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Downsizing life's rich expectations

Lets assume, for a moment, that we are headed into a period of time when we may all have to be a little less self-indulgent. Higher taxes and incomes that fail to keep up with inflation could contribute to what former governor Jerry Brown used to say was a need to "lower our expectations." That might not be such a bad thing.

At least some self-indulgence is rooted in a need to stay even with our perceived peers rather than how much we spend in an absolute material sense.

Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan

Some prankster must have pasted a Post-it note saying "kick me" on the back of Alan Greenspan's shirt. He seems to be getting the blame for the sub-prime mess because he failed to consider that unbridled capitalism has a tendency to eat its seed corn periodically.

His autobiography, "Alan Greenspan — the Age of Turbulence" starts out by discussing his early days spent in the New York salon of Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher who wrote "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead."

Correction: House beats stock market

Last week's column compared the performance of residential real estate with a comparable investment in the Dow Jones industrial average. My e-mail was just sizzling on Monday morning thanks to several readers who pointed out that my math had failed to take leverage into consideration.

"Look at ROI (Return on Investment)" screamed the readers. Their comments reminded me of the current candidate for mayor of London of whom a commentator said, "Apart from being a philanderer, he's a great family man."

Social security as an investment

The farmer who was asked why his pig had a prosthetic leg said, "Because we're saving the rest of him to eat later." In a similar vein, here's a new slant on deciding when to belly up to that Social Security feeding trough.

Most people who are still working tend to postpone the start date until at least 66 and some will decide to wait until age 70. Waiting until 70 generates 135 percent of whatever the age 66 benefit schedule might have been which is tempting. But we could all die earlier than we expected --- and get nothing.

Book sheds light on taxing issue

David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times reporter and author of the book "Perfectly Legal" that chronicled the way in which the wealthiest U.S. citizens have avoided taxation. He's back with a new book, "Free Lunch -- How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill.)"

Real reason for optimism

About that light at the end of the tunnel, it might not be the headlight of the locomotive after all.

Mark Hulbert, an investment newsletter analyst, is on record recently as pointing out that one of the more accurate forward indicators of future stock market performance is flashing a green light.

Diversification is key, Yale shows

According to the Jan. 17 New York Times, Yale's endowment fund, run by David Swensen, posted fiscal year-end results ending June 30 that beat all other college endowments in the country. The return was 28 percent --not bad.

Swensen's book "Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment" establishes him in my mind as the Warren Buffet of investment managers.

Predicting market is anyone's guess

Black Swan this, Black Swan that. It seems like the term "Black Swan" is on everyone's lips these days and is even in the title of a John Bogle speech.

So, where have you been?

Actually, I'm referring to the No. 1 best-selling business book of that title by former bond trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The reason for the book's popularity is that it helps explain the unpredictable. It helps prepare us for events that are "off the charts" -- such as the 25 percent, one-day drop in stock market values back in 1987, or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Self-reliance is key to success

My friend Bill Southard was at West Point in 1974 and heard novelist Ayn Rand give a commencement speech titled, "Philosophy, Who Needs It?"

He sent me a copy of her speech, which basically said we all need a personal philosophy, and that without one, we will be slapped around by events. My late mother-in-law described the condition (and all of California, for that matter) as having "no roots." Most of us like to think we have what we would call an investment philosophy, so in the light of the current turmoil, let's see how we're holding up.

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