Posts Tagged ‘government’

A Non-Political Look at Income Inequality and the Wealth Gap

3 ways you can end income inequality and narrow the wealth gap. Together we can change the world.Frequently we look for political solutions to income inequality and the wealth gap. While the issues can be improved slightly from political action, there are two additional ways to close the wealth gap and level income that are more effective.

Politics is the messiest way to fix these problems and history offers ample warning for those who seek answers from this source. One need not look further than Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia to see how abysmal political leveling can be. North Korea is a modern example of how not to level the playing field. 

Let’s turn our attention to the second way income inequality can be reduced. Walter Scheidel in his book The Great Leveler explains what he calls the “Four Horsemen” of leveling: war, revolution, collapse and plague. Historically these four horsemen have been the leading cause of leveling of income and wealth throughout history. 

Once again this is not a comforting thought. You can read Scheidel’s work for an in-depth review of his research. The record is clear, however; it takes great dislocation, pain, suffering and death for income and wealth to level naturally.

The first two methods of leveling the playing field are not valid choices if you enjoy freedom and like living a comfortable life. These first two methods of leveling are accomplished by bringing the top down rather than the bottom up. Which leads to an interesting thought experiment on how much we really want income equality and a narrower wealth gap.

 

Defining What We Really Want

Before we continue to the third and most viable way to level income and wealth we need to define what it is we really want and what we are trying to accomplish.

Leveling the playing field is actually very easy if you are willing to destroy massive amounts of wealth. Scheidel’s work and the 20th Century are amply examples of fixing the problem the wrong way.

Political solutions eventually lean toward solutions that are relatively effective which means forcing the top down and violence. The four horsemen do the same thing with the crude hammer of god. 

When most people speak of equality they mean they want to bring the bottom up, otherwise they are no better off than before while the upper classes are rent destitute. Normal people are not so dark in their thinking.

Therefore, we really should not care what other people have as long as we are enjoying affluence. Complaining you have one less apple as you relax in paradise is way too diva for this writer; it also shows a remarkable lack of emotional maturity.

In the Western world affluence is high, but there are still people stuck in poverty. The 1% have taken a larger and larger piece of the pie which means the middle class is getting squeezed with smaller gains and the poor are outright losing ground. (See embedded video.)

 

 

From the middle class on up the Western world enjoys massive affluence the rest of the world aspires to. A nice home with two SUVs in the garage are common. Travel is an affordable luxury. Food and clothing ample.

But there is something that grinds on our conscious when one person is paid less than another for the same exact task at the same exact skill level. This requires effort to fix.

While it is easier to ask someone else to make the change, each of us have within ourselves the ability to force equality. 

As a business owner we can take great measures to ensure employees are treated fairly and equitably. But what about large employers? How can we force change across our society?

And before these actions take hold, what can we personally do to narrow the wealth gap in our own life? Can we narrow income inequality in our own life regardless what business or government does?

This brings us to the third way to level the playing field.

 

 

The Numbers Don’t Lie

In 1995 James M. Poterba of MIT and Andrew A. Samwick of Dartmouth College published a damning report on household wealth in America

The above chart shows the household savings rate in America for the last 60 years. In the 1970s the savings rate began a precipitous decline. At the same time income inequality began to grow. Could there be a correlation?

Poterba and Samwick discuss historical stock ownership in America in their report. Their most interesting comment is telling: All corporate stock is ultimately owned by individuals. They allow for foreign ownership of U.S. equities which was around 5% at the time they published.

Here is what you can do to end income inequality today! 3 ways to narrow the wealth gaps and level income.While stock ownership eventually is owned by individuals, the real question revolves around which individuals own these investments.

According to the report household ownership of stocks was nearly 90% in the 1950s and has declined to less than 50% by the 1990s. Since the report it is fair to say stock ownership has continued declining.

The third way to level income and smooth wealth can only be accomplished on the personal level. If most people refuse to engage the exercise they will suffer greater inequality and there is nothing the government or any politician can do about it!

