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Dear Senator Obama,
Congratulations on your historic nomination for the Presidency, and thank you for last night's speech. We enjoyed it as well as the fireworks. Though we represent a variety of political viewpoints and both agree and disagree with your positions, there is one tired piece of Democratic rhetoric you're using that we universally believe you should retire. The good news is: We think you agree with us.
About 1,100 words into your speech, while attacking John McCain, you asked "How else could he offer...a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?" That added to a statement you made at Dartmouth College in September 2007 that demanded we "reject things that will...put people's retirement at the whim of the stock market."
While we can all agree or disagree on the merits of giving Americans personal retirement accounts instead of or in addition to Social Security savings, what needs to stop are the constant references to the stock market as a "gamble" and investing as "gambling."
Because it's not.
Warren Buffett, a supporter of yours, got to be one of the richest people in the world by making prudent, long-term investments in excellent companies such as Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , American Express (NYSE: AXP ) , and Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) . If you asked him how he did, he may reply humbly that he was lucky, but he most certainly would not say that he was gambling. Instead, he focused on finding honest management teams, strong brands, and competitive advantages and then buying shares in companies possessing those traits at a discount to his calculated fair value (done by determining the present value of all future cash flows these firms would generate).
We know you went to law school, but this is not rocket science. Any American can be a successful investor provided he or she has the time and temperament, and our mission here at The Motley Fool is to help more Americans become smart investors.
But it's true that not all Americans have the time and temperament. For them, the best solution is index funds. This is still investing, but again, it is not gambling. A low-cost choice such as Vanguard Total Market (FUND: VTSMX ) will currently provide an investor with exposure to more than 3,500 companies, including stalwarts such as General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , staples such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) , and new economy wonders such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . It also provides global diversification, a 2% annual dividend yield, and the promise (if history is to be any guide) of 6% to 10% annual long-term returns.
Putting money behind companies of this quality is not gambling. It's actually the only prudent thing to do if one hopes that his or her retirement savings will beat the rate of inflation and retain their purchasing power for when they're needed.
The fact is people look up to you and you inspire people. If you continue to refer to investing as gambling, then you threaten to scare millions of Americans away from the stock market when in fact all Americans who have the means should be saving and investing regularly in superior companies.
But again, we think you know this. According to your campaign literature, you would retain the reduced tax rates on capital gains and dividends for households earnings less than $250,000 per year and mandate participation in 401(k) plans through employers. If you truly thought that investing is gambling, then we don't think you would pursue any policies that encourage folks to put money to work in the stock market.
So please retire that tired line before you move forward in your campaign. Oh, and also stop making people so scared of China. Americans probably need to be investing there too.
We look forward to your response.
Foolish best wishes,
Tim Hanson, Senior Analyst