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Everyone likes to feel secure about his finances in the retirement years and it has been made abundantly clear to me in many ways over the last two decades or so that counting on the government is a good way to end up in an appliance carton dining on detrita from the dumpster behind the Burger King.

As a result I have tried to take maximum advantage of the only real tax breaks available to working stiffs like me, the 401K and the IRA. Because I had several employers in that time, one of whom was myself, I have left a trail of embarrassingly small accounts at several mutual funds and brokerage houses. At institutions like this-- one in particular - my money gets really special treatment.

I can't mention the firm but if you know the names of a banking robber baron and the guy who found the explorer Doctor Livingston, you would be pretty close to guessing.

These are exactly the kind of folks a grateful nation is supposed to turn to when the time comes to privatize our Social Security. The reasoning behind this is that the government accounts don't make money fast enough and the covetous politicians can't be trusted not to raid them to pay for one porky expenditure or other.

At the time I first funded this IRA I was reeling from the dot-com collapse and not feeling very chirpy about the future of anybody's industry so I instructed that the money be placed in a money market account. My reasoning was that although I would never realize decent gains, at least I wouldn't lose any the way I had done with high tech. Well, I just failed to understand that Baron--Livingston's arcane and skillful money management techniques require dollars with agility, robustness, and a lot of company. I simply abandoned my scrawny funds with the assumption that B-L could find a use for them.

If risk-averse ignoramuses like you or I were managing this six grand by ourselves and without the years of training that these Wall Street types have accumulated we might just put it in a Treasury vehicle or a simple passbook account at a simple bank. There is not much expense and little interest associated with this kind of investing. I have a savings account and I rarely call to see how it's doing and I never visit, but I know they have found a slot for it. Like the government, they aren't making it do much, but occasionally they give me a dollar or two, and it is steady work.

The folks at B-L are much more selective however. Not only has my undersized sum flunked the employment screening, but at the end of the year they think I owe them about sixty bucks for the failed attempt at job placement. It may not make much difference to some, but I feel much more patriotic when the government picks my pocket and they are never offended by small amounts like mine.

It may be, as I suggested, the paltry amount of my account that offended B-L, or maybe I said something cheeky when I gave it to them or it could be that currency belonging to me is just so listless and cynical that it brings out the worst in some people. All I know is that I'm deeply sorry for any or all of these shortcomings, particularly that size thing. Believe me, if I had my way, all of my accounts would be a lot bigger and much less offensive. And I can at least console the Baron's people with my personal assurance that I will never insult them with any more deposits, large or small.

I think this is more or less the reverse of the situation with street muggers or the IRS, neither of whom have any money of their own. They see that you have more money than they do and, being affronted by that, seek redress in the form of theft. In contrast, Baron-Livingston has five orders of magnitude more money than I do but seems to be offended that I have any left at all. I plan to buy a T-Bill and stop offending these folks right away, before they redress me right into that appliance box.

(Dan Johnson is a director of computing services for Exel Transportation Services, Inc.)

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