Nothing Beats Government When it Comes to Zombies

Ben Bernanke spoke out on Tuesday, leaving no doubt where he stands on the QE issue. To print or not to print? He hardly seemed to think about it. Instead, he announced himself four-square in favour. If there is to be any prudence or propriety at America’s central bank, it won’t be on his watch!

This seemed to put some starch into investors’ nerves. After a big sell-off on Monday…and a bounce on Tuesday…they went back into the markets yesterday with a single-minded command: ‘Buy!’

Does that mean you should buy too? Nah…too risky. You don’t make money by buying expensive things with hidden risks. You make money by buying cheap things with the risks right out in the open.

Wait until US stocks are down below eight times earnings…with dividend yields over 5%. Then, we’ll talk…

In the meantime…a real-life close encounter with zombiedom.

You remember our definition of a zombie: someone who takes but doesn’t give? A zombie is a parasite who lives on someone else’s hard work.

By this definition – albeit grosso modo – many people are zombies…even some who don’t realise it. If a man makes a lot of money and gives it to his children, he risks turning them into zombies. They take. They don’t give.

In a private business, or – more likely – in a private charity, you’ll probably find zombies hiding everywhere, even in the boardroom. Some spend their careers in the corporate bureaucracy…not really helping the enterprise or the purpose for which it was intended. A few even gum up the works with pettifogging aggravations.

Whole industries, too, can be zombiefied. Many law firms, for example, are zombie-enablers; they make their money by encouraging people to become zombies. The lawyers may work hard at their jobs. But they contribute to the spread of parasitism, taking wealth from those who earned it, not creating new wealth.

In Baltimore recently, the Cochrane Firm, founded by legendary Johnnie Cochrane, who defended OJ Simpson on murder charges, called a meeting. It was designed to bring together potential plaintiffs.

Background: A doctor recently committed suicide after it was revealed that he had videotaped women undergoing gynaecological examines. Nothing has been reported suggesting that he did anything improper with the videotapes. As far as we know, no one’s privacy or dignity was compromised.

But the Cochrane lawyers are readying a class action suit…sure that they can get the very well-endowed Johns Hopkins hospital to come up with money.

But when it comes to zombies, nothing beats government. The feds have the power to force people to do things they would rather not do…notably, support bloodsucking zombies.

So, when the elite landowners of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, got together with the environmental protectors and enlisted the power of government…you could be sure that money was going to change hands. In the event, some of it came to your humble zombie-fighting editor.

You see, the idea was elegant. Subtle. And very profitable for those who understood what was going on. The landowners – often from old farm families – wanted to hold onto their land. But the cost of holding it was rising. As more and more people built houses in the area, land prices rose.

In 1950, the price of an acre of farmland might have been $100. By 1980, it was $10,000…and far more, depending on zoning, public utilities and so forth. A landowner in 1950 paid a modest amount in property taxes and foregone income to hold land. By 1980, the cost was huge. A 100-acre farm might be worth $1m. He’d pay property taxes. And he’d give up the income and capital gains on $1m of capital.

Meanwhile, many preservationists and environmentalists wanted the farmland to stay farmland. So, they got together – the (rich) landowners with more than 100 acres…and the preservationists.

They got the county to buy the development rights from the large landowners. They took tax money from people with small lots, condos and modest suburban houses…and transferred it to people with large tracts of lands. This reduced the value of the large tracts (they were no longer available for housing developments).

It put money in the landowners’ pockets. It also reduced their property taxes. And it otherwise left them with almost exactly what they had before. The preservationists got to hold back the future. The politicians got to hand out more favours. And landowners got to eat their cake and have it too. Everyone came out ahead – except for the poor taxpayers, but who cares about them?

Your editor was a beneficiary. He sold his development rights (he never had any ambition to build houses on his farm). If we recall correctly, we got a cheque for about $250,000 – which was big money 30 years ago. We used it to build our house.

Plus, we retained the right to build one house on our land for each of our six children. So, if we really wanted to develop the land…we still could, albeit in a low-density way, making nonsense of the whole programme.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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From the Archives…

High Tide on Main Street?
22-02-13 – Bill Bonner

The Fed’s Funny Money is Losing its Mojo
21-02-13 – Dan Denning

Resurrecting BHP, the ‘Big Australian’
20-02-13 – Dan Denning

End of the Australian Boom?
19-02-13 – Satyajit Das

Bond Guru Still Likes the Unthinkable: US Treasuries
18-02-13 – Chris Mayer

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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