Traditionally the arguments surrounding income inequality involves wages. There is truth behind the inequality in wages over the last 30 or so years. The richest are getting the largest share.

But this ignores every other source of income! In the 1950s virtually all households held some stock. These households had a fractional share of ownership in these corporations. Dividends went to the household, almost all of them.

Now fewer than half of households own stocks which means these households have zero income from this source. The wealthiest by default ended up owning nearly all America’s wealth. People complained, but refused the one solution nobody could stop them from exercising.

And capital gains and dividends are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income, like wages. Even with this massive incentive for individuals to own stocks the average person took a pass. And so income inequality grew. 

All the gains in America’s growth hence went to the remaining owners of America’s engine of economic wealth. There was no other possible outcome. The people who held stocks (owned a piece of American businesses) ended up with all the gains and the gains were spread to a narrower and narrower group with each passing year.

 

Get Your Share

At first glance you might think something as simple as having more people own shares in American businesses would not solve the whole problem. That thinking is wrong.

Owning a piece of America’s value creating machine means you get a slice of the profits in the form of dividends. Many middle class taxpayers pay a very low or no taxes on these dividends. 

Something else happens when more people own a piece of corporate America. Your fractional ownership slightly levels the wealth gap because you now own something tangible like the wealthy do. Your share might be small, but there is power in numbers. 

When nearly 90% of households held U.S. stocks, dividends were more widely distributed. It also meant nearly every household had a small say in how companies operated! (Remember, you are a part owner when you hold stock.)

As fewer people held stock there was no one to slow down the enormous gains in CEO salaries. The CEOs rewarded the remaining few shareholders and employees were left out of the discussion because they didn’t own a piece of the enterprise.

Of course, owning a few shares in McDonald’s doesn’t give you the ability to dictate policy at the firm. But if many people owned stock in the company they could gather enough influence to change corporate behavior!

It might sound strange, but what would happen if every employee of McDonald’s owned 100 shares and worked together to change wage policy at the firm? I know, I know. People working at McDonald’s can’t afford to own stock in the firm. Yet I argue you can’t afford not to own a piece of the company if you ever want to change corporate policy!

Income inequality and the wealth gap are the same exact problem! As the wealth gap widens the lower end of the economic scale has less and less say. Of course the people on top want more and they get it because nobody that owns the company says different. 

 

The Gift That Keeps Giving

When my kids were growing up they received a share of stock as a gift for Christmas every year. One year they got a share of Wrigley, another year a share of Disney. 

Part of the gifting process was to examine each company they had stock in along with a few other possibilities.

The family came to the conclusion Wrigley was a winner for a variety of reasons. Wrigley gave every shareholder a case of gum each Christmas which my kids found incredible valuable. Stock ownership had real benefits! 

The financial reports also looked promising. Earning grew and so did dividends. Dividends were reinvested while excess cash was funneled into more shares. The growth was impressive.

Then Warren Buffett came along and funded Mars Corporation’s cash buyout of Wrigley. (Damn you, Warren!) Every member of the Accountant household got a big, fat juicy (Wriggly makes Juicy Fruit gum) check for their ownership in Wriggly. It was a bittersweet moment, however.

Yes, a big, fat juicy check is always welcome, but the regular income of dividends ended! And worse, no more gum in the mailbox in mid-December! It was as close to a crisis as I ever saw it!

While many people use index funds, there is something lost when we give authority to a mutual fund to vote our shares. That is why I still own individual shares in companies.

Your influence is minor when you own a few shares in a company. But even without a majority of ownership a large number of shareholders can make life very unpleasant for management tone deaf to owner/employees. 

Regardless your minor control of the companies you hold stock in, you have an unseverable right to your share of profits. This by default shrinks the wealth gap and income inequality for you.

 

Fixing the Wealth Gap and Income Inequality One Person at a Time

It is tempting to blame government and politicians for the wealth gap and income inequality problems. But as we saw above, the problem is not a political one and politics can’t solve it regardless what politicians promise!

