If you’ve been reading the many forecasts for 2015, you can’t help but wonder why so many prognosticators are pessimistic — real estate is going to collapse; the stock market will bomb; gold, silver and commodities will plummet! How is it that in our lifetime and our parents’ we see nothing but improvements behind us, and nothing good ahead of us?
Today’s pessimists point to the terrorist attacks in Paris, our national debt out of control, income inequality, immigrants overtaking the country, and global warming destroying the Earth. Moreover, if you think this universe is bad, you should see some of the others.
A couple worried that their 5-year-old twins were developing extreme personalities — one a congenital pessimist, the other an incurable optimist — took the boys to a psychiatrist.
Trying to assuage the pessimist, the psychiatrist showed him a room piled high with new toys. Instead of jumping for joy, he cried, saying if he played with the toys, he would only break them.
Next, the psychiatrist tried dampening the optimist by showing him a room filled with horse manure. Instead of groaning in disgust, the little boy jumped into the middle of the pile, flaying about and digging. “What are you doing?' asked the psychiatrist. “You can’t fool me with all this manure,” the child replied excitedly. “There must be a pony here somewhere."
In 1980, the extreme pessimist Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University professor and author of “The Population Bomb,” was willing to wager that England will not exist in the year 2000, and hundreds of millions of people will die as the world runs out of food and commodities.
Economist Julian Simon, an optimist, said that’s stupid and countered with a $1,000 bet that the cost of raw materials will not rise in the next 10 years. Pick five commodities, he said, and all will be cheaper and more plentiful in 10 years. After the time passed, Simon won the bet, but pessimists at the time said it was like the man who jumped off the Empire State Building and on passing the 10th floor exclaimed, “Everything OK so far.”
The fact is more people are living better, healthier and longer with most things cheaper all across the planet. This explains how the world population has grown from 1 billion in 1804 to nearly 7.3 billion today.
If people were not living healthier and longer with infant mortality plummeting, it would be impossible. The United Nations notes that poverty has declined more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500.
So if everything is getting better for our kids and us, why are there so many pessimists? Why the negativity?
For the simple reason we are inundated daily with bad news, “If it bleeds, it leads.” The 100,000 airplane flights that land safely each day are not news — but one crash is. As you might imagine, optimists build airplanes and pessimists the parachutes.
My mother once told me she thought the world was coming to an end with all the reports of earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes, seemingly every day. I told her with modern technology a lot of similar bad news is just compressed into one news cycle and is no worse than before.
For instance, when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, it took months for the news to reach across America by ship and stage coach. Later, the news traveled in days or hours by transatlantic cable and telegraph when Krakatoa erupted in 1883; the ash blackened sky all around the entire globe. With recent eruptions, we’d be able to see volcanologists killed by pyroclastic blasts as they happened.
When we are constantly bombarded during a 24-hour news cycle about murders, fires and terrorists, we deceive ourselves into believing such rare tragedies are on the rise. Particularly when we hear about them not as rare once-a-year events in one city, but compressed into our TV sets from hundreds of cities, it gives the impression of pervasive catastrophes and epidemics. The Ebola scare, for example, ran for weeks with only three victims and one death in the United States.
The fact is, things in general have never been better. Most people alive today have the highest standard of living in history. Housing, food, clothing, health care, sanitation, leisure time, are of higher quality and often cheaper than just a generation ago.
While the rich may be getting richer, so is everyone else. Think about air travel, like my first trip to Las Vegas in 1960 in a propeller plane versus a jet today, or your iPhone with over 1 million apps versus the rotary phone of my parents or the hand crank phone of my grandparents.
Think of the automobile you drive. Automobiles are the safest and most dependable ever, with over 17 million sold annually in the United States alone, with record sales in January, cheaper relative to income than ever before.
Think positive, be optimistic! Over the next 10 years you will be astounded by real estate prices doubling, stock market record highs, gold and silver prices exploding, and all of you will be living in million-dollar homes without ever having to move.