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Improvements or Exchanges?

Improvements or Exchanges?

April 30, 2024

It seems to any number of individuals that every new generation is so hamstrung by flawed character that the end of humanity must not be too far in the offing.

Thinking about this reminds me of something a friend once said, “The world has been coming to end since the day after the world began.” For thousands of years, we humans have seemed primed to believe that everything will go pear shaped soon. Yet here we are.

Empires rise and fall but humanity endures.

That life persists is good news. The bad news is that the quality of those lives can and has changed radically over the millennia. For example, I have read that it took some European countries centuries to return to and eventually surpass the quality of life they attained under Roman rule. But eventually, they did.

Europe’s civilizational ascent was aided in no small part by the knowledge of math it borrowed and built on from the Middle East. Renewed interest in technology and medicine led to advances and Europe’s emergence from what we now call the Dark Ages.

Ironically, at some point during Europe’s rise to global prominence, the Middle East took the opposite path. They largely abandoned science in favor of spiritual pursuits and began focusing intensely on religion.

Who is better off? It is difficult to say for certain because each of us judges things by our own standards. Many of us, me included, believe that the West’s path, which led to the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, has done the most to alleviate suffering, reduce grinding poverty, and elevate human well-being.

For example, the average life expectancy in Yemen and Afghanistan is about 62 years. While the average in Switzerland and Norway is around 84, a difference of 22 years or approximately 35%! That is a lot of life. Also, while the difference in sheer number of years is striking, the material quality of those years will generally be much higher in the West.

There is one thing to consider, however, and that is the fact that we cannot be certain what happens after we die.

The focus by certain fundamentalist groups on what they see as spiritual matters, in places like Yemen and Afghanistan, might pay off in the hereafter. I emphasize might.

We Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and agnostics might learn that we chose poorly. Time will tell, though there may not be anyone around to reveal the mystery. That, and the fact that no one has ever come back complaining after they died, irrespective of their spiritual bent.

There is no doubt that a significant amount of the life expectancy discrepancy between Western nations and those of the Middle East and Africa is owing to health care. Advances in medicine have extended life far beyond what could have been imagined even a century ago.

When social security was implemented in 1935, the official retirement age was 65 and life expectancy was just 62. Modern medicine has helped increase that to almost 80 years of age in less than 100 years. This is an astonishing success.

On the other hand, dishwashers, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, blenders, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers and even prepackaged foods were all billed as time saving innovations. I feel comfortable speaking for everyone when I say, we do not feel less busy today than when our parents were our age. In fact, most feel the pace of everyday life has never been more hectic.

Enter smart phones and social media. The technology that was supposed to bring us closer together has often left us more isolated, pissed off, and polarized. Does anyone feel like these technological advancements have improved our lives dramatically in the past two decades? And if I am wrong about this, why do I keep reading articles about Silicon Valley executives who do not allow their children to use the technology they developed and made them rich?

It has certainly not been all bad, but I believe social media is 10% utility and 90% futility. There are some exceptions and conveniences, to be sure. But it is not clear to me that being able to have fast food delivered to our front door by tapping an app on our phone is good for our long-term health or finances. Perhaps that is one reason life expectancy has been falling in the US for the first time in decades.

We are told that the new technology that is going to be a “game changer” is artificial intelligence (AI.)  I have no doubt that it will be. What I wonder about is how much we will like the new game.

One of the prime utilities of AI is that it has the potential to replace human beings at an enormous number of tasks. For corporations, that will mean massive savings and increased profits. Good, right? I am not so sure.

Tech people tend to be enamored of the possibilities of all the things we could do. But instead of asking what we can do, has anyone stopped to ask if we should do those things?

I sometimes feel we have exchanged a bunch of old familiar problems for new ones we do not yet know how to solve. And as soon as we reliably know how to solve them, they will probably change again.

Regardless of how society or culture evolves in the coming years, there will be some constants. The people who have more resources will be better off and so will their families.

Spend less than you earn, save and invest the difference, diversify among and within asset classes. Protect yourself financially and seek to minimize the major wealth eroding factors like taxes.

Science and technology will march on. In some instances, innovations will represent real improvements to our lives. In others, new technology will eliminate some challenges only to exchange them for others.  

Sensible saving and investing, however, will stand the test of time and only make our lives better. If you would like assistance in implementing a unified financial plan, call me at (732) 844-3000.


Scott R. McGimpsey April 30th  , 2024

This material was prepared by Scott McGimpsey and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor Scott McGimpsey is engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional services. If such assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal, state, or municipal tax penalty. Moreover, a diversified portfolio does not assure a profit or assure protection against loss in a declining market. UNIFIED PLANNING GROUP is an independent firm.