Excess returns to Congress

Some may say excess never left Congress, but I am referring to something a bit different.  “Excess returns” is the phrase used to describe an investment result which is above average for the kind of investment made.  And according to a report from Barron’s Randall W. Forsyth, a new study shows that U. S. Senators achieve an excess return of 10.7% per year in their personal investments.  For members of the House of Representatives, the excess is 6.8%.  Forsyth points out that any professional investment manager who achived this result on a consistent basis would be quite phenomenal.  He concludes that

Members of Congress used inside information gleaned from their positions of power to enrich themselves in the stock market.

He is probably right, and I would be the last to accuse Congress of honesty, but there is another possible explanation.  Maybe Congressmen are just cleverer than the rest of us, and in particular are more difficult to deceive.  Congress itself is evidence that the broad public is easily fooled.

In this regard, I recall stumbling a few months ago on a link to the personal investment statements that Congressmen and some other federal officials file. (Curious that I did not bookmark it and can’t seem to locate it right now.) I picked a Congressman who I thought might be honest, Ron Paul, and looked up his statement.  Dr. Paul seemed to have most of his money in precious metals, I don’t recall the extent to which it might have  been bullion, mining stocks, or related investments.  Of course this strategy would have done very well over the past couple of years. Paul is associated with the idea that U. S. dollars should be backed with gold.  I don’t think he considers this realistic in the near term, but of course if it ever happened the effect would be to push the price of gold higher as bullion would be accumulated to “back” the money.  But does Paul endorse gold-backed money in order to increase the value of his investments?  Or does he invest in gold  because he expects its value to increase?  I’m pretty sure it is the latter.  Of course this kind of logic would apply only to honest Congressmen, so I suppose we could consider Ron Paul to be an outlier.

According to Forsyth, the source study, by Alan J. Ziobrowski of Georgia State University, James W. Boyd of Lindenwood University, Ping Cheng of Florida Atlantic University and Brigitte J. Ziobrowski of August[a] State University appeared May 25 in the Journal “Business and Politics” and covers the years 1985-2001.