You can change the world; you can make a difference in ending income inequality.Natural levelers are down-right brutal. We don’t need a catastrophe to level the field to an acceptable level. Complete equality is a terrible goal as the 20th Century has shown. However, the current environment is way too lopsided to be good for society in the long run either.

Businesses are the engine of value creation and growth; labor builds the goods and provides the services that make that value creation and growth possible. It is fair to say labor should have a reasonable slice of that pie.

Looking to the government for solutions is only a minor stopgap. Social services (the safety net) can be increased (and improved), but this is unproductive after a point. While more can be done in this area, it will not solve income inequality if individuals refuse to own a piece of the means of production! Nor make even a dent in the wealth gap!

Unexpected plague, war, revolution or collapse can temporarily level the field, it does so by bring the top down, leaving the middle and bottom no better off than before and probably worse. To fix income inequality issues and narrow the wealth gap, we want to focus on improving the most amount of lives as possible, not destroy everything until we are all level digging in the dirt for sustenance.

I know the world preaches index funds; so do I. Before Jack Bogle passed away recently he warned of the issues I brought up above. If mutual funds/index funds/ETFs control all the stocks they will vote the rules in corporate guidance. 

If you respect and value freedom you will demand a voice and your voice is purchased with ownership. It doesn’t take much. A few shares of three good companies can do wonders for your economic status. You can still hold index funds with the bulk of your money. (They pay dividends too, you know.)

Even without direct ownership (ownership through index funds) you still personally shrink the wealth gap. The increasing dividends added to your wage income narrows income inequality ever so slightly.

It took 40 years for the problem to grow this wide; it will take more than a few years to fix, even in your personal life. 

Or we could do what we’ve been doing all along and hope it changes magically all on its own.

Or demand a government bailout. (But then you’re just like corporate America.)

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!

The History of Polarized Politics in the U.S. and Money

How much is polarized politics affecting your financial situation and wealth. Don’t let the politics of others destroy your dreams. Learn how you can take control and excel.

How much is polarized politics affecting your financial situation and wealth. Don’t let the politics of others destroy your dreams. Learn how you can take control and excel.

The polarized political environment in America is not unusual. What makes the current situation so incredible is the comparison to what came before.

After World War II the United States experienced a prolonged period of relative political calm. While disagreement was rife, there was a sense of compatibility between the opposing political parties. A few Republicans were more liberal than some Democrats and a few Democrats were more conservative than a few Republicans. It was a world where liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats existed.

That started to change in the 1970s and blew full force as the 1980s arrived. The reasons are varied, but not the topic of today’s discussion. We are interested in the history of polarized politics and how it affected wealth. The goal is to learn from the past so we can better position ourselves for success in the toxic environment we find ourselves.

Politics is always a dangerous topic to cover. And it might not have an immediate connection with money or wealth. But experience (with heavy doses of research) reveals politics indeed has plenty to do with wealth and wealth creation or destruction. Polarized politics has visited America before and in much worse circumstances.

We will address politics first, then personal finances.

History of Polarized Politics

 

Founding Fathers

There is no exact count as to how many Founding Fathers the U.S. had. Some say there were 7, others 10. The Constitutional Convention had 55 delegates.

Regardless the number of Founding Fathers, there are several points worth noting about their behavior. First, they were all men of the landed class. In other words, the Founding Fathers were men with at least a modest amount of wealth in real estate. This isn’t the most politically correct situation by today’s standards. But we can (or at least should) agree this group of men did a pretty good job at nation-building.

Many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Benjamin Franklin had to dance around the subject when he was the American agent in London for the colonies. The British found it ironic Americans wanted freedom while holding tight to slavery.

Storing crops was more difficult in those days so it was common to store the excess corn crop as whisky. Consumption of alcohol was high in the 18th century. Bad water also encourage more alcohol consumption. It is no exaggeration to say the men who brought America to life were inebriated much of the time. While not drunkards by the standard of the time, some might be surprised how much work these men accomplished with the blood alcohol level they regularly had.

