Last month, The Oxford Club held its 25th Annual Investment U Conference at the beautiful Ponte Vedra Inn in Florida.
Our two dozen speakers covered stocks, bonds, options, interest rates, precious metals, commodities, real estate, currencies and crypto.
But in my book, the most fascinating speaker was not an investment guy but a “state-of-the-world” guy.
It was our keynote speaker Marian Tupy, a policy analyst and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
He is also the co-author – along with Gale Pooley – of an excellent book called Superabundance.
It should be required reading for every serious investor.
For years, I’ve presented evidence that – despite incessant fearmongering by the mainstream media and prophets of doom – most people in the world today are living longer, healthier, safer, richer, freer lives than ever before.
That may seem like an odd statement when we have a spike in crime, the highest inflation in 40 years and the first war in Europe since the Second World War.
Yet it’s nonetheless true.
The daily news is a highly non-random sampling – run on a 24/7 loop on cable TV – of the worst things happening in a world of 7.8 billion people.
Meanwhile, good news gets ignored or pushed aside.
For example, every day, 137,000 people around the globe escape extreme poverty. (This has been the trend for more than 30 years now.)
Life spans are getting longer. Living standards are improving.
Literacy rates are increasing. Educational attainment has never been greater. IQs – believe it or not – are rising.
More people than ever have health insurance. More patients are surviving cancer and heart disease.
Terrible diseases like malaria, sleeping sickness and hepatitis C are being reduced or eliminated.
Racism and sexism – both explicit and implicit – have declined.
Jihadi terrorist attacks – an obsession 20 years ago – are sharply lower.
Median U.S. household incomes and net worth hit record levels last year.
It’s seldom acknowledged, but things are getting better for most people in most places in most ways.
True, we have no shortage of troubles and setbacks. But that has always been the case – and always will be.
Yet minds, money and machines – human ingenuity – generally provide a solution.
Moreover, our most urgent problems often turn into great opportunities. Profitable ones, as Oxford Club Members have learned.
For example, cybercrime is a huge problem. But cybersecurity is a great opportunity.
Carbon emissions are not good for the planet. But carbon-free renewable energy – including nuclear – offers many investment opportunities.
And so on.
The positive factors I noted above don’t even begin to describe what Tupy and Pooley call “superabundance.”
Superabundance is what happens when ordinary people can afford more and more while working less and less.
This isn’t always the case in the short term. For example, over the past year and a half, prices have risen faster than wages.
But over the long term, wages have risen faster. To prove their case, the authors use what they call “time prices.”
A time price is the length of time the average blue-collar or unskilled worker has to labor to afford something.
Ordinary prices are expressed in dollars and cents. Time prices are expressed in hours and minutes.
(As Tupy put it in his talk, “We buy things with money. But we pay for them with time.”)
For example, if a barrel of oil costs $75 and you earn $15 an hour, the time price is five hours.
If the cost of a barrel of oil rises to $80 and you earn $20 an hour, the time price is four hours.
Even though the nominal cost is higher, the time price is lower.
Time prices are an excellent way to measure increases or decreases in abundance over time for three reasons:
- Time prices cannot understate or overstate inflation because current prices and wages are used at every point on the timeline.
- Time prices are independent of currency fluctuations. (They can be measured in euros, yen or any other currency.)
- Time prices provide a standardized way of measuring changes in well-being.
The authors measured the costs of 50 commodities between 1980 and 2000.
They didn’t just find that the time prices of some of them went down. They found that the time prices of all of them went down.
And not by a little.
The average time price decline of those 50 commodities – including oil, natural gas, wheat, cotton, soybeans, beef, corn, pork and sugar – was a whopping 75.2%.
Put differently, a blue-collar worker had to work 75% less to afford the same amount of those commodities.
Unless we’re at the grocery store or gas pump, however, we don’t generally buy commodities. We buy finished goods.
Yet the time price decline in these was just as dramatic. And in many cases, more so.
In my next column, I’ll explain why.
In the meantime, I urge you to order your own copy of Superabundance, one of the most insightful books I’ve read in years.
To find out more, go here.