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Latest Issue

Promises, Promises, Pension Promises

July 24, 2016

You made me promises, promises
You knew you’d never keep
Promises, promises
Why do I believe?

Naked Eyes (1983)

It’s election year in the US, so once again we see politicians promising the moon. That’s what happens in a democracy. Regardless of party or office, all politicians make promises in order to get elected. This is their nature. Dogs bark, birds sing, politicians promise.

In the investment business, we’re taught not to make promises because they create liability. Lawyers and compliance officers review documents for “promissory” language. Instead of “This fund will give you a profit,” firms say things that generally sound like “This will give you the opportunity to profit,” thereby avoiding lawsuits and regulatory action when profit proves elusive.

With the Republican convention just concluded and the Democratic convention just ahead, with the presidential candidates making promises by the dozens, let’s imagine what a presidential promise would sound like if it had to comply with the same rules that investment advisors and brokers must adhere to. It would go something like this:

If you elect me as president, I will (insert promise), assuming of course that I can get both houses of Congress to agree, which means of course that I must persuade enough of the opposition Senators to bring my total up to 60 votes in the Senate, assuming that none of my own party votes against me. And that also assumes we can find the money to fulfill this promise, which is unlikely...

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