Benjamin Franklin

We only have time to discuss one Founding Father at length; we will touch on several others for reference. Since Ben Franklin is a leading Founding Father he will make a prime example for our discussion.

Much of the polarization of modern politics revolves around the identity politics of the left and the conservative ideas of the alt-right. There isn’t a single Founding Father who wouldn’t be nauseous over the current national dialog. Or would there?

Conservative Franklin: To the chagrin of the left, most Founding Fathers were decidedly conservative. Before President Reagan, Benjamin Franklin had his own version of trickle-down economics. Franklin believed the more money the rich had the more it percolated down to the poor. Franklin stated the”rich do not work for one another…” The rich, according to Franklin, spent their money on the poor buying the goods and services they produced. (Benjamin Franklin: An American Life  by: Walter Isaacson; Simon & Schuster; 2003; pages 267-8.)

Welfare and Social Security: Franklin also warned against the welfare state. He wrote welfare had unintended consequences and promoted laziness. Modern ears may find this palatable, but Franklin went further. “I fear the giving mankind a dependence on anything for support in age or sickness, besides industry and frugality during his youth and health, tends to flatter our natural indolence, to encourage idleness and prodigality, and thereby to promote and increase poverty, the very evil it was intended to cure.” (Italics mine.)

What Franklin was saying is you either work or deserve to starve, even in old age or during illness. Social Security is something Franklin would probably not approve of. If you lacked the necessary frugality and industriousness during the vigor of youth, you serve as a living example to those who consider such sloth.

Minimum Wage: Franklin also disagreed with the minimum wage. By artificially raising wages Franklin felt it would overprice goods destined for foreign markets.

All these positions place Franklin decidedly to the right of center. But was he really cold-hearted? Did Franklin believe people should be allowed to suffer?

While conservative readers might be licking their lips by now, the liberal folks will have something to cheer shortly.

Liberal Franklin: Benjamin Franklin had a balanced political stance. In some ways he could be called a liberal Republican by today’s measures. Franklin had no problem with taxes as long as they were coupled with representation. His lack of debate against the Stamp Act of 1765 is indicative of his political position. Only when there was a serious backlash back home did Franklin give us our first political spin campaign to right his reputation.

Policies should encourage hard work, according to Franklin. He felt hard-working people lucky enough to achieve wealth (became rich) had an obligation to serve the community. These duties should improve the lot of the community, providing for a prosperous middle class. Those in genuine need (people suffering illness before they had time to work for their keep, children and widows, et cetera) were the responsibility of the wealthy. Today we might consider many welfare programs as serving this need in a much larger population than existed in 18th century America.

There are also a few things we might find appalling in Franklin’s behavior even in the Age of President Trump.

The Un-family Man: Franklin left his wife and children to serve as colonial agent in London for the Thirteen American Colonies. Even when opportunity arose, he chose to stay in London or travel to Scotland and Paris, even as his wife’s health failed. Ask John Edwards how that helped his political career. Even the King found this behavior strange when he inquired as to why Franklin remained in England in 1774 when Franklin had no more duties there.

Womanizer: We can forgive Franklin for many of his political positions due to the age he lived in. His position on slavery softened over the years, but as Isaacson reports, Franklin used the qualifier “in time” in letters he wrote. He knew slavery wasn’t a workable prospect, buy also kicked the can down the road.

Modern eyes are ears will be most disturbed by Franklin’s behavior towards women. The list of affairs and potential affairs is long. Need I remind you Franklin was married with children during many of these flirtations.

History records Benjamin Franklin enjoyed the company of women more than men when it came to social gatherings. The flirtations weren’t always innocent and the women not always unattached. There is a crude sketch by Charles Willson Peale of a scene he walked in on of Franklin kissing Polly Stevenson, the daughter of Margaret Stevenson (Franklin’s landlady). It is possible Franklin befriended Polly’s mother for the purpose of spending time with Polly. Mary “Polly” Stevenson was 18 years old at the time Peale accidentally walked in on the kissing scene. But there is also a story of Franklin in a flirtatious conversation with Polly when she was 11 years old discussing her desire to be with an older man Franklin’s age.

