Morgan Housel on Progress

As presidential candidates take swings at each other regarding the troubling state of the economy and what needs to change, it might be a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come. In a recent article for the Collaborative Fund, which provides capital for entrepreneurs, Morgan Housel offers an impressive account of our country’s accomplishments over the last century.

The list covers everything from life span to medicine to auto fatalities and the number of cigarettes sold. Here are some interesting facts pertaining to economic issues:

  • The frequency of U.S. recessions has plunged. From 1860 to 1900 we were in recession 48% of the time. Since 1980, this has dropped to just over 12%.
  • Microsoft sold a computer mouse in 1985 for $179 ($401 when adjusted for inflation). Today, that would get you an iPhone 5, a Kindle and a Chromebook.
  • Median household income in 1929 (pre-crash) was about $16,000 (inflation-adjusted), according to Census Bureau data. Today it’s more than $53,000 (which would have placed you in the top decile back then).
  • The average expense ratio for equity mutual/index funds has declined 34% since 1996, according to the Investment Company Institute. This has added an extra year of retirement income to the average saver’s nest egg.
  • Bank failures in the early 1930s wiped out deposits equal to 2.2% of GDP, according to the FDIC. That’s the equivalent of $396 billion today.
  • The United States uses less than half as much energy for every unit of GDP as it did in the 1970s, says energy analyst Daniel Yergin.

Housel concludes referencing a fascinating comment by marketing strategist Tom Goodwin: “The world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content. The world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock. And the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property.”