Tuesday, September 23, 2014
  Mid-century lacuna

Been listening at bedtime to episodes of This is Your FBI from '45-'52. Just interesting enough to distract, not interesting enough to stay awake to the end. Good bedtime playlist material. The show was sponsored steadily by Equitable Life, which is still around under a different name.

Equitable carries strong positive memories. In my bookkeeping days, Equitable was the main insurer for the company. I got to know the agent and learned something about insurance from him. The same agent served our family well when an uncle committed a carefully ambiguous suicide to end the hell of alcohol. The agent quietly treated the suicide as a natural death. A less heroic agent would have followed the rules and left my uncle's family penniless.

These old Equitable ads featured a variety of different insurance and investment products. One of them was called "Independent 60s". Sounded interesting. Apparently a savings plan, intended to start in your 40s, helping you to stay on track toward a comfortable retirement. I don't need such a plan now, since I've reached a comfortable (semi)retirement through frugality, some wisdom, and lots of luck. Still, I was curious to see how Equitable had structured the plan. Might learn something useful.

Nothing at all on the web. Independent and 60s are common words but Equitable isn't. Searching for all three, plus variants on savings and retirement, led to a lot of odd academic stuff but nothing at all from Equitable itself.

As I expected. The web has a giant hole from 1923 to 1978. Within the gap, only scattered info and big events are represented on the web. Disney's privately purchased copyright law cuts in at '23 to cover Steamboat Willie. Sources like archive.org or books.google.com are full of goodies before '23 but end abruptly at Mickey's birthday. After 1978, the 'fullness of life' started to hit the internet directly through Compuserve, BBS's, Telnet, Uunet, etc. Many of those sources are still present behind a HTML shell, and most of the info got transferred to the HTML-style web anyway.

The lacuna was reinforced by the economic revolution of the '80s. Many corporations shredded their archives when they were forcibly LBO'd by Goldman or Morgan. In a world where SHARE VALUE IS OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, human capital and human memory must be obliterated.

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Later, a semi-related observation. The ads for Equitable in this early '50s show talked in considerable detail about investing for retirement and investing toward other goals. Your Equitable agent was prepared to help with those affairs. (I state that as a fact because I know he was!) Comparing this discussion with what I hear now on 'money-talk' radio shows, one huge difference pops out. Current money-talk is ALL about evading taxes. That's the ONLY thing the callers want. They don't care about keeping their capital intact or getting the best return. ZERO TAXES ZERO TAXES ZERO TAXES is the only goal. These callers will work their asses off to save one penny in tax. None of that was present in the '50s discussion by Equitable. I've heard several dozen episodes of FBI, and the word TAX hasn't come up once.

If numbers and percentages were the prime concern, this comparison should be reversed. Income and capital gains taxes in the early '50s were HUGE, and current tax rates are super-low.

Must be something other than numbers, something that made upper-middle earners in the '50s relatively unconcerned about taxes while their modern counterparts have NO GOAL BUT ZERO TAXES ZERO TAXES ZERO TAXES. Is it just the decades of Reagan/Rush/Rand propaganda?

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And much later, an explanation from one of those money-talk shows. Life insurance firms had been offering plans like this for a long time. The plans were hybrids of annuity plus life insurance, but they were consistently advertised as just plain life insurance. The annuity part was "additional life insurance protection." In fact they were tax-advantaged because IRS considers the interest on an annuity as taxable income but doesn't tax life insurance. The plans weren't advertised as tax-advantaged, but the agent would presumably show you the advantage. Finally IRS stopped these plans and required annuities to be clearly separated and advertised as such.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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