As we move out of US Thanksgiving, and look toward the end of 2019, it’s important to spend some time taking stock of where we are.
Many would have us believe that we are living in dark times indeed. But if we look back on the year, decade, or even farther, it’s easy to conclude that there is no better time to be alive.
Tracing back 100 years on the history of the S&P 500, we see that the index was trading at 7.85 on January 1 of 1919. The index recently touched 3150. That’s a growth factor of 400x.
Though it may seem a bit abstract, and certainly the make-up of the index has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, but it is a vivid illustration of how the North American economy has grown and prospered over the past 100 years.
Consider that the life expectancy in 1919 was about 55 years, while in 2019 people are expected to live into their 80s.
Over that period of time health care has improved considerably, as well as access to health care. Nutrition has also improved as a result of better education, and a stronger, more diverse infrastructure that allows good quality food to be distributed to even the remotest of locations across the continent.
As well, a social safety net has made it possible for those who are less fortunate to gain access to health care and other basic necessities. This makes for a generally healthier society, and gives those who fall on hard times the opportunity to get back on their feet.
Better access to education has meant that most children have the opportunity to advance in their chosen career paths as adults, and thereby improve their standard of living, and also contribute the improvement of their communities.
Having a better education means getting a better job, but it also means better access to credit. The finance industry has benefited from this, but credit has also had a profound impact on our lives. Access to credit has enabled more people to buy TVs, cars and homes, which in turn fuels economic growth. Credit expansion has also fostered innovation in business and technology to improve our lives.
Transportation has changed to the extent that we take driving a car or taking a flight for granted. During the times of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby these forms of transportation were luxuries to be enjoyed by only the very wealthy.
Media and entertainment has morphed from newspapers and radio, to receiving too much information, in vivid colour on small portable screens, almost anywhere on the planet, by practically anyone. This transition has also “democratized” information, allowing more people to be better informed.
Technology has gone from gears and wheels, to microchips. This evolution has led to dramatic changes across the spectrum of our daily activities – from using an electric tooth brush in the morning, to how we map our journey to our business meetings, or managing our calendars. Technological advancements occur so rapidly that it’s hard to believe we used certain items even just five years ago.
The economic expansion, low unemployment, and general prosperity that we enjoy as we head into a new decade means that we have greater opportunities. Opportunities in our careers, in maintaining good health, in continued innovation, and for the education and careers of our children.
Our forbearers would no doubt find some fault in our way of life, but they would also be amazed at the abundance, prosperity and growing opportunities.
So, taking stock of where we are as we look forward to a new decade, it is clear there are many challenges that we must confront, but human ingenuity has been tested many times in the past, and still we find ourselves at this point where there has been no better time to be alive.