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Time to Focus on 'Return of Capital'

Reflections on the day after the election
Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 1:01 PM

I am more concerned with the return of my money than the return on my money.

- unknown (often attributed to Mark Twain or Will Rogers)

The U.S. Presidential race is now behind us. And this morning the world woke up and realized that all the issues the election postponed now lie before us.

In his victory speech, President Obama focused on moving 'forward':

Obama's re-election puts 'forward' to the test

"You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do."

That's not a bad list of several of the bigger challenges we face: perniciously high and persistent unemployment, trillion dollar annual deficits, a complex and unequal tax code, overdependence on fossil fuels (domestic as well as foreign, I would add), and population management. These are truly prodigious issues that our nation is struggling with, in many cases for decades without resolving.

But that list of woes is not near complete. Add to it our national over indebtedness and insolvency, our eroded manufacturing base, escalating costs of food/fuel/health care, our outdated infrastructure, our failing educational system, accelerating global depletion of and competition for key resources, an aging population, the most dramatic wealth gap in our country's history, and an unsustainable monetary system. For certain, there are also many other competing problems that can be further added to this 'worry list'.

The hard truth is that these problems are not going to be resolved in the next four years, irrespective of whoever won the election last night.

In fact, as Chris so often states, many of these are not problems; they are predicaments. Problems have solutions. Predicaments have only outcomes. Outcomes that need to be managed. And if you're jawboning about 'solving' a predicament (which our politicians have made a full-contact sport out of), you're wasting precious time.

So, the big question is: what approach exactly are we going to use to move 'forward' from here? From what we're seeing so far, the best I can tell is we are going to continue to throw money at these problems/predicaments until it's clear to all that won't work anymore.

The Bush and Obama administrations have seen exploding debt and deficit levels accompanied by staggering issuance of new money by the Federal Reserve. There is little to indicate that this policy is going to change as long as our economic malaise continues. In this way, the government is taking future wealth from our children's pockets.

And it seems increasingly clear that the government will take more of the current wealth from ours, too. Rather than take the pain of reigning in spending, government demonstrates, time and again, its preference to raise revenues via taxation.

PIMCO's Bill Gross predicts the same:

Gross: Fixing 'Cliff' Will Mean 'High, Higher' Taxes

A newly re-elected President Barack Obama will push for higher taxes -- including a dividend-tax hike that will cause a substantial drop in stocks, Pimco's Bill Gross told CNBC Wednesday.

Obama will get little time to enjoy his election victory Tuesday, as he will have to get to work quickly with Congress to avoid the nation's "fiscal cliff" of looming mandated tax increases and spending cuts.

One likely remedy for revenue-raising will be to take the current dividend tax rate of 15 percent and hike it five to 10 percentage points, said Gross, co-CEO at the firm that runs the largest bond fund in the world and has $1.8 trillion assets under management.

"Obama ran on a higher-tax agenda," Gross said during a "Squawk Box" interview. "Marginal income taxes go from 35 to 40 (percent), capital gains from 15 to 20, dividends from 15 to who knows what...so they could go high, high and higher."

Risk-averse investors prefer dividend stocks, which are common in pensions and mutual funds even though they've largely underperformed other market indexes over the past four years.

Consequently, Gross said, higher dividend taxes would make those companies less attractive and thus take the stock market down 5 to 10 percent.

That's "the ultimate danger here for the stock market," he said. "Dividends are sheltered in 401(k)s, they're sheltered in pension funds. At the margins investors pay dividend tax rates. To the extent that you raise them from 15 to, say, 25 (percent), that implies in terms of equaling after tax rates another 5 to 10 percent down in terms of stock prices. We've been very spoiled for the last 10 years."

Last night, California passed Proposition 30, which approved an increase in the income taxes for 'wealthy' Californians (those with income >$250K). Education is by far the state's top expenditure, yet it ranks at or near the bottom of the nation on most school performance ratings. But rather than tackle the difficult work of determining how to spend their existing budget more effectively, it's far easier for Sacramento to address shortfalls by increasing taxes. Which is why Governor Jerry Brown crafted and championed Prop 30. Pity the Californian taxpayer, who already suffers the highest state income taxes in the U.S.

This is likely a preview of what's to come in future years. As we bump (or slam) into the hard limits of our predicaments, our political leaders will throw greater amounts of our current and future wealth at them. Like a drowning man frantically reaching out for anything that can possibly keep him from going under, our federal and state governments will grab for sources of revenue with equal desperation as they drown under their debts.

The markets are certainly concerned today. The Dow is down over 330 points as I write this.

