Patriotism, having children and religion were values embraced by previous generations of Americans. However, these values are in steep decline according to a recent poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal.
Most commentators were not surprised that there were declines in these values – but shocked by the magnitude of the decline since the most recent poll taken just 25 years ago.
Here’s the data: In 1998, 70% of respondents deemed patriotism as “very important”. Now: a paltry 38%! Religion: 62% in 1998 said it was very important, while now only 39%. In addition to these declines is also a significant decline in those who say having children is “very important”. While these values were central to the lives of previous generations – they are generally of low importance for younger generations of Americans.
What did NOT decline in the poll was the importance of money in the eyes of those polled. The percentage who said it was “very important” went up over 12% since 1998.
I was also struck by how pessimistic participants were about their future and the future of their children. Interestingly, one of the only things that disparate ends of the political and economic spectrum agreed on was pessimism of their future. Only 28% believed that their family was likely to see an improved standard of living and 78% expressed skepticism that their children’s generation would experience a life better than their own.
So, what does all this say about our country? We are the richest, most well-fed citizens in the history of the world – yet most don’t appreciate how exceptional America is. By almost any statistical measure – life is safer and more prosperous and there are more opportunities across the board for our generation of Americans than for any other people, anywhere, at any time in world history.
Since World War II the United States has created an economic environment for the world which has lifted almost all boats – except those captained by despots. But make no mistake – the U.S. has prospered the most. As part of our incredible economic gains over the last 75 years the lifestyle of most families has more than tripled. We have access to fruits and vegetables in grocery stores from everywhere in the world at any time of year – which kings of previous generations would not have had access to. Almost 90% of U.S. citizens have traveled by plane to different parts of the country – or even other countries for pleasure. This compares to only 20% of the rest the world who have ever taken a flight.
I don’t live “fancy” compared to many Americans – but I’m guessing my long passed away grandparents or great grandparents would think my lifestyle amazing. Much of what they worked so hard for fifty to one hundred years ago are the roots of our comparable grandiose standard of living in this generation.
So, when do good things become bad things? Perhaps when we take all the good for granted. Freedom has been hard won in combat – and yet we seldom hear appreciation expressed for those generations who secured it for us. In addition, the ability to live beyond a hand to mouth existence has been available to only a tiny fraction of the people who have ever walked the earth. Our generation stands on the shoulders of the Founders, brave citizen/soldiers who died securing freedoms and grandparents who worked incredibly hard for modest incomes - all to help us live lifestyles our ancestors could only dream of. And yet we increasingly don’t appreciate their sacrifices. We just want more… money.
It's not Independence Day and this is a financial newsletter – but I want to acknowledge that we are prosperous ONLY because we are a free and law-abiding country. Freedom is a unique blessing from God – not only embodied in the Constitution but secured by previous generation’s battlefield sacrifices. We better acknowledge God, embrace the rule of law and appreciate freedom or we will lose everything unique about this country a lot faster than it occurred.
What does this have to do with investing? A lot – although probably nothing in the short run. Investing plans and allocations made dispassionately with data do not need to be adjusted in my opinion but I think all the background noise will contribute to significant volatility for the foreseeable future.