smart spending

Q&A with media mogul Steve Forbes

Steve Forbes may be best known as chairman and editor-in-chief of the magazine and media empire bearing his name, but his influence spans far beyond publishing. Famously a proponent of supply-side economics, Forbes twice campaigned for the Republican nomination for president with the proposal for a flat tax rate for all income levels as his platform and the belief that free enterprise is the cure for what ails America.

Steve Forbes
Steve Forbes
Photo by Sherry Ferrante

Though he now calls himself an agitator rather than presidential-hopeful, Forbes continues to promote free market ideals through his speeches and writing, notably calling for a return to the gold standard to stabilize the dollar, an injection of more capitalism into health care (and less of the other 'ism; think "social"), and finally throwing out the tax code once and for all.

Bankrate sat down with Forbes in Palm Beach, Fla., to ask a few questions about today's pressing economic matters. Forbes was on a stop in a seven-city speaking tour hosted by insurance and financial services firm Northwestern Mutual.

QuestionWhat would you say is the biggest barrier to the economic recovery at the moment?

AnswerThe most immediate barrier is the weak dollar. We've never had a sustained recovery when the dollar has been weak, so they need to make it strong and stable.

I think in the next five years, the dollar will be, for the first time since the early 1970s, retied to gold.

Another couple of big things: Simplify the tax code -- like (implementing) the flat tax so people can spend their time doing positive things with a low rate instead of the horrible mess we have with the code today: 10 million words of gibberish.

Another major thing is to get real free enterprise in health care. Health care is now like a pretzel on steroids. I think we need to get more free enterprise in health care.

Nationwide shopping for health insurance, equal tax treatment between individuals and companies, tort reform and the like and we'll get a positive return on health care.

And finally, very immediately what they can do is stop binge spending.

Families have done it, businesses have gotten their balance sheets in order. It's time Uncle Sam did the same thing, instead of talking about obesity. How about government obesity?

QuestionDid you enjoy the Fed's press conference? Did you agree with Ben Bernanke's assertion that Fed policy would strengthen or support the dollar in the mid- to long-term?

AnswerBernanke's press conference was interesting, but he didn't say anything he hasn't said before, and that is that he wants a weak dollar.

The language of a strong dollar they have been using for 10 years while systematically printing more and more money. So instead of verbiage, how about some reality? If he was on a reality show, he would have been off the island five years ago.

QuestionWhat signposts would you expect to see before the Fed tightens credit?

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AnswerWell, it's not so much tighten or loosen: It's stability. Instead of inflation or deflation, how about a policy of "flation"? That means affixing it to a narrow range on gold and then people could trust the dollar again. You would get more realistic interest rates and more investment instead of speculation in currencies and commodities.

So I think the key thing is for the Fed to make it clear that they are abandoning a weak dollar policy. They have various ways they can signal that -- like saying it and then following through by stopping the printing presses, pull the plug.

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