Things Are Getting Better

I was going to write about the biggest story in finance last week which was the collapse of FTX (one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges with many famous investors) and yet another subsequent crash in the crypto space. However, it felt a bit dancing-on-graves-ish, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to write about something more positive.

My main takeaway from the whole debacle is to simply be careful where you invest your money. Before investing any of your hard-earned savings, always have a plan and understand exactly what you’re investing in.

There is a lot of negativity in the world these days and I’m not just talking about a crypto crash, bear market, recession, or inflation. It’s everywhere we look. Throw a rock, hit a problem.

However, as we get together with friends and family this week in the attitude of giving thanks for what we have, I think it’s important to recognize that despite everything we see on the news, the world is getting better for most people.
Here’s a compilation of stats that show how things have gotten better over time:

• In 1981 the auto fatality rate was 21.49 per 100,000 people. In 2018 it was 11.18. Meaning that every hour of every day in 2019 almost four Americans who would have died in 1981 did not die.
• The homicide rate was over 10 per 100,000 Americans in 1981, and 5 in 2018. That decline means 16,000 fewer people being murdered over the course of a year.
• Infant mortality has fallen by 54% since 1981. Over the last decade, there have been something like 210,000 fewer infant deaths relative to the rates seen in 1981.
• The number of cigarettes smoked in the United States peaked in 1981 at 640 billion. By 2017 it was 249 billion and falling. That equates to 11,574 fewer cigarettes smoked every second.
• The rate of malnutrition globally decreased from 65% in 1950 to less than 9% by 2019. In 1950 that meant fewer than 900 million people with an adequate food supply. It’s now over 7 billion people.
• Global life expectancy has doubled over the past 200 years.

How about some facts about money:

• Nearly 35% of Americans over age 25 have a bachelor’s degree. In the 1960s, less than 10% did.
• In 1830, the average worker put in 70 hours a week from Monday to Saturday. The average workweek is now 40 hours a week Monday through Friday.
• Despite working less, people are also making far more money than in the past. In 1900, the average global income (adjusted for inflation) was a little more than $2,200 per year. By 2016, it was almost $15,000. A 600%+ rise in the past 100 years.
• In America alone, median personal income (adjusted for inflation) has increased from $22,682 in 1981 to $33,706 in 2018. Meaning the median worker has become almost 50% richer over that period.
• In 1900, the average American family spent nearly 80% of their pay on necessities (food, clothes, and housing). Including a whopping 40% on food. In addition, less than 20% of all households owned their home in 1900. Compare that to today where the homeownership rate is more than 60% and household spending on necessities has dropped to less than 50%. The amount spent on food is now less than 13%.

Now, will any of these stats actually make you feel better about the world today? I hope so, but probably not. When watching the news or being on social media it’s so much easier to latch onto negative events.

Historian Deirdre McCloskey once said:

“For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell.”

Why is that?

I assume part of it has to do with a natural survival mechanism passed down from our ancestors. Treating threats as more urgent than opportunities probably gives us a better chance to survive and reproduce.
Morgan Housel explains our seduction to pessimism as such:

“Tell someone that everything will be great and they’re likely to either shrug you off or offer a skeptical eye. Tell someone they’re in danger and you have their undivided attention.

Hearing that the world is going to hell is more interesting than forecasting that things will gradually get better over time, even if the latter is accurate for most people most of the time. Pessimism can be hard to distinguish from critical thinking and is often taken more seriously than optimism, which can be hard to distinguish from salesmanship and aloofness.

Since short-term shocks are more frequent and recent than long-term gains, pessimism usually sounds smarter than optimism because it’s easier to recall.”

But the reality is that while pessimism sounds smart, it’s the optimists who end up being right in the long run. We have an overwhelming amount of evidence now that the world gets better over time, despite the myriad of short-term disappointments along the way.

All good investing comes down to surviving an inevitable chain of short-term setbacks and disappointments (the declines, the recessions, panics, and wars) in order to enjoy long-term progress and compounding.

On average, the U.S. stock market has experienced

• A correction once every 2 years (10%+ drop)
• A bear market once every 7 years (20%+ drop)
• A crash once every 12 years (30%+ drop)

Despite these regular declines, the S&P 500 is still up 7,670% since 1980.

Progress is always happening. We just don’t see it in the news every day because progress doesn’t make for a good headline. Progress is a process, not an event.

John D. Rockefeller was the richest man the world had ever seen. But for most of his adult life he didn’t have electric lights, air conditioning, or sunglasses. He never had penicillin, sunscreen, or Advil. And this isn’t ancient history; Rockefeller died in 1937.

As Warren Buffett has said:

“Rockefeller certainly had power and fame; he could not, however, live as well as my neighbors do now.”
We have a lot to be thankful for.

Thanks for reading!