Yes, Virginia, there IS a silver lining

Jan 29, 2008

There are those who see the glass as half empty, and most of them write for financial magazines and newspapers and, I think, get kind of a charge out of scaring people and bumming them out. Maybe they want company.

Others see the glass as half full, and they mostly work for banks or brokerages trying to sell you stocks. Market down? Time to buy more!

Finally, there are the cosmic philosophers who see no glass at all. Who knows. They may be right.

But there are very few who at this point see a big, frosty glass virtually brimming over with delicious nectar. Such people are to be treasured for, in my opinion, they perceive a deeper truth that always lies just beyond sight.

It is often difficult to see the good in any situation, because it is the bad that rises up most insistently to accost us, offend us, frighten us. It's difficult to see how lucky we are to be on the planet, breathing fresh air and tasting sunshine, when your company has lost 25% percent of its value in the last three months due to some stupidhead on Wall Street who issued sub-prime loans to untrustworthy mendicants.

How hard it is to see the seeds of prosperity, peace and happiness in our current miasma of loss, defalcation and disappointment.

Yet that is what I just enjoyed in the most recent issue of The Economist. The piece in question is called
Somewhere over the rainbow
, and it outlines, with this magazines customary verve, plain speaking and cheeky insight, the reasons why we all should be optimistic about the road that lies ahead.

I like that. In general, you know, I believe that optimism, even when it is based on bad information, false assumptions or simple goofy hope, is better than pessimism. The words "self-fulfilling prophesy" come to mind. Good vibes produce things of value. Bad vibes don't. So I appreciate the former, particularly in times like these, when they seem, well, counter-intuitive.

Read the article. Reasons for optimism cited by this comfortingly stodgy publication, include:

  • The number of people in the worst kind of poverty actually decreased between 1999 and 2004, reduced by 135 million individuals during that time;

  • The population explosion has eased;

  • Developing economies are growing faster than the established ones, suggesting the growing viability of the global marketplace;

  • In fact, the global rate of economic growth has been sustained and strong just about everywhere, including South Asia and Africa, with smaller economies leading the pack;

  • There has actually been a decline since the 1990s in worldwide deaths as a result of war and genocide. There's still far too much, but the trend is in the right direction;

  • All these factors and many more may be harbingers of an impending era of global growth, stronger economies that in turn produce an incentive for peace, and puppies in the spring.

Well, maybe not that last. But sort of. This explosion of goodness seems to be contingent on the continued globalisation of the planet, leading to greater cooperation among nations and less poverty and desperation in general.

This theme is mildly evocative of Davos, which this year brought us a bunch of mega-capitalists talking like backstage talent at Woodstock. There was something cute but kind of creepy about that whole thing. Is the spread of international corporate and state-sponsored capitalism too high a price to pay?

The magazine concludes, "The World Social Forum, a gathering of self-proclaimed progressives who want to turn back trade, growth and globalisation has adopted as its slogan the motto 'Another world is possible'. In reality, another and better world is painfully and fitfully coming into being."

Imagine, as John said. It's easy if you try. Should we try?

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