Final Notes on Franklin: I spent a fair bit of time on Benjamin Franklin for a few reasons. Franklin is a Founding Father and certainly one of the most important and influential of the Founding Fathers.

He was a man with all the failings and shortcomings of men. His humor was crude at times, as we see when he recommended to the Royal Academy of Brussels that they should study the causes and cures for farts. It is unlikely Franklin was faithful to his wife and was distant to his family often. He even missed his only daughters wedding.

Franklin had strong political beliefs that would have toppled normal men. He didn’t suffer such a fate because he never held a high office. He was more a grandfather and guiding hand in the creation process of the United States. His role was certainly instrumental, but he managed to avoid the polarization politics brings once high office is held. Even Washington faced real criticism for the first time as president.

Another benefit of reviewing Benjamin Franklin is he shows us the world and human nature when the United States was just a dream and there were only American colonies as part of the British Crown.

If we fault Franklin for his short-comings that many current political leaders share, then we espouse the notion that Franklin should not have been allowed to do his work of nation-building. Such opinions at minimum presuppose the right of the United States to exist or at least ever to come into existence.

It is a truism of the ages: The worst of human nature can lead us to greatness.

Maybe we should be more open to human failings if we aspire towards a better tomorrow.

Thomas Jefferson

We will cover the next actors with less detail as they all share similar traits we find so disqualifying.

Thomas Jefferson is also a Founding Father of the United States. He wasn’t the biggest fan of slavery and history assumes he treated with slaves with dignity and respect. (How else could we remember a man as great as Jefferson and his contribution to our morals, values and standards.)

Jefferson also served as the third president of the U.S. That said, Jefferson did own slaves regardless his dialog on the subject. Over 100 years after the abolition of slavery in this country we still feel the scar it has left. The black community more than any other.

To make matter worse, Jefferson had a child with at least one of his slaves. In a modern era where people in authority are criminally liable for sexual activity with someone under their authority, this seems like a serious offense. Yet it happened and we seem unmoved by the act. Maybe time does heal every wound. Or not!

For all Thomas Jefferson gave this nation, he was still a man with failings. Failings we would consider criminal in the current environment. If modern rules were applied Jefferson would never have been president and his work may never have been created. How a man with such concerning behavior gave us rules to live by is hard to understand. But once again, the greatest of us tend to have the greatest failings, too.

President Andrew Jackson

President Andrew Jackson did more to define and solidify federalism than any other president. But could a man of such accomplishment be endowed with faults?

Polarized politics were at their worst in Jackson’s day. Jackson won the popular vote three times and the presidency twice. He also gave Native Americans the Trail of Tears.

Instead of focusing on Jackson’s flaws, I want to refocus on our topic: political polarization.

People today think the things said and done are the worst ever. Wrong! People had no problem Jackson killed a man in a duel, he was also hated enough to be the first president to have an assignation attempt on his life.

He married his wife before she was legally divorced from her husband. As you can imagine, adversaries made hay of this knowledge. They hounded Jackson and his family to the point of murder.

The political campaign of 1828 was brutal. The fight contained numerous ad hominem attacks. This isn’t so different from modern times. The difference was how the attacks also dragged Jackson’s wife, Rachel, into the fight.

Rachel Jackson started to suffer from what we would call today anxiety and depression. The stress became so acute it lead to a heart attack that killed her. Jackson never forgave his enemies for murdering Rachel. We have no way of knowing if the stress caused her death, but Jackson didn’t care. He blamed his enemies and hated them to then end for what they had done.

If you think politics are polarized today, you might want to read up on President Jackson. Few political leaders in the U.S. experienced such an assault in attaining office.

President Abraham Lincoln

Most Americans hold President Lincoln in high regard. They hold views of Lincoln as a moral and honest man. He freed the slaves so he must be good, right? He also preserved a nation rent in two by political division. Never before or since has our nation been so politically divided. There is nothing in the current dialog we can compare to the division our nation faced and underwent in those days of the early 1860s.

