50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period in World History John Mauldin | Feb 12, 2014
Yesterday I had a long leisurely lunch with my longtime friend and family consigliere Toby Goodman. Leisurely except that your humble analyst was allowing a few phone calls to interrupt our precious time.
“We were having lunch in this very restaurant [Piccolo Mondo in Arlington, his favorite haunt] in 1993. You remember what we were talking about?” he queried. I had to admit I didn’t, I wasn’t surprised Toby did, because he remembers everything. That’s why he’s my consigliere.
“I don’t either, but I do remember that it was the first time I sat with someone who made a phone call during lunch. You brought in this big brick of a phone with a long antenna. I’d never seen such a device.” It’s not the Toby doesn’t get out – he was in fact a Texas state representative and chairman of a few important committees. But these phones were pretty brand-new and cutting-edge back then. Twenty years ago today (small, subtle hat tip to Paul McCartney and the 50th year anniversary of the British Invasion).
The first iPhone was introduced on June 29, 2007. Yesterday I was talking on the fifth version in less than seven years. Things are changing rather quickly. Sometimes we get all gloom and doom about the world but fail to realize how fast things are actually improving.
“Today,” Matt Ridley writes in his book The Rational Optimist, “of Americans officially designated as ‘poor,’ 99 per cent have electricity, running water, flush toilets, and a refrigerator; 95 per cent have a television, 88 per cent a telephone, 71 per cent a car and 70 percent air conditioning. Cornelius Vanderbilt had none of these.”
Today I offer you something fun and refreshing and optimistic for your Outside the Box, and I encourage you to pass it on to friends and especially to your kids. Morgan Housel over at the Motley Fool has written a great piece called “50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period in World History.”
Compare health-care improvements with the stuff that gets talked about in the news – NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell interrupted a Congresswoman last week to announce Justin Bieber’s arrest – and you can understand why Americans aren’t optimistic about the country’s direction. We ignore the really important news because it happens slowly, but we obsess over trivial news because it happens all day long.
(There is a link early in this piece to another article Morgan wrote in the same vein.)
It’s not that there aren’t problems aplenty, massive inequalities, atrocities everywhere, puerile media coverage, and enough incompetence and ignorance in Washington DC and governments in general to thoroughly depress you – when you think about it. But sometimes it helps to remember that things really are getting better. In 2034, no one will want to go back to the good old days of 2014. Trust me.
Well, maybe the good old days of the music of our youth. I noted last week that I was going to the Paul Simon and Sting concert. I was going to hear the Paul Simon that I remember growing up and listening to every week. As it turned out, Sting ruled the concert. He played to his crowd and had them rocking. Paul Simon did a few of his old songs, and Sting did a few others with him. But mostly Paul sang some of his newer stuff. I could recognize the rhythms that are characteristic of his talent – and Paul certainly has talent aplenty, even at 72. But it seems he has moved on from his old music and somehow or another forgotten to take along most of his audience. The sound was familiar but the words got lost there in the huge basketball arena. It was a concert made for a small venue where I could hear what he was saying and not just listen to the sound.
It has had me in a pensive mood for a few days, thinking about how we as communicators can stay relevant to our audience that expects to hear a certain “sound.” I think about the reaction to my friend David Rosenberg when he turned bullish. There was a certain crowd that followed him because he confirmed their bias. Rosie has to be true to himself, just as Paul Simon does.
At the end of the day I think I subscribe to the Ricky Nelson school of life – I’m sure you remember his 1985 song “Garden Party“:
“You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.”
Balancing our feelings about the old with our excitement over the new is something we’re increasingly going to have to contend with. It will keep life interesting.
Your still wishing I had heard “Sounds of Silence” analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
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50 Reasons We’re Living Through the Greatest Period in World History
By Morgan Housel
The Motley Fool
I recently talked to a doctor who retired after a 30-year career. I asked him how much medicine had changed during the three decades he practiced. “Oh, tremendously,” he said. He listed off a dozen examples. Deaths from heart disease and stroke are way down. Cancer survival rates are way up. We’re better at diagnosing, treating, preventing, and curing disease than ever before.
Consider this: In 1900, 1% of American women giving birth died in labor. Today, the five-year mortality rate for localized breast cancer is 1.2%. Being pregnant 100 years ago was almost as dangerous as having breast cancer is today.
The problem, the doctor said, is that these advances happen slowly over time, so you probably don’t hear about them. If cancer survival rates improve, say, 1% per year, any given year’s progress looks low, but over three decades, extraordinary progress is made.
Compare health-care improvements with the stuff that gets talked about in the news — NBC anchor Andrea Mitchell interrupted a Congresswoman last week to announce Justin Bieber’s arrest — and you can understand why Americans aren’t optimistic about the country’s direction. We ignore the really important news because it happens slowly, but we obsess over trivial news because it happens all day long.
Expanding on my belief that everything is amazing and nobody is happy, here are 50 facts that show we’re actually living through the greatest period in world history.
1. U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today. The average newborn today can expect to live an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could.
2. A flu pandemic in 1918 infected 500 million people and killed as many as 100 million. In his book The Great Influenza, John Barry describes the illness as if “someone were hammering a wedge into your skull just behind the eyes, and body aches so intense they felt like bones breaking.” Today, you can go to Safeway and get a flu shot. It costs 15 bucks. You might feel a little poke.
3. In 1950, 23 people per 100,000 Americans died each year