As we near the end of 2023, I'm looking back at some of my old blog posts to reflect. I often find that when we revisit the issues that plagued our minds in the past, we gain a new perspective on how far we’ve progressed. It is amazing how, upon reflection, the worries of yesterday didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. We are far more resilient that we give ourselves credit. Over time, we find solutions to many of our problems.
For instance, my April, 2015 column was about taking risks. In The Wooden Nickel Blog: Sounds Risky! I opined that we are pretty good at sizing up immediate risks, but we are not skilled thinking about the long-term risk of under-investing. In April 2015, the S&P 500 was 2100. Even after a recent crummy couple of months, it now sits at around 4200. That means the index rose 100% in 8 years, or about 8.6% per year on a compounded basis (and that does not include dividends!). Not too shabby given how glum people seem to be on the markets these days.
Lesson learned now: What you perceive is a risk sometimes is the least-risky thing.
In January, 2017 my blog was about how many of us were apprehensive about the new Presidential administration. The point of The Wooden Nickel Blog: You Are A Citizen! was that we all should do our best to make sure the country held true to its founding principles and judge for ourselves how to react. Those of us who opposed his election needed to cite specific actions we opposed, and my real hope was that his supporters-so vehement about draining the swamp-would hold him to the high standards we expect from our leaders. You can be the judge on whether that was accomplished.
Lesson: Who you vote for matters!
The February 2018 blog was about how offended I was that our President lamented that too many immigrants were coming from countries he deemed unworthy of our welcome. In The Wooden Nickel Blog: I Come From A Sh**hole Country, my argument was that immigrants, regardless of the source, have been the literal lifeblood of our economy since we became a country. The very point of immigration from the perspective of the immigrant is that he is not leaving a “great” country or situation. He is fleeing from oppression, poverty and hopelessness. People choose to leave their homes for the same reasons we all do things: a love of family and the hope for a better life.
Lesson: The Immigration system is very broken, but immigrants are still people just like us.
August 2019 I wrote what now seems like a prophecy about how so many people were working from home (15%!) and more people would in the future. My prediction in The Wooden Nickel Blog: Old Economy, New Economy was purely accidental; I was thinking about technology and housing patterns, not pandemics and changing work attitudes. What I remarked about came true in spades; working from home is now not some exotic choice, but a real part of so many jobs. It’s here to stay.
Lesson: Sometimes you see the future but not what caused it. Luck is not a skill, and I just had a lucky guess!
At the time I wrote my March, 2020 blog, The Wooden Nickel Blog: A New Day, we were being told not to gather in groups greater than 10 and hundreds of Americans had died from some new virus. Who thought we’d spend the next months/years in isolation and millions would die? It was a bizarre time. Remember wiping down your groceries? Wearing cloth masks? Empty downtown streets? Freaking out about having enough toilet paper? What did we learn from all of that? We are connected and depend so much more on each other than we previously believed. We all need service workers. Kids need teachers. We all need each other. People need people.
Lesson: Looking back, I think we learned we can do great things when working together to fight a common foe, but there’s always a cost to making decisions in the middle of a crisis.
When I wrote the October 2020 blog, I was wondering how the November election would go in The Wooden Nickel: Our Better Angels. I was concerned about the claims that only one outcome would be acceptable to a large group of people, but I had faith in the dedicated people conducting the election. And, of course, most of us recognize it was the safest election in the history of the country, with dozens of recounts and court challenges settled according to our laws. By December 2020 things seemed to be set.
Then January 6th, 2021 stained our history books forever. I didn’t see that one coming. No, I did not.
Lesson: Self-government is the hardest way to run a country. All of us must constantly struggle against our worst instincts to make it work.
By October 2021 I came back on to the topic of a shortage of workers in The Wooden Nickel Blog: Where Are The Workers? Shortage was everywhere. Remember trying to find anybody to wait on you at the restaurants? Trying to get your car fixed? Hotel, air travel, retail? All short of people. Many were reluctant to go back into the service industries. Early retirements and curbed immigration also contributed to the shortage. We are still in the situation that started during the pandemic. Low unemployment is the goal, but you still need people to fix your roof, cut the lawn, check you in to the hotel or serve your dinner.
Lesson: Low unemployment is great, but we still don’t have enough workers to run our very productive economy.
In February, 2022 I talked about all of the things going on in the City of St. Louis in The Wooden Nickel Blog: My Hometown. First and foremost, I discussed the new MLS soccer stadium and team; though I was pretty optimistic, even I could not have predicted the smashing success it had in 2023. In addition, I’ve now been to the Armory, the Foundry food hall, Alamo Draft House movie theater, and the Puttshack. New cool things are popping up everywhere in Midtown. Several new apartment complexes have been built, and even a new Top Golf will open any day. Yes, downtown still struggles with crime, but the City itself seems to be in a slow-motion renaissance.
Lesson: The City of St. Louis is ascendant, no matter what the skeptics say.
Lastly, this past January, I pointed to lots of things today that are better than in the “Good Old Days” in The Wooden Nickel Blog: Ch Ch Ch Changes. My main point was that dog owners now regularly and voluntarily pick up their dog’s poop. I think that is no small feat. It shows people care about their neighborhood, their hometown, their pets and the greater world around them. That one small act of humility, proves to me that there is hope for all of us.
Lesson: Things are better than you think.
There you have it. As an observer of the world around me, I can report that we had problems a decade ago, five years ago, two years ago, and now. We’ve solved some of the tough ones, some persist, and we now have others.
Planning to solve problems is both a product of careful thought and flexibility. Make plans but get ready to change them as the world changes.
The world always changes. We'll be here to help you make sense of it!