These are not the worst of times. Our nation weathered far more serious problems than a misogynist Trump. Need I remind you the great Abraham Lincoln consorted with prostitutes while married. Yeah, great leaders are riddled with flaws. Perhaps the flaws are what make them great.

Yes, I digress. It is political division that most concerns us. Except, all the discourse on said divisions seem to revolve around moralistic behavior.

FDR

Before we finish with the Supreme Court and discussing the personal finance implications, we turn to FDR, the hero of the left.

FDR also had serious flaws when it came to women. He also had an affair. (It starts to sound like a nervous tick after a while.)

The Great Depression was the issue of the age when Roosevelt took office. You would think after the economic crisis the Republicans presided over, the Democrats would have unchallenged rule. You should think again.

Before World War II became an issue, FDR had a New Deal. There was only one problem. Republicans packed the Supreme Court for years and the Court kept knocking down his programs.

Roosevelt had an idea. If the Justices wouldn’t retire so he could nominate his own choices friendly to his programs, he would expand the Supreme Court so he would have vacancies to fill.

This struck Republicans a very wrong. And what do you know, even Democrats felt it was a power grab by FDR. FDR’s own party denied him the ability to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court for political reasons. Talk about political polarization! Yes, it happens even within parties. Even worse than we see today.

Supreme Court

There is always the temptation to think this is the worst time EVER! Rarely are such thoughts true.

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court by President Trump signals the worst ever injustice in the history of the U.S. But is it?

There is already talk of impeaching Justice Kavanaugh. Some have warned this would set a bad precedent and has never happened before. And that is a lie!

Here is a quick rundown of notable Supreme Court dramas.

Removed from Office: Supreme Court justice John Rutledge was removed from the court by the Senate in 1795. Yes, 1795! Rutledge’s wife died in 1792 and he didn’t take it well. His mind deteriorated to the point where there was no other choice.

The same year Justice John Blair suffered from such severe headaches he was unable to continue. Rather than have the Senate remove him, he resigned.

Assassination: Justice Stephen Johnson Field was nearly assassinated in 1889 by a California State Supreme Court justice in a confusing story of divorce, alimony and a lost case.

Antisemitism: The Supreme Court had a justice so hated not a single member of the court attended his funeral. Justice James Clark McReynolds was a very vocal anti-Semite. In 1916 the Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis, joined the Court. McReynolds left the room every time Brandeis started to speak.

Racism: Justice Hugo Black  belonged to the Ku Klux Klan prior to taking the bench.

There are stories of bribes and other nefarious behavior by Supreme Court justices. Justice Kavanaugh may still resign or face impeachment by the Senate at some point in the future. Regardless, we sometimes wrongly assume the Supreme Court, the final arbiter of law, rule and justice in our nation, is free from political polarization. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is just as liable to the shortcomings of human nature as any group.

 

With the groundwork on political polarization in place, we now turn to the impact polarization has on personal finances, wealth and money.

Personal Finance in the World of Political Polarization

 

The lesson above clearly outlines a history of political polarization in the United States from before its inception until today. The luxury of self-pity falls on deaf ears when history is called into action. Things have been marching higher for a long time, as Steven Pinker notes in his landmark works: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress and The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined

Stop burning money! Learn the secrets the wealthy have used from the beginning of time to build their financial fortune.

Stop burning money! Learn the secrets the wealthy have used from the beginning of time to build their financial fortune.

The Long March of Growing Wealth: Humans have lived on the Earth for a few hundred thousand years. We lived short lives back then and progress was slow. Life was dangerous. Basic shelter might have been a cave, tree or outcropping.

Then man (it might have been a women for all we know) discovered how to create and control fire. Cooking soon followed which improved life immensely. Cooked food was easier to digest and it killed pathogens. Life was still hard, but lives were made a bit easier with the discovery of fire.

Shelter improved slowly over the eons. Fire made the home warmer in cold climates. Still, disease and subsistence meant most lives were brutal and short.