We are entering the era of investing where the risks are increasingly disproportionate to the downside. The prudent investor should be much more concerned these days with return OF capital, versus return ON capital.

Though, more accurately, the priority should be return of purchasing power. It does no good to get your dollars back if they've been devalued in the interim.

The following steps have become 'no-brainers' at this point:

  • Find yourself a trustworthy financial adviser who will invest your paper capital with these risks in mind (we endorse several).
  • Own some gold and silver as insurance against a currency crisis.
  • Diversify into other hard assets if you're able to, particularly those with potential to produce primary wealth (timber, livestock, vegetables/grain, minerals, energy, etc.).
  • Assess your employment situation – how vulnerable is your income? Invest in ways to make yourself more valuable to your employer, add additional source(s) of income, and/or create your own business. 
  • Invest in increasing your personal resiliency (homestead investments, skill-building, physical & emotional health, and community)

Welcome to the future.

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125 Comments

John Lemieux's picture
John Lemieux
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
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Posts: 223
It's About Culture and Lifestlye

I'm Canadian and I would agree with joemanc's comment that a universal health care system doesn't seem to influence the population to adopt healthier lifestyles. I don't see it that way anyway.

Except there may be a sort of cultural infuence, or difference here in that our universal healthcare system is a reflection of less of a dog eat dog mentality than in the US. I don't know as I have never lived in the US. But I think that a universal system may help to reduce the stress, fear and worry about the costs of possible injury or illness. I know that am very thankful for what we have here and I hope that we can maintain our system. But with our current neo-conservative ( Ok, in my view they are approaching a more neo-facist type power here ) government and petro state economy I'm concerned that we are going the way of the Republican Party in the US.

But I sometimes try and imagine what it would be like to have to worry about getting sick and having the additional stress and worry of financial hardship. Or to see that happen to someone else here. No thanks! And I am also comforted by the fact that everyone here irregardless of their financial means, social status or background is able to access our universal health care system. J.

joemanc's picture
joemanc
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John Lemieux wrote: But I

John Lemieux wrote:

But I think that a universal system may help to reduce the stress, fear and worry about the costs of possible injury or illness.

While I am not a fan of socialized medicine, there is some truth to this statement.

One more thing I wanted to add about the culture/lifestyle/socialized medicince - what incentive does a person have to eat and live a healthy lifestyle knowing that socialized medicine will take care of every expense if/when he/she gets sick? There is none. Perhaps the only way for the unhealthy masses to live a healthy lifestyle is for them to experience a shock, say, a heart attack.

Doug's picture
Doug
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Quote:One more thing I wanted

Quote:
One more thing I wanted to add about the culture/lifestyle/socialized medicince - what incentive does a person have to eat and live a healthy lifestyle knowing that socialized medicine will take care of every expense if/when he/she gets sick? There is none. Perhaps the only way for the unhealthy masses to live a healthy lifestyle is for them to experience a shock, say, a heart attack.

Without commenting on cause and effect, the numbers seem to suggest that people in countries with socialized medicine are healthier that those of us in the US.  Is it only Americans who live unhealthy lifestyles?  I'm curious to know what kind of system Russia has.  Given their rampant alcoholism, smoking and diets (the last I'm speculating a bit) I wonder what their general health and life expectancy are like.

RJE's picture
RJE
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ANNNDDDD!,... You joemanc are

ANNNDDDD!,... You joemanc are the 100Th posting on this thread!!! Maybe the first ever here at PP!!!. As this gets you no free gifts or gentle applause let me just congratulate you and have a great day.

Levity has its place and I hope you Folks somewhat enjoyed this.

BOB

John Lemieux's picture
John Lemieux
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The Incentive To Lead A Healthy Lifestyle Is To Be Healthy

I don't believe that having a socialized health care system has any significant effect on Canadians lifestlye choices. I mean who would choose to purposely lead an unhealthy lifestyle thinking that it will be paid for by taxpayers? Certainly not me or anyone else I know. And everyone knows that there is no health system that  is going to necessarily cure you if you get sick anyway.

I think it is things like ones level of education, attitude, gender, family background and culture that have the largest influence on our lifestlye choices.  I live where there is a socialized health care system but I certainly believe in the proven tremendous physical, mental and even social benifits of following  a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. 

One downside universal health care that I can think of is that the well off sometimes don't like having to settle for what a socialized system offers. So they currently  go to another country to obtain the best treaments money can buy. But speaking for myself I have a positive veiw of our health care system here in Canada. And I think that the  quality of health care is generally very good. Although our aging population and serious shortage of family doctors in many regions of the country are just two of the many big problems we are facing here.

