It's More Than Half Full
Ok, let’s review those wonderful days from whence we sprang, so fraught with the advantages of having nothing. So potent with opportunity. It was the middle of the ’70s when we started our careers. Inflation was high and rising. The Soviets were seen as a major threat. Japan was beating our brains out and buying everything, even if nailed down (like Pebble Beach and New York skyscrapers). I had to borrow money at 15% (or more) to buy paper in order to meet customer demands for printing. And guess what? The banks got into trouble and called loans willy-nilly. (My bank even called my mother and threatened her to pay my loan – against written agreements – and she did. Evil sons of bitches. The more things change… And they delightedly did fail! Not that I hold a grudge.)
There were multiple successive and deeper recessions. Gold was rising as the dollar was seen as a joke. Howard Ruff (a good friend to both of us when we were starting out!) and almost every newsletter writer were telling people to buy gold and freeze-dried food to protect themselves against a near certain economic, if not apocalyptic, catastrophe. Unemployment was high and rising for a decade.
The correct answer to the question, “Where will the jobs come from?” back then was “I don’t know, but they will.” And it is the correct answer today.
In 20 years, no one will want to come back to the halcyon days of 2005. Our kids (all 13 of them) are getting ready to live through what will be the most exciting period in human history. There will be a century’s worth of change, measured by the standard of the 20th century, just in the next ten years, and then we will double that pace in the next ten after that. Medical miracles that will mean our kids and grandkids will live a lot longer than their dads, although I intend to be writing well into my 80s, like our mutual hero Richard Russell.
There will be whole new industries developed in the US. How do I know that? Follow the money. The rest of the world spends a fraction on research and development that we do. Where do you go if you are looking for venture capital?
Do I care if the Chinese and the “developing” worlds are far better off, relatively speaking, than the US in 20 years? Not a whit. Good on them. I hope they make discoveries and inventions and new businesses that benefit us all. But we are not going into some long dark night. We, and our kids, get to choose how we respond to what is the reality of the day.
Our nation had to almost hit the wall in 1980 before a Volker could come along and force us to take the pain of recessions to beat back inflation. And we will have to come perilously close to the wall this time before we take action as a nation. Way to close for comfort. Maybe you are right, and we have a soft depression. I hope not, but even so, the world will be better, far better, in 20 years, with far more opportunities than today.
It was not fun starting new businesses in the ’70s and early ’80s. But we did. I remember coming to Baltimore and being (literally) afraid to get out of the car to visit your offices in the slums. But that was what you could afford. A far cry from the chateau in Ouzilly.
I lived in a small mobile home. Tiffani was born there, and we converted part of the kitchen to be her bedroom. (Yes, I was white “trailer trash.”) But I got up every morning just like you did and killed as many alligators as I could. The rest had to wait till the next day.
And that is the legacy our kids have. They know what it is to wade into the swamp every morning. Never quitting. In thinking about this, you may be the father I respect the most. You have raised your kids to be multi-lingual children of the world. What a work ethic. How did you get them to scrape window shutters at your chateaus? (I actually saw this, and my kids marveled.
Thereafter I threatened to make them go live with you when they did not act right!)
You have given your kids the opportunity to follow their dreams, even demanded that they do so. And such dreams they (and mine) have. Will they succeed? Who knows? But they will go at it with gusto, in a world with more opportunities than you and I ever imagined 40 years ago. And, oh boy, were we optimists back then. How else could we have done what we did? If we believed the rhetoric that the world was coming to an end, would we have dared to venture out?
You cannot have raised your kids to be such bold adventurers without instilling in them a certain high level of optimism. I am going to out you, Mr. Bonner. You present yourself to your readers as a bona fide end of the world pessimist. But you are a really and truly a closet optimist. Your whole business empire (and what an empire it has become!) is based on finding people who are optimists, in the sense that they think they can actually get people to send them money for what they write. Which they do! Even if it is to read why the world will come to an end, which it thankfully never does.
You are right in this: it is personal gumption that makes or breaks us. There are those who started out with less than we did (hard to imagine but true) and made a lot more. And there are those who started out with far more and made less. But there are very few who are happier than either of us. Or luckier.
Our kids? It is not the times which dictate the man (or daughter!), but the response of the man which dictates his own time. Today has a brighter future for someone young than any other time in history, whether they are in the US or Brazil or China. They just have to seize it.
And as our kids do just that, and as the millions of kids of those who read us do so, and the billions of kids who are just now getting ready to bust loose all work to achieve their dreams, the world is going to be a far more fantastic place. Smooth ride? Not a chance. We didn’t get one, and in thinking through history, there have not been many smooth rides. Why should we think we will get any better? Our kids will just have to live with our generational (and individual) iniquities, government debt and all, and figure out how to master their own fates. But if I had a choice to take the ’70s or today? In less than a heart’s beat I choose today. And I bet you would too!
for The Daily Reckoning