Monthly Archives: January 2020

Call Me the Happy Worrier

Source: Carol Graham & Julia Ruiz Pozuelo, 2017. “Happiness, stress and age: how the U curve varies across people and places,” Journal of Population Economics, 256. Values are for married Americans.

January 27, 2020

Someone recently asked me why I was so happy. It got me thinking… am I really so happy? Or, am I like the person depicted in the classic Jackson Browne song The Pretender who refers to themselves as the “happy idiot?”

This past decade for investors was “pretty good, pretty, pretty good, indeed” as Larry David might have said on his HBO comedy, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Markets have rallied incredibly during those ten years. For example, the S&P is now over 3,300 as compared to the low point of May 6th, 2009 when it touched the beastly number of 666.

Do you feel happy? The odds are that you got richer over the last 10 years. Maybe your child’s or grandchild’s 529 college account soared in value. Very likely, if you have a 401(k) it has gone up. The 2010s were simply great for investors!

Perhaps you also saw last week’s report confirming that the rich generally live longer and have a much higher quality of life. In fact, the report from University College of London demonstrated that level of wealth is the single most important factor behind differences in wellness and the number of disability free years for people over 50. So, in addition to the wealth generated this past decade comes the wonderful news for the better off – their wealth will help them live longer and be more independent. Happy, Happy, Happy!  

So, what on earth does this happy idiot have to worry about?  It strikes me that the growing divide between the haves and the have nots is something I should be thinking about, and perhaps more than a little worried about. The growing global wealth divide, coupled with a health divide, might well lead to measures which seek to address the imbalance. We cannot be sure what these measures will look like, but many aspiring leaders have plenty of ideas and proposals.

The haves are most certainly in a better place than the have nots but even among the haves there is a need to “keep up with the Joneses.” Since winter weather has kicked in, a plague of power failures has hit my neighborhood, leaving me in the cold and dark. Much to my growing frustration, I have discovered a new group of haves and have nots. In my quiet, cold candle lit home I hear the humming sound of my neighbors’ generators that have kicked in and are lighting up and warming their homes. I peer out my window at these “haves of electricity” and dream… perhaps one day.

In a world where a few continue to accumulate significantly more than the many, I realize I am blessed and lucky to have benefited from the last decade. For that I am happy, but I do believe I need to be aware of how the growing sense of inequality may affect legislation, and plan accordingly.  

Carl Gambrell