The pace of human progress was painfully slow for the first several hundred thousand years. Rape, murder, war, disease and starvation were constant threats. Men died from injury and women in childbirth. When God informed Adam and Eve of their curse as they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, he meant it. But curses have a shelf life.

Civilization: Somewhere back there, over 10,000 years ago, humans became civilized; congregating in cities, that is. This was another improvement. War was a constant threat, but now a larger group was needed to harm the community.

Health issues were the age old problem.

Fast Forward: The pace of improvement in the human condition keeps accelerating. First rudimentary shelters, then fire, now cities. A few lucky souls avoided disease and injury, living to an old age, even by modern standards.

Cities grew and slowly man discovered ways to alleviate medical afflictions. Many remedies were more harmful than helpful. Such is the nature of progress.

Money was invented and the ancient Greeks debated what money really was and how it worked. (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) Over half of Jesus’ parables dealt with money or wealth. Life was improving at the fastest pace ever in history and it was slowly picking up steam.

China flourished in isolation from the West; Europe enjoyed the Pax Romana. It would be nearly the thirteen hundred years before mankind experienced the Pax Americana.

From the scientific advancements of Greek and Roman culture, mankind dropped into a Dark Ages. The path of progress is steady and up, but there are plenty of detours along the way. The line is not straight, but it leans ever more so upward every day.

1870: Something happened around 1870. The Dark Ages had long passed, the Renaissance morphed into an Age of Reason and science and discovery flourished. And most important, enough humans finally existed to hit a critical mass, causing an explosion of economic growth the world has never seen before.

 

Gross World Product

 

As the graph above illustrates, economic growth was painfully slow until 1800 where we see a slight tilt north. In 1850 the Gross World Product turns decidedly higher and goes parabolic in the 20th Century.

The pace of wealth creation accelerated like never before. Things got better. A lot better! Really fast.

Pockets of suffering still exists. The 20th Century experienced two world wars, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s famine. Many people suffered and died. But many more lived better and longer, too.

Inequality: The buzzword of the day is inequality. The rich seem to get richer while the poor get poorer. But is this really true?

Inequality still exists and surely always will as long as more than one human is alive. There has been an uptick in income and wealth inequality recently. Compared to historical norms we live is really good times.

The wealthiest people alive in 1930 rarely, if ever, had indoor plumbing. Today, with rare exception, we all enjoy indoor plumbing.

Medicine is even more widespread. Polio is a rare disease; small pox eradicated. While indoor plumbing eludes many in third-world (I hate that term) countries, modern medicine is brought in on a regular basis. Fewer women are dying in childbirth. Men have fewer dangerous jobs shortening their lives. Children live beyond infancy at a very high rate. These numbers have never been so generous ever in history. Things are as good as they’ve ever been, and believe it or not, it’s still getting better and better every day.

Walter Scheidel in his book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty -First Century outlines how inequality is on the decline and has been for a long time. Periodic catastrophes level the playing field immensely, but there seems to be a natural level of inequality. The good news is that everyone can have a significantly high standard of living even on the lower ends of the income distribution scale.

Optimism is the Best Financial Choice: If you have to make the call, always bet things will get better. For thousands of years things have been doing just that and at a rapid clip for over 100 years.

Warren Buffett has a reputation as a master stock investor. People spend a lot of time dicing his decisions looking for the secret sauce. I can save you the time. Buffett is the most optimistic guy you’ll ever meet. Even his good friend Bill Gates acknowledges surprise by how upbeat Warren always is.

Buffett came out in support of Hilary Clinton in her bid for the presidency. When Donald Trump won many called it the end of America and probably the world. A bit dramatic, I think. Buffett made it clear America has the “secret sauce” when it comes to economic growth and that America will do just fine even with Trump as president. I personally think the human race has a bottle of that patented sauce.

Yes, some people have it bad. Cancer might not feel like a time to be optimistic. But this isn’t about the individual level. We are talking humanity here. As a whole things are chugging higher all the time with only periodic setbacks.

