Ignore the Merchants of Fear, and Count Our Many Blessings
Back in the days when everyone got their news from newspapers and television, the wisdom in the media industry was “if it bleeds, it leads”. In other words, bad news is better for business than good news. (Those of a certain age who grew up watching channel 7 from Buffalo will always remember Irv Weinstein’s Eyewitness News with headlines like “Terror in Tonawanda”). In our new digital age where, instead of a few publishers seeking readers and viewers, we have instead tens of thousands of attention seekers competing for an audience, the emphasis on the grim, the sensational and the unusual has been amplified and emphasized to a huge degree. Social media platforms like Meta, X, and TikToc use sophisticated algorithms to keep their audiences engaged, outraged and above all, online. Truth and honesty are not just in the back row; they have been thrown under the bus. As a result, it is not surprising, for example, that many children have been traumatized by negative news about climate change. Research shows most youth are “extremely worried” about it, leading to a phenomenon called climate anxiety. Kids and young adults who struggle with this can perceive they have no future or that humanity is doomed.
At this time of year we celebrate Thanksgiving in both Canada and the U.S., and in the face of all the negative news we are bombarded with every day, here are some things to be grateful for, and to reignite feelings of optimism.
- A smaller fraction of the global population is living in absolute poverty than at any time in the history of the world. The “green revolution” in agriculture, the technological revolution and the at least partial embrace of capitalism and free markets in much of the world has elevated over a billion people from a life that, in the words of Thomas Hobbes was “poor, nasty, brutish and short” to one that is, if not comfortable, at least tolerable. This is an amazing accomplishment that does not get nearly enough attention. The “population bomb” forecast by Paul Ehrlich and the doomsayers of the 1960s and 1970s simply did not go off.
- The installation and utilization of solar power has accelerated world-wide, and solar is now the fastest-growing source of electricity. World solar capacity will exceed 1,500 gigawatts by the end of this year. Canadian electrical generation from all sources is only about 155 gigawatts. While solar is not a “one stop” solution to the world’s energy problems, there is no other source of energy that has experienced this rapid growth. Solar is replacing coal at a breakneck pace. The UK is now using less coal than at any time since 1750.
- Unemployment in Canada is at the lowest level in over 50 years, and many industries are now experiencing labour shortages. Wages are rising particularly for the lowest paid part of the population. More people have jobs in Canada than at any time in our history.
- Recent surveys have rated Canada as the 2nd best country in the world to live in, and the Economist magazine gives Canada 3 of the 10 most livable cities in the world, more than in any other country.
Negative news can make us focus on the small and immediate at the expense of the large and long-lasting. As always, we have much to be thankful for. We wish you a happy Thanksgiving.
Long Term Investing Podcast with Barry Schwartz