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
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RJE wrote: ANNNDDDD!,... You

RJE wrote:

ANNNDDDD!,... You joemanc are the 100Th posting on this thread!!! Maybe the first ever here at PP!!!. As this gets you no free gifts or gentle applause let me just congratulate you and have a great day.

Levity has its place and I hope you Folks somewhat enjoyed this.

BOB

Bob -

You will love this one then......

2910 and counting

rhare's picture
rhare
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Posts: 1271
Socialized stupidity....

John Lemiuex aka Vanity Fox wrote:

and serious shortage of family doctors in many regions of the country are just two of the many big problems we are facing here

Hmm, but you don't think the socialized medicine might just have something to do with your shortage of doctors?  Socialized health care is just manipulation like we see with money, housing, etc.  It all sounds good until you discover things like rationed care, one size fits all policies, and shortages of doctors/medicines, etc start occurring.  It's all because the stakeholders are not making the cost/benefit analysis by voting with their dollars. 

John Lemieux's picture
John Lemieux
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Nooo! Not Vanity Fox! Too Funny

rhare,

You sir not only appear to me to be extreme and overly ridged in your chosen idealogical beliefs, but you are now coming across as paranoid as well. And besides calling me Vanity Fox is ridiculous as he is a far more articulate and eloquent than I could ever hope to be.

I now realise that it is a waste of time thinking that someone with your ridged kind of mindset would even consider anothers veiwpoint that differs from your own. But nevertheless, I'll say that as far as the doctor shortage goes there could be a whole lot of reasons for that such as retirements, greater workload as cases are more complex as the patients get older, more tests and proceedures being done on each individual patient and I'm sure there are more.

The truth is that I don't know all the reasons why. But I thought that it was safe to voice my opinion here and to participate in discussions as long as I am civil and avoid religion and other controversial topics. The fact is that I have lived in Canada all my life. And I and everyone else I know are supportive of our health care system although I'll admit that like most everything else in life it isn't perfect.  

RJE's picture
RJE
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Posts: 1369
...that's a lot Dogs. Dogs, I

...that's a lot Dogs.

Dogs, I just traded my Colt for a Kimber and Man!, what a SWEET piece. I am getting back to how I shot back in the day. I put stickers at different spots on my silhouette target and start that Tick, Tick,Tick rhythm in my head before I shoot so that I have a nice sight , shoot, sight shoot...I think I am there. My (grown) son is just incredible with his rhythm and skills, amazing really.

NO Hockey! Arrrrggghhh!!!

Be Good

BOB

RJE's picture
RJE
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Posts: 1369
John, your approach and

John, your approach and contributions, as well as involvement are appreciated. All of us have our stuff so read past the stuff and hear the other stuff.

rhare can appear to be biting (he makes learning points though) but he did ask a good question. That being, socialized medicine may have something to do with shortages of Doctors. If  Doctors could go elsewhere to make MORE cash, I believe they would, so YES socialized medicine has its effects where options that are more beneficial for Doctors/Nurses exist. I believe socialized medicine can create shortages. Supply and Demand thing. My wife hired a couple of Canadian nurses to work on here staff as we are very near the border. The pay is better and benefits. Many Canadian patients come to her hospital for elective surgeries for personal reason's, and I believe, well, it was a choice because...?

Be Good John

BOB

joemanc's picture
joemanc
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Doug wrote: Without

Doug wrote:

Without commenting on cause and effect, the numbers seem to suggest that people in countries with socialized medicine are healthier that those of us in the US. 

Having been to Australia and Britain, I can tell you they too lead unhealthy lifestyles, yet they both have socialized medicine. One of my Aussie friends I believe told me they are the 2nd or 3rd unhealthiest country in the world. I believe the US and Britain are up there as well, maybe 1,2,3. Though I was just searching around and found Australia is a healthy country yet, they have a diabetes epidemic on their hands. Go figure...

Quote:
 I'm curious to know what kind of system Russia has.  Given their rampant alcoholism, smoking and diets (the last I'm speculating a bit) I wonder what their general health and life expectancy are like.

That's a good question - I remember quite a few Russians died during the heat wave 2 summers ago - they were drunk from drinking vodka, surprise, surprise, then jumped into water to keep cool, only to drown. And this is a country we had a Cold War with...

joemanc's picture
joemanc
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John Lemieux wrote: And

John Lemieux wrote:

And besides calling me Vanity Fox is ridiculous as he is a far more articulate and eloquent than I could ever hope to be.

