Surviving the '80s, Financially Speaking


Survive and Win in the Inflationary Eighties, by Howard J. Ruff, New York: Times Books, 1981, 280 pp., $12.50.

Howard J. Ruff, who doesn't look the part his name suggests, advised us in 1979 about prospering during the coming bad years, and now he returns with the doom-gloom sequel Survive and Win in the Inflationary Eighties. The irony that this economically cogent work is published by a subsidiary of the New York Times will have to go unexplored here, though it does say something rather wonderful about our country that a leading perpetrator of the real voodoo economic theorizing will make money from a book arguing precisely against everything, at least everything in the realm of economics, that the Times stands for.

The $12.50 you shell out for Survive and Win may well be the best investment you'll make this month, though if it's the best investment you make this year, you won't have paid attention to Ruff's advice. For those who believe that the Government and the People are one, or even fairly closely related except by force, the rest of what I have to say will fall on earmuffs.

With the author's five principles of government, this reviewer has no argument. Try them out on yourself:

1. Government is not compassionate or wise. Government is impersonal and stupid.

2. When government solves a problem, it invariably creates two problems of equal or greater dimensions.

3. The true function of government is to make small problems worse.

4. It is the tendency of all governments to increase their power at the expense of the freedom of its citizens.

5. True patriotism requires resistance to that expansion of power, within the spirit and letter of the Constitution.

Still with me? Howard Ruff leads us gingerly through a few well-chosen examples of the horror that is our government today and slides us not so gently but quite convincingly into his basic premise, which is: we ain't seen nothin' yet.

To elaborate: there will be a small, brief decline in the rate of inflation late this year, and then the rate of inflation will dramatically climb upward, ever upward, until, barring a combination of miracles and unaccustomed wisdom by those who misgovern us, the economy will fall to pieces. Sound gloomy? So's the book.

This is no panacea approach to saving the country, because Ruff, and many of the rest of us who have learned from Ruff and a handful of others like him, believes that virtually everything points to increasing economic mischief, not to salvation. Two factors weigh heavily against even the most intelligent approach—for which Ruff would say, Reagan's approach—to combating economic catastrophe: the debt and Social Security. You either know the abyss that awaits us in the not-so-distant future owing to the increasing payments on the national debt and the insidious growth in Social Security obligations…or you don't. If the latter, there is little point in reading further.

Assuming that you understand what the administration, any administration, cannot do very much, if anything, about, then consider the very great likelihood of an economic debacle in the 1980s and consider further whether or not you want to do something about your own future. Ruff believes that the Reagan government can at best, owing to the political realities weighing against his administration's approach, delay slightly the near certainty of runaway inflation and with it the ruination of the economy in general. There is time, he is saying, both to push vigorously for more of what Reagan wants—and what America desperately needs in the economic sphere—and to prepare your own survival strategy. As to the former: make your elected officials know that you want them to act in an economically sound manner.

As to the latter, consider Ruff's fundamentals: avoid failure; recognize that inflation is epidemic; don't be greedy; don't go into volatile, highly leveraged speculations; be patient; avoid the "give-me-action" syndrome; diversify across the beat-inflation spectrum; don't confuse investments and causes; avoid loaning money to banks; never buy a negative cash flow; learn to beat taxes; understand that intangible ideas move the world; dare to be different; and create a framework for your investment decisions—with which the bulk of this vital book deals.

David Brudnoy is a radio and television talk show host in Boston and writes a nationally syndicated column. Copyright © 1981 by David Brudnoy.