Optimism in a crowd of pessimissm

Mar 14, 2018Financial Transformation

Every time I turn on the news, I seem to get information that tells me how bad things are. I really wish there was a news station that reported the good stuff. To fight the news, I usually start by turning it off. I also try to make sure I am reading and listening to things that help give more of an optimistic point of view. With that in mind, I thought I would share some of the good stuff I’ve run across with you. I imagine most of this will be things you haven’t seen anywhere else, so I hope they help to raise your spirits.

The first quote comes from Nicholas Kristof in the January 6th issue of the New York Times. The article was titled, “Why 2017 was the best year in human history.”

In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity. Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean water.

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps.

That data simply amazes me at the progress of human achievement. The improvement in illiteracy and poverty in my lifetime is staggering.

The next quote is from Brian Wesbury, an economist at First Trust. To slightly modify the old saying, “The only function of economists is to make weathermen and astrologists look respectable.” I usually don’t put a lot of faith in the comments of an economist, but Brian Wesbury is the exception. He has such a different way of looking at the data, that I find it refreshing. He fights the “group think” and that is to our benefit. On December 11, 2017, he wrote a piece called, “The fallacy of weak productivity.” I think you will enjoy this insight. It goes to show, that just because the media says it, doesn’t mean that its fact. (The emphasis was added.)

Non-farm productivity growth, as measured by the government, has averaged slightly above 1% per year lately. That’s slow by most historical standards…But can this really be true? New technologies are boosting productivity everywhere. As recently as 2009 it took over a month to drill and complete a new oil well; now it takes around a week. Farmers have boosted the bushels of corn they get from every acre of farmland by 2.4% per year since the early 1990s-while new tech (drones, GPS, ground sensors) help save on inputs of hours, water, fuel, and fertilizer.

Smartphones, tablets, apps, the cloud, 3-D printing, drones, and many other new technologies are clearly boosting productivity. And not just in tech industries.

So why do so many people think productivity is weak? Yes, government data sources say it’s weak.
But anyone who goes outside instead of living in the data knows nearly everything is getting better, faster and cheaper.

I pray both of these brighten your week. Things are truly getting better more than we realize.