Not to mention the last name Lemieux is about as Canadien as one can be, eh!

raw milk mike's picture
raw milk mike
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Posts: 6
Jobs, taxes, the deficit, the rescission, a balanced budget

Jobs, taxes, the deficit, the rescission, a balanced budget, health care, climate change and SOPA;

Please tell me if I'm wrong.

There are too many jobs in this country. We work too many hours for too little pay. Our retirement age is too high and we have too little time off.

Taxes are way too low. Reagan and Bush have slashed them to next to nothing. We could probably double our revenue by simply returning to a pre-Reagan tax rate. We could probably double it again by simply closing a few loopholes.

If you don't like the deficit start charging the federal reserve interest on the money we let them print.

The rescission is caused by too little government spending and large companies stashing tax free cash offshore.

All U.S. paper currency is born out of debt. If we pay it all back the dollar will cease to exist. Besides we pay interest on it so it literally can never be paid back. Which means the budget can never be balanced and attempting to do so only worsens the rescission.

If you legalize fresh foods you can replace medical care with health care. If you have good food you don't need bad medicine.

Climate change is called cap an trade(the next stock market) please look it up. It has nothing to do with weather.

Disinformation is already a major problem on the net but SOPA(Stop Online Piracy) (government censorship) will end the Internet as an information source.

Lnorris's picture
Lnorris
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Has anyone checked out

Has anyone checked out Ann Barnhardt's Youtube video "The economy is going to implode."?

If you can get past her extraordinarily long pink tie and her reference to being a martyr at the end it's an interesting 2h 30min broadcast.  Her information about GS, BAC, Citi and the other banks regarding CDS exposure is pretty awesome.  

It's worth watching if you want to understand the risks that are inherent in this computer driven market.

RJE's picture
RJE
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Lnorris, I'll look it up but

Lnorris,

I'll look it up but just in case do you have a link?

Thanks

BOB

Lnorris's picture
Lnorris
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Posts: 103
To RJE: barnhardt.biz

The link is barnhardt.biz then click on her you tube link on the left hand side of the page. I can't post the link directly using my cell phone.

raw milk mike's picture
raw milk mike
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Ann Barnhardt's

The first twenty five minutes were fabulous then she went crazy. She does an in depth explanation of money but than starts talking about interest with no discussion about what interest is. As a matter of fact she even interchanges the two as though interest and money are the same thing. Then she suggests that all bankers are Jewish and that Islam is evil. She started out by saying she wasn't going to get specific then boom after twenty five minutes she gets very specific and totally loses perspective.

raw milk mike's picture
raw milk mike
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Ann Barnhardt's “The economy is going to implode.”

I just listen to some more, man she's hilarious.

raw milk mike's picture
raw milk mike
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Ann Barnhardt's

I'm not saying she's wrong. It's just her reasons I have a problem with.

Lnorris's picture
Lnorris
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She does hold extreme views

She does hold extreme views in several arenas that I do not personally share.  Her you tube interviews regarding the financial crisis I find to be really interesting.  She nails MF Global  and what happened with the customer segregated funds, so I respect her for that.  

raw milk mike's picture
raw milk mike
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Posts: 6
Ann Barnhardt

I just listen to her speak on You Tube about MF Global. She sounds very very intelligent as long as she sticks to what she knows. I love it when she swears but I think we could all do without her nonstop raciest commentary. I have found that racial stereotypes are always incorrect and are never based in fact.

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1876
And the tax deluge begins...

Here's a list of new taxes that may kick in next year (from BusinessInsider):

Here are some of the new taxes you're going to have to pay to pay for Obamacare:

