‘The sick man of Asia.’
It was a British newspaper — The Daily News — that first coined this term in 1863.
They observed that the Qing Dynasty in China was facing problems that were catastrophic.
The country appeared to be tearing itself apart. Collapse seemed all but certain.
Source: MIT Visualizing Cultures
Of course, for the sake of wokeness, it’s become convenient to blame Western imperialism for China’s afflictions. And, yes, it’s true that the colonial powers did their fair share of plundering during the so-called ‘century of humiliation’.
But let’s stop blaming the West for a moment. Look a bit deeper. And you will uncover an unspoken truth: the many ways in which the Chinese people themselves engaged in destructive behaviour.
Warlords. Ultranationalists. Communists.
Starvation. Disease. Murder.
Indeed, there were a million ways to die.
In fact, back then, if you were Chinese and you lived to the age of 50, your family and friends would throw a celebration. This would be known as a ‘second birthday’ for you. And why not? 50 was a grand number. It was the equivalent of winning the lottery. You had beat the odds.
Given this horrifying reality, my great-grandparents were among the millions of migrants who left China to settle in Southeast Asia.
Source: South China Morning Post
But it was no easy escape. The journey itself was a gamble. They had to travel across the rough South China Sea on overcrowded wooden boats. And they were fearful of the pirates who lay in wait, waiting to intercept unlucky refugees.
Once again, there were many, many unpleasant ways to die.
Many did not survive the exodus.
My great-grandparents were the lucky ones.
All this happened only six generations ago.
Not very long ago at all.
Life as we know it today
Of course, a lot has changed since that turbulent era of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
My family has transitioned from peasantry to working class to middle class. Indeed, in terms of social mobility, we have made more progress in the last 100 years than in the previous 1,000.
The trajectory of my family pretty much falls in line with the story of the world at large.
In recent decades, we’ve seen an upward surge in our quality of life.
We are safer. Healthier. Wealthier. More so than ever before.
Source: Our World in Data
Source: Our World in Data
The pace of change has been so swift, it can be hard to comprehend. In many cases, the transformation has been completely mind-blowing.
Some critical facts here from A Wealth of Common Sense:
- Two centuries ago the life expectancy in The Netherlands, the richest country in the world at the time, was just 40, and in no country was it above 45. Today, life expectancy in the poorest country in the world is 54. There are no countries where life expectancy is below 45.
- By the late-1600s, one-third of the children born in the richest parts of the world died before their 5th birthday. Today, this sad fate befalls just 6% of the children in the poorest parts of the world.
- The proportion of people killed annually in wars is less than a quarter of what it was in the 1980s, one-seventh of what it was in the early 1970s, one-eighteenth of what it was in the early 1950s, and a 0.5% of what it was during World War II.
- Just 200 years ago, 85% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. 20 years ago it was 29%. Today only 9% live in extreme poverty while the majority of people (75%) around the globe live in middle-income countries.
- In 1905, a Vermont doctor and his chauffeur were the first to successfully drive a car across country from San Francisco to New York. It took them 63 days. Today you can fly cross country in a matter of hours while using wireless Internet.
These are remarkable accomplishments. Incredible.
And yet, despite all this, we’ve seen a steady escalation of negativity in the media. This happens both on the Left and the Right.
Existential panic has become the norm. Isolated events are magnified and presented as breaking news. And issues of controversy are exaggerated to the point of parody.
The War on Drugs.
The War on Terror.
The War on Covid.
The War on Climate Change.
Our enemy — if we can call it that — is often vague. Often nebulous. Hard to pin down. Which increases our collective anxiety even more.
According to The Washington Post, negative headlines enjoy a 60% higher clickthrough rate. We appear to be addicted to bad news. We want more of it. So the media gladly obliges. As the old saying goes, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’
I find this astonishing. The early 21st century will be defined as a period of great cynicism — but that perception doesn’t actually line up with the facts of human progress, which actually lean toward optimism and hope.
Our opportunity for you
What do I believe?
Well, in this age of misinformation, it’s this: the fearmongers on both the Left and the Right are wrong.
They are wrong because…well, they’ve always been wrong.
These prophets of doom constantly overlook three things:
- Humanity’s resilience.
- Humanity’s adaptability.
- Humanity’s courage.
Here are two recent examples to consider:
- In the wake of 9/11, I heard people on the Right say that the world as we know it is over. Because of the threat from terrorists, people will never want to travel again.
- In the wake of Covid, I heard people on the Left say that the world as we know it is over. Because of the threat from a virus, people will never want to travel again.
In both cases, these alarmists were wrong.
If anything, the War on Terror and the War on Covid are just fleeting examples of so many other occasions where the media kept saying, ‘This time it’s different.’
Source: AMP Capital
Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s all part of the cycle. And rest assured, the cycle always turns when it faces an inflection point.
In the words of Peter Lynch: ‘Far more money has been lost by investors trying to anticipate corrections, than lost in the corrections themselves.’
So…maybe it’s time to look past your fear? Maybe it’s time to free your mind? Embrace the long-term prosperity that you deserve?
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Analyst, Wealth Morning
(This article is general in nature and should not be construed as any financial or investment advice. To obtain financial advice for your specific situation, you should speak to an authorised Financial Advice Provider.)