Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment
Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor.
8:30 AM EST Wednesday, April 12, 2006: Ben
Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. A truly, wonderful, wise man.
My favorite book of his is:
In Sunday's New
York Times, he wrote the following piece. I couldn't say it better:
Tame That Envy. Then Give Thanks.
I RECENTLY received an e-mail message from someone who has been a close friend
for almost 45 years. He works selling exotic cars to very wealthy people in
a large Northeastern city. He told me that he feels a certain envy toward his
clients, many of whom are billionaires.
really begrudge the guys who made it themselves," he said, "but I
go crazy about the ones who just inherited it, who were from the lucky sperm
It set my little
brain racing. In today's America, so many stories are about fantastically rich
young men and women, or even middle-aged men and women, who put on their pants
one leg at a time just like me, but who are rich enough to own a professional
sports team. And then there are those who dropped out of college but now own
hotels and casinos and private jets. It's enough to make you wonder what went
so wrong in your own life that you have to worry about your MasterCard bill.
Now, I can and
will offer investment counsel and complaints about executive behavior for a
good long time. But I think I can offer the greatest possible value to readers
right now by saying a few words about envy and how to get past it and move on
Years ago, I went to a 12-step program on Point Dume, a lovely area in Malibu,
Calif. At the time, I was making a modest living and was petrified about money
many nights. I would walk my magnificent German short-haired pointer, Trixie,
near the homes of fabulously wealthy stars and moguls and then return to my
shabby rented cottage.
At the meeting,
I complained about the maddening truth that so many people near me on Point
Dume had so much more money than I did, and a smart woman named Jennie said:
"Instead of thinking about what you don't have, think about what you have.
You have the handsomest son on the planet. You have the perfect dog. Concentrate
on those. When you are tempted to feel envy, remember that envy is as bad as
strychnine for you. Make a list of what you do have that is good in your life,
and then the envy will lift."
I have been doing
that for about 18 years now, and it has worked well. So to stave off envy as
I read about three young financial whizzes who control a professional sports
team, I made a list of what I have that I feel truly grateful for:
+ My wife, the world's most kind-hearted and forgiving human, the absolute model
of what a human being should be.
+ Excellent health
- well beyond what I deserve, considering how unhealthy much of my life has
+ The most varied and interesting career of anyone I know, that I would not
trade for anyone else's career, not even George Clooney's or that of any billionaire
hedge fund trader. (I loathe uncertainty.)
+ Devoted friends,
a wise and considerate sister and a stupendously capable agent.
+ Devoted parents, now in eternity, who would do anything for me.
+ Total strangers in our military who offer up their lives for me in Iraq and
These are all
great parts of my life. But as the Bible says, "A feast is made for laughter
and wine maketh merry, but money answereth all things." And it's true.
I am happier if I have a few coins jingling in my pockets than when I don't.
So I offered some thanks about money, too:
+ For the people at Dimensional Funds Advisors in Santa Monica, Calif., who
run the most amazingly successful, low-cost, unmanaged but somehow deep-value
index funds I have ever found. They may yet save me from my spendthrift folly
and give me security in my old age.
+ For Phil DeMuth, my co-author and financial adviser, who put me into these
+ For TIAA-CREF, the financial services group that sold my parents low-cost
variable annuities that paid off like the Powerball grand prize for them and
for my sister and me.
+ For my man at Merrill Lynch, Kevin Hanley, who takes it well when I call to
yell at him for tiny mistakes and who put me into Vanguard Total Stock Market
VIPERs, a large jewel in my portfolio.
+ For William
Danoff, who guided my savings at the Contrafund at Fidelity Investments, and
has surprised me for years with his prowess at making my money grow.
+ For Warren Buffett, who did so well for me from about 1978 to about 1997,
though his stock, Berkshire Hathaway, has basically treaded water ever since.
(I am sure he'll someday give us back the $40 billion in cash that the company
has accumulated over the years.)
+ For the family of Frank and Charles Hathaway, no relation at all to Berkshire
Hathaway except in their investment genius and integrity, which has done so
beautifully at managing Laaco Ltd., a microcap real estate, leisure and personal
storage company that has redeemed some of the multitude of terrible investment
decisions I have made.
+ For Peter Morton, one of the founders of the Hard Rock Cafe, who let me invest
in that company long ago and allowed me to do well with them to the point of
+ But above all, to the whole Wall Street, "people's capitalism" model.
Because we little people are allowed to invest in the nation's growth, we can
become big people. We no longer have to save under a mattress or in a bank.
We no longer have to manage our money actively by buying and running a farm
or an apartment building. Instead, we can flick a few buttons on a computer
or make a call, and all the resources of the nation's best and brightest are
at our command to let us hitch our wagons to the capitalist star.
IN the last 70
years or so, for the first time in history, the little guy has been able to
invest with some assurance that he is not being ripped off, that he is being
told the full story and that if his investment does well, he will reap the rewards,
or at least a lot of them. (Don't let the hedge-fund hoopla fool you. By and
large, they are not outperforming funds open to the little guy at vastly lower
Yes, there will be some rip-offs. There is too much money floating around and
too much temptation for the system to be anything like tamperproof. But in general,
that much-maligned Wall Street makes it possible for anyone with some savings,
some sense and some discipline to have the engine of capitalism anywhere in
the world roar for him like my Cadillac STS-V. Wall Street, for all its faults,
makes it possible for any of us, like the fictional television character George
Jefferson, to finally get a piece of the pie.
Anyway, this was my gratitude list, or at least a small part of it. You can
have a list, too, though yours may well be totally different from mine. Viewed
this way, we're all in the lucky sperm club, and it's a great day. It may change
tomorrow, but as someone a lot better looking than I am said in the best movie
ever made, "Tomorrow is another day."
old men are quick.
An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years. He had
a large pond in the back. It was properly shaped for swimming, so he fixed it
up nice with picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some apple and peach trees.
One evening the
old farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he hadn't been there for a while,
and look it over. He grabbed a five gallon bucket to bring back some fruit.
As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with glee. As he
came closer he saw it was a bunch of young women skinny-dipping in his pond.
He made the women aware of his presence and they all went to the deep end. One
of the women shouted to him, "We're not coming out until you leave!"
The old man frowned,
"I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim naked or make you get
out of the pond naked." Holding the bucket up he said, "I'm here to
feed the alligator"
This column is about my personal search for the perfect
investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered
with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor.
I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three
reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column
is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect
Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas,
concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address
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