  • A 3.8% surtax on "investment income" when your adjusted gross income is more than $200,000 ($250,000 for joint-filers). What is "investment income?" Dividends, interest, rent, capital gains, annuities, house sales, partnerships, etc. Thanks to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, taxes on dividends will rise rise from 15% to a shocking 43.8% on January 1st, unless Congress cuts a deal with respect to the fiscal cliff. (WSJ)
  • A 0.9% surtax on Medicare taxes for those making $200,000 or more ($250,000 joint). You already pay Medicare tax of 1.45%, and your employer pays another 1.45% for you (unless you're self-employed, in which case you pay the whole 2.9% yourself). Next year, your Medicare bill will be 2.35%. (WSJ)
  • Flexible Spending Account contributions will be capped at $2,500. Currently, there is no tax-related limit on how much you can set aside pre-tax to pay for medical expenses. Next year, there will be. If you have been socking away, say, $10,000 in your FSA to pay medical bills, you'll have to cut that to $2,500. (ATR.org)
  • The itemized-deduction hurdle for medical expenses is going up to 10% of adjusted gross income. Right now, any medical expenses over 7.5% of AGI are deductible. Next year, that hurdle will be 10%. (ATR.org)
  • The penalty on non-medical withdrawals from Healthcare Savings Accounts is now 20% instead of 10%.  That's twice the penalty that applies to annuities, IRAs, and other tax-free vehicles. (ATR.org)
  • A tax of 10% on indoor tanning services. This has been in place for two years, since the summer of 2010. (ATR.org)
  • A 40% tax on "Cadillac Health Care Plans" starting in 2018.Those whose employers pay for all or most of comprehensive healthcare plans (costing $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for families) will have to pay a 40% tax on the amount their employer pays. The 2018 start date is said to have been a gift to unions, which often have comprehensive plans. (ATR.org)
  • A"Medicine Cabinet Tax" that eliminates the ability to pay for over-the-counter medicines from a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account. This started in January 2011. (ATR.org)
  • A "penalty" tax for those who don't buy health insurance. This will phase in from 2014-2016. It will range from $695 per person to about $4,700 per person, depending on your income. (More details here.)
  • A tax on medical devices costing more than $100.  Starting in 2013, medical device manufacturers will have to pay a 2.3% excise tax on medical equipment. This is expected to raise the cost of medical procedures. (Breitbart.com)

And if you live in Calfornia and make >$250k in income, you'll likley be interested to know that Prop 30 is retroactive to Jan 2012. So make sure to factor that into your tax planning for April...

Doug's picture
Doug
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Posts: 2763
Fed's got it under control

Don't worry about a thing, the Fed's got this jobs thingie under control:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-11-16/fed-s-lockhart-says-aggressive-easing-needed-to-revive-jobs.html

Quote:
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said forceful central bank policies will remain needed to spur job growth even if Congress averts sudden tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year.

“I expect that continued aggressive use of balance sheet monetary tools will be appropriate and justified by economic conditions for some time even if fiscal cliff issues are properly addressed,” Lockhart said today in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fed easing isn’t aimed at “abetting” fiscal policy by reducing the cost of financing the federal deficit, he said.

Quote:
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans has proposed holding interest rates near zero until unemployment falls to 7 percent so long as inflation does not breach 3 percent. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota has suggested continuing with zero rates until unemployment falls to 5.5 percent so long as inflation remains below 2.25 percent.

“We are likely to have to begin to tighten before we get to full employment,” Lockhart told reporters. “So I am more comfortable with one of the interim target numbers, say 7 percent, conceivably 6.5 percent” as the unemployment rate threshold. Currently the jobless rate is 7.9 percent.

Quote:
Failure to avert the fiscal cliff may create “new challenges to monetary policy and an uncomfortable tension between monetary policy and fiscal policy,” Lockhart said in his speech. In response to an audience question, he said,“there is no direct link in terms of intention between the low-interest rate policy and the financing of the deficit.”

Oh, "new challenges" and "uncomfortable tension" don't sound so bad.  I thought we were in trouble for a minute there.

Doug

Dogs_In_A_Pile's picture
Dogs_In_A_Pile
Status: Martenson Brigade Member (Offline)
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Posts: 2491
Doug

Doug wrote:

Quote:

<snip>“there is no direct link in terms of intention between the low-interest rate policy and the financing of the deficit.”

Bet there are at least 47 indirect links masked in layers of obtuse FED-speak bullshit

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Online)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 1876
And the (tax) hits keep coming...

From BusinessInsider:

CALIFORNIA SCREWS SILICON VALLEY: Entrepreneurs And Angels Socked With Absurd Retroactive Tax

As a way of encouraging entrepreneurs and investors to start companies in California, the state has long offered a tax deduction for those who start, invest in, and eventually sell companies.

This tax deduction allowed entrepreneurs and angels to exclude 50% of any gain on the sale of "Qualified Small Business" stock.

California's capital gains taxes are a high 9%, so the deduction reduced the capital gains rate to 4.5%. This encouraged the entrepreneurs to start and keep their companies in California, instead of decamping to lower-tax states.

And, for many years, California entrepreneurs and investors have taken advantage of the deduction.

But now the state has apparently decided that it no longer needs to encourage entrepreneurs to start and keep their companies in California.

So it is eliminating the tax deduction.

Far more startling, the state is eliminating the deduction retroactively--going all the back to 2008.

In other words, anyone who sold their California company in the past 5 years and took advantage of the tax deduction is now going to have to pay the tax.

With interest!

Sigh... while this is exactly the kind of tax-grabbing predicted in my article above, I still find myself surprised by the swiftness and overtness with which tax hikes are rolling out these days.

To copy Chris and quote Lily Tomlin:

No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up.

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