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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.

For '08, rethink investments

With respect to considering this year's investment strategy, I feel like I'm in one of those submarine movies where the speakers are crackling, "Dive. ... Dive!"

A good part of the holiday was spent wringing my hands and thanking my lucky stars that I have the discipline to limit myself to this exercise just once a year.

Healthcare costs that are just sick

Michael Moore's movie "Sicko" is now out on DVD, and our governor must have watched it. Anyone appreciating the genius of this documentary wouldn't want to tolerate another minute of our health care's status quo.

As we speak, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is launching an effort to move toward universal coverage, but he's not using the single-payer approach that all other industrialized countries have adopted.

Pension column inspired reaction

Judging from the flood of e-mail after my column last week, I apparently touched the third rail at one of the junctions where politics and economics collide.

Do the retirement benefits found in the public sector reflect sound business sense?

My first pass at an answer was based on anecdotal evidence from discussions with people who had some experience with these plans.

Admittedly, I had some facts incorrect.

Investment tips found under water

Old dogs can learn new tricks -- my wife and I discovered this when we decided to take scuba diving lessons here in Concord.

Instead of Monterey Bay, however, we opted to do our open water dive requirement last week in 82-degree water on Grand Cayman Island at our son's vet school graduation. Floating in a weightless environment totally at the mercy of the water and an artificial air supply somehow reminded me of investing in the stock market.

Sweating details as retirement nears

I'm ashamed to say that I have found myself checking my retirement plan account balance way too often this month ... sometimes as often as once a day. How disgusting is this habit? Well, studies indicate that the more a person checks their investments, the worse their results will be.

Fundamentally, the theory is that is the "risk premium" we earn from taking risk is what generates higher investment returns over time.

An actuarial look at investing

Is there a clairvoyant actuary in the house? Professional actuaries predict life expectancy. We could turn to one to help us search for guaranteed retirement income that we won't outlive.

As a start, let's look at three possible approaches. Two have been around forever, and one is brand new.

Of the two that have been around forever, one has been sold aggressively and the other amounts to a cost-effective "do it yourself" approach to supplying retirement income.

For the brand new candidate, we have Fidelity's so-called "Income Replacement funds."

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