EppsNet Archive: Money

Could Donald Trump Have Made More Money in an Index Fund?

28 Oct 2015 /
Trump blurb

Click to enlarge

I’ve seen this theory advanced by multiple sources, including the attached clipping, which I saw on Facebook. I don’t know the original source, but the finger-painting reference is a clue that the author has an anti-Trump agenda, hasn’t done the math and is just repeating something that may or may not be true for the benefit of anyone predisposed to believe it.

The actual National Journal article, which is targeted at readers who don’t know much about history, math or the Trump family, says this:

By putting his inheritance into the stock market back in the 1970s, [Donald] Trump might have been “really rich” without all the drama. . . . Had the celebrity businessman and Republican presidential candidate invested his eventual share of his father’s real-estate company into a mutual fund of S&P 500 stocks in 1974, it would be worth nearly $3 billion today, thanks to the market’s performance over the past four decades.

One big problem with that analysis: Donald Trump didn’t have an inheritance in the 1970s. His father, Fred Trump, was alive until 1999. When the author talks about Donald Trump investing his “eventual share,” what is he talking about? You can’t in 1974 invest an inheritance that you’re not going to have until 1999.

Donald and Fred Trump

Donald and Fred Trump

How much money exactly did Trump inherit? I couldn’t tell you, but working backward from the National Journal analysis, in order to have $3 billion today, you would have had to invest about $35 million in the S&P 500 in 1974.

Fred Trump died in 1999 with a net worth of $250-300 million. He had five children, one of whom predeceased him, so after estate tax and perhaps some charitable bequests, $35 million per child should at least be in the ballpark.

Had Donald Trump invested that amount in the S&P 500 when he actually received it in 1999, it would be worth about $70 million today, which is not bad, it’s more than I’ve got, but it wouldn’t make him a billionaire.

If he’d invested the $200 million that Forbes magazine determined he was worth in 1982 into that index fund, it would have grown to more than $8 billion today.

The math is right . . . the S&P 500 has increased about 4,000% since 1982. But why 1982? The author selected 1982 for a very particular reason, although he doesn’t say what the reason is.

He tosses off 1982 like one date is as good as another so let’s go with 1982, and relies on readers not knowing or caring what he’s up to.

In 1982, the stock market had been flat for almost 15 years, after which it took off on the greatest bull market in history. Today, in 2015, anyone can tell you that you should have invested your entire net worth in the stock market in 1982. Even a modest $25,000 investment in 1982 would have allowed you to take up finger-painting and still be a millionaire today.

Making great investment decisions retroactively is very easy, like taking a test when you already know the answers.

The author dishonestly uses the S&P 500 as a proxy for average economic performance but picks a starting point, 1982, from which stock market performance was not only not average, it was historically unprecedented. It was the optimal investment point in American history.

Same objection applies to his previous example of a hypothetical S&P 500 investment in 1974. Why 1974? Because in 1974, the stock market was lower than any point since the early 1960s, and in hindsight can be identified as an optimal investment point for maximum return.

Why Jennifer Lawrence Makes Less Than Bradley Cooper

14 Oct 2015 /
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence is complaining (Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?) that she and American Hustle co-star Amy Adams received 7 percent of the profits for the film, while male actors Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale and director David Russell received 9 percent.

The only explanation I can think of for this inequity is that Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were willing to work for 7 percent. It doesn’t make sense to sign a deal for 7 percent and then complain that you didn’t get 9 percent. If you want 9, ask for 9. If it’s going to bother you to make less than a male co-star, ask for the same deal as the male co-star.

Does Jennifer Lawrence have an agent? This doesn’t seem super complicated . . .

Time is Money

13 Aug 2015 /

Short histories

Amazon sent me some book recommendations, including A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and A Really Short History of Nearly Everything by the same author. The second book costs five dollars more. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Maybe condensing a short history into a really short history saves me some time and I have to pay more for that. Time is money . . . in this case, five dollars.

There Are Four Ways You Can Spend Money

10 Aug 2015 /
English: Portrait of Milton Friedman

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.

— Milton Friedman

Greece is Going Out of Business

9 Jul 2015 /

I remember the good old days when we only had to worry about small banks going out of business. Then big banks started to go out of business, then non-bank financial institutions, and now small countries.

The problem with having a lot of debt is that, with some exceptions (“too big to fail”), bad things happen when your investors get nervous.

My memory is not photographic as some of the legends about me say, but I am sure I would remember if the works of Adam Smith included the phrase “too big to fail.” — Garry Kasparov

What are the odds that people running companies or countries will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can do just as well or better making dumb decisions and being rescued from the consequences?

According to the government debt chart below, the next countries in line for a day of reckoning are two more small countries (Ireland, Portugal) and a medium-sized country (Italy). Further down the chart are two big countries.

The United States, the biggest of the big, is not shown on the chart but is currently at 100 percent debt to GDP.

Government debt

Why Do I Need Clean Pennies?

26 Mar 2015 /

Clean pennies

Act Now to Take Advantage of the New Low Price

1 Feb 2015 /

Shirt on sale?

We Save Things Around Here

5 Dec 2014 /

What do I mean by “save things”? My wife was tidying up the garage and found this checkbook. The date (Dec. 19, 1991, the month after we got married) and the check number (101) tells me that it’s the first check we ever wrote on the first joint checking account we ever had.

