Optimism – The Rational Outlook for 2021

It takes a lot to be an optimist these days. 

Just consider a handful of headlines from two national newspapers, one left leaning, the other right. These all appeared on the same day this week. 

Pandemic Reshapes US Employment Across Industries

Pandemic Leads Schools to Halt Ph.D. Admissions

Airlines Aren’t Making It Easy to Use Covid Credits

The Fate of Home Exercise Equipment when Covid-19 Ends

Treasury Warns Banks of Covid-19 Vaccine Fraud

I Got Vaccinated. But the Shot Won’t Save My Dying Parents

I Hate the Mom that Covid has made me

Russia’s Covid-19 Death Toll Has Tripled, New Data Shows

I wrote a column thirteen years ago in which I was asked the question, “Our country’s federal deficit is larger than ever. Social Security and Medicare are broke. Our politicians are too busy fighting each other to fix anything. Does it seem like our economic problems are just getting worse and worse?”

Today, it is the Covid-19 pandemic. Back then, it was the financial crisis of 2008. Tomorrow…who know what the crisis de jour will be?

Sex and pessimism used to sell newspapers.  Now they attract eyeballs to websites, which use those statistics to sell advertising. The technology has advanced. The human nature has not.

Optimism will rarely be the majority opinion for long. The average person only has enough vision to see the many reasons to support a pessimistic outlook. Those reasons are real and there for all to see.

What escapes the notice of most is our long, inexorable march towards economic and technical progress. We humans as a whole reap the benefits of the relative few who see into the future and spy opportunity…and go for it. 

If human ingenuity is the sheer volume of new ideas waiting to be thought of, then we find ourselves constantly surprised, because we so consistently underestimate it.

Think of it!  From the dawn of human history, man has dreamed of flying.  The Wright brothers finally got around to it in 1903, and within the span of a human life, a man stood on the moon! How long before we’re putting footprints on Mars?

Johann Gutenberg invented his movable metal type by the spring of 1454.  Over the next 18 months, he produced 200 Bibles.  At first, that is all anyone thought his new invention was good for. But just 45 years later, 1,000 presses in Europe had turned out 10 million copies of 35,000 different titles. Today, I may have that many titles on my iPad.

Shortly before his death, Sir John Templeton said, “It has often taken 1,000 years for the standard of living to double in the most advanced countries, yet it may double for the world as a whole in the next 20 years.”

Twenty years ago, the stock market (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average) stood at about 10,000. Today it has reached about 30,000. 

Over the same period the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States as grown from about $5.5 trillion to about $20 trillion. 

The pessimistic majority can (and will!) come up with myriad reasons why this simply cannot continue. 

Meanwhile the optimistic minority will ignore the nay-sayers, push back the boundaries, and introduce us to possibilities we’ve not yet dreamed of. 

Will you join them for the ride?

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