Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Best Business Model Is Out Of Reach

"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous," said controversial science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1940s. "If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

So, he did. And I can't blame the man. No matter what the Scientology movement did to Tom Cruise's career, or how outlandish its mythology might seem, there is little doubt that Hubbard made out like a bandit from his supposedly religious endeavors. If I had the choice, every stock in my portfolio would sport the advantages of a religious organization:

Automatic respect. Okay, not exactly "automatic," but close enough for any practical purpose. We may live in a litigious society, but it takes some extraordinary chutzpah to sling baseless accusations or lawsuits against a well-respected religious leader or his congregation. Building a Wal-Mart in a formerly serene grass plain may raise eyebrows and community protests. But build a church in the same spot, and the protests won't ring nearly as loud.

And this segues into ...
Passionate followers. Nobody really thinks that Steve Jobs is a divine power. (Right?) It's very hard to imagine a company with more fanatical customers than Apple. Yet even Steve's fan club can't hold a candle to the typical temple. "Evangelism" is a business term, but nobody can spread a message like a centralized religion and all its preachers and practitioners.

Finally, don't forget about the ...
Awesome tax benefits. Uncle Sam wouldn't dare to dip his fingers very deep in the till of any church, synagogue, mosque, or tabernacle. Microsoft paid more than $6 billion in corporate income taxes last year. Wouldn't Steve Ballmer jump for joy if he could simply slap away the long fingers of the IRS?

Get me some of that action!
So I wish I could invest in companies with those advantages. Unfortunately, the tax code stipulates that only non-profits get those tax breaks, religious in nature or not. Public companies prefer to make a profit. Moreover, that sheen of high esteem you see around rabbis and imams wouldn't look as golden to the community, if they were driving stretch Cadillacs and sporting 24-carat bling on every finger. So running a religious for profit is not on the table, leaving investors out of luck.

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to mention a few other perks if you become the leader of Scientology: you can beat people repeatedly without consequence and you can cover up a homicide: