by Greg Mayer
Just what the world needs: a hagiographic film on John M. Templeton! According to Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times, there’s a new film about Templeton, Contrarian; it will be shown in the US tonight (Saturday, Dec. 28) at 9 PM eastern time on Bloomberg TV (it aired the past two nights as well). Templeton, of course, was the very wealthy investor who spent a lot of his money on a quixotic quest to answer “big questions”, which mostly devolved into an attempt to promote “discoveries” in religion, and to mix-up science with theology. The film appears to be “authorized”, with several family members participating, and his foundation’s logo accompanying the publicity materials.
The title seems rather odd. While a lot of money is lost on Wall Street, a lot of money is also made there, so Templeton does not stand out because he got rich. Is it because of how he got rich? Well, everyone who beats the average market performance did something different from most other investors, so that hardly qualifies. Spending a lot of money supporting his religion and advocating “free enterprise” is utterly conventional for rich men. As a Presbyterian, his religion is also completely mainstream.
The most distinctive and contrarian thing about Templeton is not mentioned in any of the publicity materials (website, trailer) that I’ve seen: that he renounced his American citizenship in order to avoid paying taxes. Templeton moved to the Bahamas, and obtained UK citizenship as well, so that he could avoid paying taxes to the US. In the trailer, it is said that he was, “very conscious of not wasting a dollar”, so I suppose Templeton thought taxes were a waste (taking a rather different view of the matter than did Oliver Wendell Holmes).
Not only do the filmmakers and the promoters leave this fact out, the promotional materials are rich with bucolic scenes of the American heartland, emphasize his rural upbringing, and they’ve even named their website “tennesseecontrarian.com”– a rather astonishing point of emphasis about a man who renounced his citizenship! (And we’re of course not talking about an immigrant who leaves his homeland seeking opportunity or liberty– he had both, but thought he could better his rate of return.)
It’s interesting that the film is being shown on Bloomberg TV, owned (mostly) by New York’s soon to be ex-mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, like Templeton, bought a residence in a tax haven, but because of his political ambitions, Bloomberg could never have renounced his US citizenship as Templeton did.