My worst subject in college was economics. I just never got the hang of it. My professors called it a science, but why then did economists seldom agree on what’s known about the subject? As they do agree in chemistry or physics? Even the practitioners of the “dismal science” had their reservations. My favorite was John Kenneth Galbreath, the famed economics scholar and diplomat, who said “economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.”
I found a temporary balm for my bruised ego in those words. And in words that have been attributed to him: “There are two kinds of economists,” he is alleged to have said. “Those who don’t know; and those who don’t know they don’t know.” Loved it. But one still has to make a living if you’re not born wealthy. Right? You get a job to stay alive, live paycheck to paycheck, and look for a way to get a little ahead. That is, save. When I was in the Air Force, I played poker and cribbage well enough to bank winnings that financed my first two years of college. Once discharged, that source of income was legally closed to me, and I am a moral and law-abiding person. So I tried playing the ponies. That turned out to be unwise. Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar were lovely workplaces, but my pick of those magnificent thoroughbreds let me down...and almost out.
Next I tried Certificates of Deposit at various banks and S&Ls. No progress. Inflation ate the meager gains. Finally, after half a lifetime, I got ahead enough to cautiously enter the stock market where my cribbage luck returned...modestly, to be sure. I invested long term in some good securities and my worth steadily waxed. How rewarding it was to think of myself as leaving the ranks of the chronically near -poor to where I could talk in public about “my portfolio.” Wow! Respectability at last.
Alas, Nemesis does follow Hubris. Recently I ran across an article on Bloomberg’s “QuickTake” discussing Tax Inversion. You know, that’s where moving your corporate headquarters abroad enables you to avoid paying taxes in your own country, your homeland—a scam that is unpatriotic and shifts the revenue burden from giant corporations to the ordinary taxpayer. I got an uneasy feeling. Could it be that some stocks I held were profiting from this execrable tax trick? Was I complicit in this un-American activity? (Unintentionally, of course.) I looked deeper into where my holdings were anchored. Some were in Bermuda. Some in Ireland. And.... Ouch! Nevertheless, my conscience instructed, me this tax dodge must be outlawed, pronto.
Of course, that would take Congressional action. Ha, Ha. You know as well as I when that will happen. When the Chicago Cubs face the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. After elephants and donkeys fly...together. I guess I’ll have to live out my days with my possibly ill-gotten gains, never knowing whether I’m innocent or guilty in how they were got. I hope it doesn’t trouble my sleep.