Editor’s Note: In today’s article, Alexander Green shares how the modern narrative distorts our perception of American capitalism.
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In my last column, I pointed out that successful investors generally have a more accurate view of the world than the rest of us.
Because – unlike millions of Americans – they don’t fall prey to what I call “The Master Narrative,” a relentlessly negative depiction of the nation promoted by academia, Hollywood and especially the mainstream media.
It goes something like this…
We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic, grossly unequal country that is undergoing a perilous period of decline.
Workers are mistreated. Poverty is worsening. Violent crime is rampant. Air and water quality are declining. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are increasing.
And it’s largely due to an unfair economic system – called capitalism – based on greed, selfishness and exploitation, where “the fortunate” get rich and everyone else gets poorer.
That description is not just wide of the mark. It’s a Matrix-like distortion of reality.
Sure, we’ve all known individuals who are racist, sexist or homophobic. But that hardly defines the nation.
Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans today favor gay rights and interracial marriage.
No other majority-white country in the world has elected a one-term – much less a two-term – Black president.
The average woman in this nation makes less than the average man. But that is not de facto evidence of discrimination.
After accounting for vocation, specialization, education, experience and hours worked, the difference between what men and women earn in this country is negligible.
(It is against federal law to pay a woman less than a man for the same work.)
On the environmental front, air and water quality have been improving for decades.
Urban waterways that had been left for dead – Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Boston Harbor, Lake Erie and many others – have been recolonized by birds, fish, marine mammals and intrepid swimmers.
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been falling for decades, despite prodigious economic growth.
Despite a recent spike in some cities, violent crime has been declining in the U.S. for decades.
Incomes stagnated during the Great Recession. But wages and salaries – thanks in part to a tight job market and the Great Resignation – are rising at the fastest rate in more than 20 years.
Many Americans believe that poverty is increasing when they hear that the U.S. middle class is shrinking. Not so.
The middle class is shrinking because Americans are moving up. More households than ever are earning over $100,000 a year.
Since we live in a knowledge-based society, those with advanced degrees and specialized skills have been getting wealthy faster than the rest of us. But every quintile is rising.
American incomes – in inflation-adjusted terms – have more than tripled in my lifetime.
Both household income and household net wealth hit record levels last year.
The idea that our economic system is based on selfishness, greed and exploitation is a laughable mischaracterization.
Yes, Americans are motivated by rational self-interest, as people are everywhere.
But you don’t get rich by thinking about what you want.
You get rich by thinking about what other people want – and how you can make it better, cheaper or longer-lasting.
The beauty of capitalism is you can have whatever you want if you provide enough other people with what they want.
Explain to me how that’s a bad thing.
Businesspeople are greedy? It may be true that some folks don’t understand the concept of enough.
But here’s a reality check…
You can be the greediest person on Earth and no one is going to give you a dime unless you provide them with a product, service or labor that they’re willing to pay for.
Free-market transactions are voluntary. If you don’t want to work for a company, stay with a company, buy from a company, sell to a company or own its shares, you don’t have to.
Where is the exploitation in this?
In short, the master narrative put out by the mainstream media, academia and Hollywood is – to put it bluntly – bunk.
No wonder polls show that Americans have less trust in the media than ever.
More to the point, why would anyone risk their hard-earned money in the stock market if we lived in a horrible nation at a terrible time and the world was going to hell in a handbasket?
We don’t… and it isn’t.
Yes, there are plenty of people in this world who are suffering terribly. Just ask the people of Ukraine, Syria or Venezuela.
Once you realize how the media distorts and sensationalizes the news – because negativity attracts eyes, ears, clicks, retweets and advertising dollars – you’re in on the game.
That means you can profit from it. Here’s what I mean…
We live in a world where people compete for scarce resources: money, power, prestige, you name it.
But obtaining these things requires something essential: accurate information.
If you listen to news that is sensationalized, biased, overly negative or out of context, it leads to bad decision making.
Good information, on the other hand, leads to better decisions. And better outcomes.
That’s why it’s crucial to limit your consumption of cable news, social media and partisan propaganda.
It may seem that everyone else is wallowing in this stuff, which is bad for public discourse – and for truth generally.
But avoiding it – or sharply limiting it – will help you see the world as it really is and succeed as an investor.
Problems and setbacks are real and continuous. They will always be with us.
But they also contain the seeds of opportunity.
And in my next column, we’ll discuss how to find the best of them.