that spawn them, are the biggest contributors to the foundations that fund social change. Increasing their costs and raising their tax liabilities is not going to increase the numbers of jobs they provide or the number of dollars they contribute. Investor enemy number one is an ideology, a class distinction between the super-rich and the not-so-comfortable-yet. You don't help the middle class by stealing from the creative and successful. You do so by increasing their "keep".
Here's a list of candidates for the investor priority number one title. What do you think, and/or what would you add? Please help me prepare a ranking that I can publish before the November elections.
(1) Social Security Reform. If I were to place $2,000 per year in an investment vehicle with a guaranteed interest rate of just 3% per year, I would: accumulate enough money to generate significantly more monthly income than that provided by Social Security, develop significant cash values for my heirs, and have more spending money to pump up the economy. Nothing need be risked in the stock market. My boss would be able to hire additional workers, reduce prices, and increase dividends to shareholders (you). We can keep him from buying a yacht. Thousands of new jobs would be created in an old industry and in supporting areas.
(2) Corporate Income Tax Reform. Eliminating the Corporate Income Tax without enriching obscenely compensated executives could redistribute enormous amounts of spendable income to all employees, increase the likelihood of job growth in all businesses, reduce the costs of goods and services and, possibly, their prices, and improve payouts to shareholders. It would also reduce the amount of money spent frivolously for tax reasons alone. We can regulate the transition to make it produce these changes, and possibly to reduce the need for offshore outsourcing.
(3) Control Obscene Executive Compensation. This is nothing short of grand theft shareholder, and a basic source of the disrespect so richly deserved by many of today's corporations. Here's a great opportunity for jobs in a new regulatory agency and for public relations consultants. Arbitrary compensation limits would be set for all public companies, and cash only compensation would be allowed... no stock options, unqualified pension benefits, deferred compensation, vacation homes, golden parachutes, etc. Above a certain level, 75% of the excess compensation in any form would be donated in cash to the executives' favorite charities (directly from his or her paycheck) but the donation would not be deductible from any other taxes.
(4) Health Care Reform. Corporations provide health care benefits because it helps them attract and retain employees. The same is true of the 401(k) savings plans and other self-directed gambling devices that have taken the place of defined benefit pension plans. These benefits cut into cash salaries, profits, dividends, and jobs provided, but are thought to be worth the costs in improved morale and retention. Mandating additional or involuntary benefits for employees will either cut something or raise prices. Related issues that must be addressed if health care and/or insurance costs are ever to be brought under control: insurance fraud and tort reform. Known pre-existing conditions are not insurable risks that all insureds should pay for; they are a social welfare concern that must be dealt with by government agencies.
(6) Tort Reform. Lawsuit awards in all areas must be limited to amounts that are reasonable, and people must be held accountable for their own stupidity, irresponsibility, and clumsiness. Potential suits should be reviewed and possibly arbitrated by non-lawyers before going forward. If you spill hot coffee on your lap, be more careful next time. All costs, whether they are insurance settlements or legal fees, find their way into the prices we pay. It's just this simple, the deep pockets are always our own.
(7) Personal Income Tax Reform. Is it enough to say that we tax pension and other retirement income, including the sacred pittance from Social Security. The income tax needs to be revised, reformed, or replaced by something. Eliminating the tax on all forms of retirement and investment income, including capital gains, rents, royalties, etc. would have incredible positive effects (and would guarantee a Pennsylvania Avenue address for eight years). The next administration could earn another eight years by combining the various Flat and Fair Tax proposals. That could double total tax revenues, reduce price levels, create/save thousands of jobs, and expand the economy.
(8) Regulate The Regulators. Every scandal produces new levels of regulations and additional cadres of secret police who raise business costs in the name of compliance with da law. Countless hours of non-productive time are mandated by broad-brush policies and procedural requirements that do little to protect the consumer--- in many cases they simply annoy the people they are supposed to assist. Financial services firms, for example, employ thousands of people to protect the firm from the examiners, not to protect the client from unscrupulous employees. I've heard similar stories of the abuse of power that seems to be SOP in most regulatory agencies.
(9) Change Exchange Traded Index Funds. Index ETFs have replaced plain vanilla mutual funds as the most popular form of speculation in the financial world today--- even more popular than sub-prime mortgage paper was just a few months ago, and with the same risks. These are glorified gambling mechanisms whose price movements have little to do with the economics (or economies) of the companies inside. Stock prices are pushed up by demand for the indices, not by their fundamentals.
(10) Restore the Up-Tick Rule. The up-tick rule that applied to short selling since 1929 was eliminated in July of 2007; the markets have been feeling the impact ever since. Theoretically, if not actually, unscrupulous persons could bring target companies to their financial knees for their own purposes. In the wake of the sub-prime mess, for example, it became difficult for some companies involved to raise capital efficiently because of shorting tactics employed by hedge fund operators.
This is my short list for the presidential candidates. Where they stand on these issues will certainly influence our economic future. Which of these is most important? I think that either Social Security Reform or the elimination of all taxes on retirement and investment income would have the biggest and most lasting impact. What do you think? Really, let me know what you think.
Professional Portfolio Management since 1979
Author of: "The Brainwashing of the American Investor: The Book that
Wall Street Does Not Want YOU to Read", and "A Millionaire's
Secret Investment Strategy"