First check

I’m in Semi-Solidarity with the Protestors

26 Nov 2014 /


I support the UC Berkeley students protesting tuition hikes but maybe with a little less conviction than I used to because my kid is a senior and no matter how high tuition goes I won’t be paying it anymore so I hope the boy was in class yesterday and not out causing a disturbance . . .

Microeconomics at Walgreens

21 Nov 2014 /

Walgreens pharmacy

“Do you have a Walgreens rewards card?” the checker asks.

“Yes I do,” I reply and I hand it to him.

“Do you want to redeem any reward points today?”

“Can you tell me how much I have available in reward points?”

“Yes . . . let’s see . . . you have one dollar.”

“One dollar?”


“I’ll let it ride.”

Baldness vs. Malaria

25 Oct 2014 /

Why is there so much more research done on baldness than on malaria? Because rich people go bald, and they don’t die of malaria.

Income Inequality is the Best

14 Jul 2014 /

Dilbert comic

People Who Don’t Want Me to Know Things

12 Jul 2014 /

What I want to know is why there are so many people who don’t want me to know things . . .

Trudeau's book Natural Cures Updated Edition

And that doesn’t even include all the things that people “won’t tell me.”

This Kid Made an App That Exposes Sellout Politicians

8 Jul 2014 /



Yes, the algorithm is

if (isPolitician(x)) {
    x.sellout = true;

Thus spoke The Programmer.

Ten Steps to Being Fat, Lonely and Broke

7 Jul 2014 /

Some behaviors come naturally while others require more effort. For example, there are dozens of bestsellers on finding love, losing weight and creating wealth but no market for books like Ten Steps to Being Fat, Lonely and Broke.

More People I’m Sick Unto Death Of: Great West Retirement Services

6 Jul 2014 /

Because I changed jobs recently, I want to roll over a 401k into an IRA. I filled out the form, mailed it in to Great West Retirement Services — they manage the 401k — and got this in return:

The enclosed benefit request is being returned for additional and or missing information. We require the following item(s) be completed before processing can take place:

  • Please have this request completed on the attached current version of the distribution form. The form this request was submitted on is now discontinued.

OK, first of all, the form isn’t being returned for additional or missing information. I filled out the form I was given and you’re telling me it’s now discontinued. You can’t figure it out anyway? You really need me to fill out ANOTHER 6-PAGE FORM with EXACTLY THE SAME INFORMATION in a slightly different format?!

And I love this part: “Please have this request completed . . .” I DON’T HAVE SOMEONE WHO COMPLETES FORMS FOR ME! I HAVE TO DO IT MYSELF, YOU FUCKING PRICKS!

The $100 Tank of Gas

23 May 2014 /

I’ve Solved the Problem of Economic Inequality

18 May 2014 /

Instead of “economic inequality,” let’s call it “economic diversity.” Then it’s a good thing, right?

Random Thoughts on Paying College Athletes

17 May 2014 /

Where is the money going to come from? Most people seem to think that college athletic programs are big money makers. They aren’t. Despite the big revenue dollars associated with two sports — football and men’s basketball — 90 percent of Division I athletic programs, because of the much larger number of non-revenue sports, operate at a loss. They’re subsidized by the general fund of the university. Paying athletes would require additional dollars to be directed away from academic endeavors: hiring and paying professors, funding research, offering financial aid to non-athletes, etc.


Title IX requires gender equity. You couldn’t just pay football players and men’s basketball players. Everyone would need to be paid equally in some sense, even in non-revenue sports.


How much money are we talking about? Let’s say at a medium to large school, we have 500 to 1,000 student athletes and we’re going to pay all of them a modest stipend of $10,000. That’s a cost of 5 to 10 million dollars a year. Sorry, Mom and Dad, that your kid couldn’t get the classes he or she needed to graduate in four years but when we pink-slipped professors so we could pay the athletes, we had to cut back on the number of available courses.


Are college athletes being exploited imposed upon financially? It makes sense to consider athletes in two groups:

  1. Future professional athletes. They have available to them a large group of coaches and support staff whose job is to prepare them athletically and promote them so as to make as much money as possible in highly lucrative occupations. If they don’t get paid right now, they’ll get paid a lot of money very soon.
  2. Everyone else (a much bigger group). Everyone else will have to go forth into the world and try to earn a living in some non-athletic pursuit. An athletic scholarship gives them the benefit of a paid-for college education that most of them would not otherwise receive. What is the monetary value of that over the course of a lifetime? Quite a lot.

With all the national and local sports networks, playing football or basketball at a Division I school makes you not only a big man on campus, but a local, if not national, celebrity. It’s fun! You get to play games with your buddies, travel around, stay in nice hotels, appear on television. If you’re a good player, people will talk about you on TV, on the radio, on the Internet – constantly – like you’re some kind of an important person. There are worse things that can happen to you in life than being a Division I scholarship athlete.


All that being said, if you as a college athlete really feel that you are being taken advantage of and not adequately compensated for the value of your contribution, don’t play. It’s not exploitation if you do it voluntarily.

One Percenters

10 May 2014 /

“Progressives” love to complain about the alleged unfairness of the amount of income earned (“Progressives typically use misleading terms such as “claimed by”) the top 1 percent of income earners. Why not complain instead about the unfairness of the amount of tax revenues received by the top 1 percent of net-tax-revenue recipients? Why are the annual tax-receipt incomes of this small group less worthy of condemnation than are the annual pre-tax market-earned incomes of “the 1 percent” who are the regular objects of criticism, envy, and childish populist moralizing?

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