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2020? the Kid’s Alright: “New Year’s musings…”

On the surface there seem to be so many similarities. Between 1920 and 2020 that is. A soaring stock market. Companies setting profit records every quarter. Essentially full employment across all industries and economic strata. Technology coming on board that promises to continue to move all of these needles forward. Americans were generally not just positive about the economy and the state of all things American, their bullishness knew few bounds. Of course, there was the little, pebble-in-the-shoe issue of a growing chasm between the “common man” and the ultra-wealthy, a tiny gnawing ache in the soul of the country. Still, there was so much positive stuff, so much momentum.

What’s it gonna be in the 2020′s?

Now the cynical, the naysayers and the glass half-empties would look at our world today and say that there is a fundamental difference between then and now brought on by a single man in power. More contemplative members of this camp are a bit more sanguine about the provenance of this feeling; they would say that it was there for quite some time, perhaps as far back as our last Democratic President, and the latest ass to occupy that particular seat is simply the personification of a movement long present in our midst. No matter. If one were to look back at the 1920′s and peer just barely below the surface one would see a seething caldron of conflict between classes (and races) that would erupt soon enough. After all, the abuse heaped upon the working classes by the ownership class resulted in the great wave of the original labor movements, right? From farm to factory to union hall, and now to Twitter. The times, they don’t feel all that different when looked at through that particular lens, do they?

It could be argued that what made the 1920′s a time of explosive growth is precisely what is happening now. Cheap money available to those who are already moneyed, coupled with an economy based on influence peddling and self-dealing not available below the most rarefied levels of the economic food chain are the common links. Where once we had Big Oil with an outsized finger on our economies we now have internet information platforms without which commerce seems impossible. Banking monopolies, real and virtual, are now represented by the likes of Amazon, without which commerce now seems impossible. And the fortunes! The rich are as idolized and romanticized today as they were in the days of Gatsby.

Where are we in the cycle? Are there 9 years left and then a crash? Or is the apocalypse nigh, right around the corner, ready to take society with it again? Man, who even knows? For sure I don’t. Nor do I have any intention of pretending to know. For whatever it’s worth I do have a couple of thoughts about how to be thinking about it, though. You know those disclaimers in the ads for mutual finds that say stuff like “past performance is not indicative of future gains”? That. There were plenty of the same macroeconomic factors at play just before and after the tech stock meltdown of 2000 and the real estate driven Great Recession of 2008-10. Indeed, we had a leader who was reviled by a majority of not only the national intelligentsia but the non-elected careerists in our government. And yet, no societal collapse.

The second thing is one of attitude. Point of view. What one chooses to look at or emphasize when one analyzes the landscape, so to speak. Last night we listened to a young singer who is best described as nihilistic in her worldview. Everything is so terrible, so riddled with dysfunction and despair, that to make even a perfunctory effort to address the future is a hopeless, worthless gesture. Stephen Pinker, the noted societal observer and philosopher, vigorously disagrees. He has written a book called “Enlightenment Now” in which he makes the case that the world is by far and away better now than it has ever been at any time in history. In almost all ways, every aspect of life is better for pretty much anyone at any level of society today in comparison to any other era we might consider. Because of this every day is, or should be filled with boundless hope. If not for better than at least for more of the same.

So who is right? The 20-something who is not a progressive dreamer committing herself to changing the world but a fatalist who sees nothing worth fighting for? Or the philosopher who sees not a glass full world but one in which the glass continues to be so full that we need to build ever larger glasses to contain society’s bounty? Well, anyone who has read any of my drivel knows right away that, if forced to choose between the extremes I will choose Pinker every time. Our daily existence may or may not be as good as Mr. Pinker describes (although an objective view of the data surely looks like he is on point), but a 20-something living a 2020 version of the bohemian 20-something of the 1960′s barnstorming the Pacific Northwest in pursuit of musical fame and fortune who espouses an existentialism that would make Sartre blush is surely missing not just the point, but a heckuva life to boot.

Only time will tell if we experience yet another come-down from an over-the-top Roaring 20′s peak. In the meantime I, for one, will continue to find comfort as well as encouragement in the oft-expressed sentiment shared by Warren Buffet when the question of how best to prepare for whatever hangover might be on the way: never bet against the United States of America.

I’m betting it’s gonna be a Happy New Year.

2 Responses to “2020? the Kid’s Alright: “New Year’s musings…””

  1. January 4th, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Kim Johnson says:

    I absolutely love this! So Positive!

  2. January 4th, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    drwhite says:

    Never bet against the U.S. Especially today!! Thanks for reading my stuff Kim.

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