Friday, September 23, 2011

Of Compound Interest And Immortality

A short history of trusts (via the Dish):
When the first century of Franklin’s rather more practical plan arrived in 1891, it bore $572,000 for Boston and Philadelphia. That was hardly one earth of solid gold, let alone 200 million of them, but Franklin had made his point—and in particular, he’d made it to a New York lawyer named Jonathan Holden.
Trained in law at Colgate and a multimillionaire through property investments, Holden was the sort of fellow who gave himself haircuts to save money, advocated the use of phonetic spelling in English, and lived on a diet of prunes and shredded wheat. By 1912, as the founder of what he christened “The Futurite Cult”—a few of its publications still survive in far-flung libraries—he’d concluded that the earth had achieved “a stage of civilization when vested property rights will be unmolested even in the case of conquest.” The time was right, he decided, to take Franklin’s grand economic experiment to its next logical step.
“One of the first American statesmen performed an act which is suggestive of possibilities,” Holden said of Franklin in a 1912 pamphlet, wondering whether “some citizen of the present day felt disposed to carry the ‘Franklin Plan’ still further.”
That citizen would be Holden himself. Beginning in 1936, he sluiced $2.8 million into a series of five-hundred- and thousand-year trusts—just one of which, allocated to the Unitarian Church, would be worth $2.5 quadrillion upon its maturation in the twenty-fifth century. A thousand-year fund dedicated to the state of Pennsylvania would yield $424 trillion; the money was to be applied to abolishing the state’s taxes. Holden didn’t even live in Pennsylvania—he’d picked the state as an homage to Franklin.
I have some familiarity of trusts.  Sometimes, you have to wonder what the benefactor's motivation actually is.  It clearly is tried as a tax dodge, and many times it just seems like the person didn't trust his or her family with the individual's wealth.  This statement definitely strikes me as true:
These days, perpetual trusts are old hat: American laws against them have been steadily rolled back in the last two decades, thanks to a banking lobby that rather likes the idea of keeping your money forever.
As the article says, trustee fees eat at the value of the account.  Guess who collects that.

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