The stock market reflects these facts. In the U.S. the stock market has powered higher decade after decade. Even the Great Depression is a minor speed bump when the charts are viewed over large time periods. It looked scary up close and personal. Then, a few decades later it looks like a minor dimple on the chart.

The 1987 stock market crash is the same story. The Dow dropped 22.6% in one day. The decline requires you squint your eyes to make it out now.

To the Future and Beyond: Life is good and getting better! Calls for the “end of the world” have been with us from the beginning of time. It’s a story that sells, but never delivers.

The future is bright. Today isn’t so bad either!

America and the world will have challenges ahead. That doesn’t mean optimism is wrong or dead! It is only an acknowledgement of reality. Every challenge will be confronted and re-challenged as we boldly go where no species has gone before.

Don't miss out on the progress happening all around you. Don't let polarized politics harm you financially. Use the "secret sauce" the wealth have used forever to build wealth.

Don’t miss out on the progress happening all around you. Don’t let polarized politics harm you financially. Use the “secret sauce” the wealth have used forever to build wealth.

Back to Politics: I know, I know. We never had a president like Trump. True.

We never had a Founding Father like Franklin either. How could such a womanizer, a masher, be allowed to engage in nation-building after the things he did.

And a president who fathered a child with his slave! How will the nation survive?

And don’t forget the evil of the Trail of Tears, a duel and murder and the death of a president’s wife.

A Civil War didn’t slow us down. A great president with massive flaws sewed the nation back together.

FDR tried to manipulate the Supreme Court to no avail. Talking of the Supreme Court, these are the people who gave us Dred Scott! These flawed men (most of them were men) did something wonderful as a whole. As bad as they were, their flaws made us stronger, more vibrant.

Politics is NOT more polarized than ever before. The First Lady is miffed, but not dead or even scuffed.

Things are not going to hell in a hand basket. The economy may falter from tariffs, but before long we’ll scale even higher heights. It’s almost unbelievable and then it happens again!

Never lose faith. Optimism is always the best choice. Things are good and getting better. We live longer and better lives. Economic and personal wealth is at sky high levels and rocketing higher! And any decline in the markets is a correction soon to be followed by greater heights!

It’s not a Dream; Success is Real: I’ve been around long enough to personally hear many of the doomsayers. They fall by the wayside every time. Yes, much of the Western world in more polarized than it has been for many decades. Let me remind you of the above chart. From 1850 to 1900 the U.S. exploded higher economically. During this time we experienced the Civil War and what many in the south thought was the end of the world, the freeing of the slaves.

Not only didn’t the world end when we took the moral high ground, we excelled. But we had to experience the debauchery and evil of slavery to propel us from the ignorance. We certainly don’t want to go back. It will require vigilance to retain our hard fought gains.

This is not the End: In recent times we were told the U.S. was caput because  a womanizer like Clinton was president. Did anyone take the time to research Franklin and Jefferson? Caput! I think not!

Then Bush was a sign of the End Days. Nope! President George W. Bush proved to have human failings, but we did fine.

President Obama was the worst. I had clients who came into my office saying their life’s mission was to prevent Obama from getting a second term. What a waste of time! The economy grew, the stock market was up and America and the world did great after a serious economic debacle.

And now we have the hated President Trump. Many tears have been shed. The Supreme Court is forever tainted (unless you read few history books where you’ll discover it was always tainted). I’m not a fan of Trump. I disagree with many of his policies. But not all! An honest person will find issues where agreement exists. Who doesn’t like lower taxes? We can debate who gets how much and the fairness of taxes, but com’on! I also agree with more infrastructure spending. I’m against tariffs which are nothing more than a tax on consumers. Call it a quasi value added tax, if you will.

The Beginning: In the darkest hours of World War II, Winston Churchill gave encouragement to the British people as Nazi bombs decimated London. His immortal words are as vital today as they were then as we worry ourselves sick over geopolitical events. His words are a reminder things always get better and setbacks are only temporary.

Now this is not the end.

It is not even the beginning of the end.

But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

 

 

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