The rich are different from you and me. This week, John McCain had his George Bush-and-the-grocery-store-scanner moment. If you remember, during his 1988 campaign, George 41 committed a real doozy of a blunder when he marveled at a grocery store scanner -- even though most of us had been shopping at scanner-ready markets for years. Similarly out of touch, McCain, was asked the other day how many homes he and his well-to-do wife owned. McCain's answer was, "I'll have my staff get to you."
Since I only own one home, I've never had a problem recalling the answer to this question. However, I personally view McCain's response as reflective of someone who's more focused on the big picture than someone who's so busy buying real estate that he's lost count. Still, it was an easy moment to take a shot at him, made even easier by his response less than a week earlier to Rick Warren's question, "Define Rich?" In a self-mocking tone that he accurately predicted would be used against him, he responded "If you're just talking about income, how about $5 million." Little did he know that he'd be the one mocking himself with his gaffe just a few days later.
But enough about John McCain, who made his money the old fashioned way -- by marrying it. Which of the presidential candidates is going to make you more wealthy?
Here's what the economic pundits are saying:
Obama, along with a Democratic Congress, will push a serious tax reform agenda. He's running, in part, based on the notion that the inequities between the truly wealthy and the rest of us are too great and that government's role is to redistribute wealth for the common good. One way to do this is to tax the wealthy and use the money to create programs to help educate and prepare the less-well-off to compete.
My take: From an investor's point of view, tax reform seems extremely likely. This will probably take the form of higher capital gains tax rates. Beltway insiders tell us this would probably take effect beginning with the 2010 tax year although it may be retroactive to partway through 2009. If cap gains go up, and combine with a weak U.S. dollar, look for a HUGE flurry of selling to take place in both private business and public markets. While selling usually sounds bad, the effects of this forecast are still unknown. Selling will create a lot of mergers and acquisition activity, creating some new opportunities in a way that shake-ups usually do. It will also add a great deal of liquidity to the economy.
As for McCain, you can count on him to do pretty much the opposite of what Obama does. As I write this, we're all eagerly awaiting word on who the running mates will be, but I suspect McCain's will be more revealing about his economic plans. Choosing a strong pro-business Veep will be a signal that he really plans to continue the economic policies of Bush 43.
In summary: while I abhor market timing in general, if you were planning on selling your business or a large bloc of stock in the next couple of years, 2009 is your best bet. You may capture an extra 10 percent if you do this. Also, on an estate planning note, 2010 is the year where the estate tax exemption goes away for one year only. So my advice is to sell in 2009 and die in 2010. It's the most tax efficient generational wealth transfer plan I can think of. After all, as they say, no matter how many houses you own or how much wealth you've built up, you can't take any of it with you.
LEWIS SCHIFF | Inc. Business Owners Council
Lewis Schiff is the executive director of the Inc. Business Owners Council. His latest book is Business Brilliant: Surprising Lessons From the Greatest Self-Made Business Icons.