Of course, Trump was the elephant in the room. But it's more than Trump. It's the rise of nationalistic and authoritarian governments around the globe, from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela. It's the rise of racism and religious hatred. The rise of economic inequality. The nuclear threat. The endless wars. Global warming. We're even told we're running out of water.
One woman talked about her 30-something son and his wife, who (according to her) were thinking that they would not have children, because it wouldn't be right to bring kids into a dying, dysfunctional world.
I found myself being the lone voice of optimism in this group. Of course all our problems have not gone away. But I believe the world today is better than the one we grew up with, and far and away better than the world of our grandparents' day. And it can certainly continue to get better for our children and grandchildren, as long as we keep our heads about us.
So with that in mind I decided to reprise a post I did last summer, courtesy of Jeremy Kisner, an investment adviser with Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ.
Kisner reminds us that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you can consider. But, he acknowledges, it doesn't always feel this way because negative headlines attract eyeballs and sell advertising for the media. Granted, there are tons of very real problems. Nevertheless, Bill Gates nailed it when he said, "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not."
|My favorite optimist|
People get scared reading the news -- North Korea, Iran, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, refugees, economic disparities, global warming -- and then they get even more scared thinking about the things that might go wrong. But meanwhile, people buy more things, companies grow, wealth is created, and billions of people live longer and better lives.
Here are a few of Kisner's examples of human progress,:
Life expectancy: Consider this: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.
Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.
Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.
Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016 that figure was under 9.5 million.
Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.
Housework: The average family spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry in 1920. That has fallen to 1.5 hours a week as of 2014.
Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.
Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles for modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children.
Food. Between 1961 and 2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.
Kisner maintains that people who think the best days for America, and for our economy, are behind us are essentially saying that human innovation is going to slow down or stagnate. He says that doesn't seem likely, at least over the next 20 to 30 years. Don't you agree?