Pat Robertson has many credits to his name: he's the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and host of its long-running show, The 700 Club; he's the chancellor of Regent University; and he's a onetime presidential candidate who challenged George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 1988. Now Robertson has added another title: financial adviser. His latest book, Right on the Money: Financial Advice for Tough Times, draws on his own experiences and makes straightforward recommendations for financial planning amid economic turmoil. He talked to TIME about money, religion and politics.
TIME: This is your first personal-finance book, is that right?
Robertson: That's right. I talk about finances on my TV show; we call it "Money Monday." One of the editors happened to see that segment and thought it'd make a nice book. (Find out 10 things to do with your money.)
It seems a little bit out of your usual line.
Well, actually, I manage a couple of stock portfolios or funds or whatever you want to call 'em, and I think I've done relatively well with them. My broker says I'm in the top 1% of fund managers with the results I've been having.
Your book takes a fairly wide view of personal finance. Are some of these rules and pieces of advice things that you yourself use in investing?
Some of them. What's in the book is for everybody, but primarily for the people who are not exactly sophisticated in the stock market and are wondering, What do I do with my house and my mortgage? How do I send my kids to school? How do budget principles work? It's basically what would be confronting the average person in the country. (Read "How to Invest for an Economic Rebound.")
Do you feel like you're getting more financial questions these days than you used to on your show?
Oh, absolutely. People are scared to death. You can imagine, if somebody's approaching retirement, and all of a sudden the funds that he or she is depending on is depleted by 50% or however many, it gives them a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. I was trying to allay some of those fears.
One of the things that struck me about the book is that it's fairly secular and practical this is what a 401(k) does, this is how a Roth IRA works. Is this something you aimed for when you were writing it?
I think that's right. I've got some religious principles in there that I think are primary like giving to charity and so forth. The other was [compound interest], a principle that I think underlies all wealth, a principle that Jesus gave: "Unto him who has, more will be given." Like the parable of the Talents. So that comes from the Bible. But I didn't go beyond that. I think just practical advice on a so-called secular level is what people are looking for. (See 10 financial moves to make now.)
You outline a fairly dramatic story about how you started CBN with just $70 in your pocket. I'm sure people now would like to know how you lived on $70 at that time.
When we started, there was no money available for us. I bought a bag of soybeans 70 pounds for two dollars and we literally lived on soybeans. We just didn't have any money to spend. Everything was devoted to getting the Christian Broadcasting Network underway. My first year, total income was $8,000 for the whole enterprise. Second year it was $20,000. And now our income is in the $600 to $700 million range. So it does grow. You bet.
You talk a bit in the book about the underlying causes of the financial crisis. You blame the overreaching of American consumers their greed, in fact as being one of the root causes of this.
I don't think there's any question about it. I think you take it all the way up the line: the guy who is barely scraping by decides he's going to get a $400,000 mortgage; the mortgage broker who knows good and well that the mortgage isn't a suitable one but who passed it up the line to Wall Street; the ratings agencies who put AAA ratings on those packages. It was like a contagion that spread all over the world. But it was rooted in greed, at every level, all the way up the line. (See pictures of the global financial crisis.)
Do you see an element of divine retribution in this?
It's inherent in that kind of conduct. I mean, if a person acts irresponsibly in his own life, he will pay the consequences. And it's not so much divine retribution as it's built into the law of nature. If we abuse our bodies, for example, we will be subject to a host of diseases. If we abuse alcohol or drugs, we will find that we don't have jobs and our families are broken apart and we've wound up out on the street. It's the same thing with the nation. We have abused the privileges that we've had.
How do you think the Obama Administration is doing thus far in terms of addressing the problems?
I think, frankly, they're throwing money away. I think it's an incredible misuse of our nation's wealth. These debts have got to be paid back sooner or later. Future generations are going to have to pay these bills.
You were a candidate for President once yourself. What would you be doing differently now if you were in that position?
I wouldn't want to be President now! No, I'll tell you, I would follow the same course that George Bush No. 1 did: I would set up a Resolution Trust Company like he did, and I literally would buy up all those bad loans. And the assets that were purchased, you put them up for auction. Just like the Resolution Trust. And the money that is raised from that goes back into the Treasury and hopefully pays down what it took to buy those assets. But still, [former Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson and others haven't faced the one issue that has to be dealt with, and that's what you do with these loans and this bad real estate. Instead of that, they passed out all this TARP money to banks, and the banks aren't lending because the essential problem hasn't yet been solved.
President Obama has just nominated Sonia Sotomayor to be a Supreme Court Justice. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, it's a disaster. She's the most liberal of the candidates he could've picked. Fortunately, she's taking the place of Souter who was a liberal himself, but he wasn't near as extreme as she is. (See pictures of Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination.)
Another question on current events: The California Supreme Court has ruled to uphold Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I think the will of the people in California was clear. This was a popular referendum, highly publicized and voted on by millions of Californians, and I think the court ought to leave the decision of the people alone. (See a visual history of the gay-rights movement.)