Assuming they successfully navigate another semester-and-a-half of college, my two kids will graduate in May. Despite the hardships and challenges they will face; I am convinced this is the best time to be young and starting one’s life as an independent adult.
When might have been a better time?
What if they had been born in 1900 instead of 2000? The life expectancy of a child born in 1900 was 47 years; their lives would be almost half over by the time they graduated from college. Except that less than three percent of Americans had a bachelor’s degree in 1922.
My son would have likely been drafted for military service during the final months of World War I. When/if my kids turned 29, they would have experienced the worst economic decline in the history of civilized mankind. Sustained unemployment approached 25 percent and half the country’s banks failed. In the 1930s, “food desert” didn’t mean there was no grocery store in your neighborhood; it meant food lines for practically everyone.
But the Great Depression eventually ended, which would have provided my 40-year-old kids a growing economy, although life was absolutely spartan by today’s standards. In 1940, half of the US didn’t have indoor plumbing. Only 1 in 400 homes had air conditioning.
Two years following the end of the Great Depression came Pearl Harbor and World War II.
Following that war, my adult children would have enjoyed another brief period of national prosperity and world peace – until we backed our way into the Korean War only five years later. If they outlived their life expectancy and made it into their 60s, my then elderly offspring would have built bomb shelters and witnessed a rash of political assassinations.
In hindsight, the 20th century sounds almost unbearably inhospitable. Yet it was markedly better than the 19th century, which was better than the 18th century.
But what if I’m wrong? What if 2022 is the year that centuries of human progress really do begin to reverse?
I can’t do anything about the macro environment in which my kids will spend their adult lives, so me worrying about Congress or the debt ceiling won’t help them. I hope they have learned to make logic-based decisions about whatever threats they face. Other than at the precise moment one faces an unexpected and immediate fatal threat, fear is seldom a useful reaction to anything. If you see a piano falling from a 10-story window directly above your head, your fear response will save your life. But you shouldn’t spend your life walking around looking for falling pianos. There are fewer of them today than there used to be.
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.