Some people turn on the evening news and watch stories that leave them with little hope for the future. I can certainly understand this. You and I could outline a litany of events that drain one’s confidence in the world as a good, safe and just place: terrorism, natural disasters, crime, political leaders who miss the mark and even scandals in the financial services industry.

It would be easy to be discouraged. But I have come to believe that one’s outlook about the future is a choice. You get to decide what you believe about the future. This is a choice that only you can make. I do not discount or deny the bad things that exist in the world. They are very real. But the good things that exist in the world are very real too. Hopefully, the good things will outweigh the bad things.

Let me tell you why this matters. What we believe about the future determines how, or even if, we invest in the future. Your investments in the future will be directly proportionate to your confidence in the future. I want you to move ahead with confidence.

When I talk about the future, I’m not just talking about the events that will happen someday to some future someone. I’m primarily talking about how you’ll live, what you’ll experience and how you’ll feel about everyday life 10 years from now, 20 years from now and beyond. I’m also talking about how your children and grandchildren will experience everyday life.

I have great hope for the future life that your family and mine will live. How can I possibly say this? What is the source of my hope? Let me explain. 

profile picture for Robert Peckenpaugh
"It is my great privilege to serve my clients at Whitnell. I’m also delighted to mentor young people at this company. Mentoring is one of the ways I help ensure our next generation of leaders have the skills and expertise, as well as the values, that have made this company strong for many years."

 

The JD Rockefeller Lifestyle

My son, David Peckenpaugh, is the Chief Investment Officer for Whitnell. David grew up watching me go to work every day as a financial advisor. He recently wrote an article called The American Dream Is Not Dead. I feel the same way. In fact, this is part of the source of my hope for the future. I do not believe it is wise to bet against the spirit of American resilience, ingenuity and progress. Why do I say this?

You may not be aware of this, but the average American today lives a better lifestyle than JD Rockefeller lived in his day. To me, this is quite interesting. Here is what I mean. JD Rockefeller was the wealthiest man in the world in his time. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870 and before the age of 50, he had amassed more wealth than any other human being on Earth.

Yet JD Rockefeller never experienced certain creature comforts and innovations that most Americans now take for granted. For most of his adult life, JD Rockefeller rode on a train, the fastest transportation system of his day, in the heat and dust. He was not able to enjoy air conditioning or modern appliances like a refrigerator and a dishwasher.

Electricity became ubiquitously available later in his life. Even though he had great wealth, he had to wait for most of his adult life for some of the innovations that we now take for granted: lights, phones, the automobile and well-paved roads. Rockefeller certainly never used a computer or an iPhone or iPad. He never surfed the internet or received an email. He never flew from Chicago to LA in just a few hours.

Seems almost archaic, doesn’t it? The level of innovation that we’ve witnessed over the last 120 years is both overwhelming and exciting. It presents both challenges and opportunities. 

 

A Couple Examples From My Life

In the early 1970s, I brought home two new technological advancements and shared them with my children: a ball point pen and a hand-held calculator. The ball point pen had been around for quite some time. But it had not been cheap. It certainly was not considered disposable up until about that time. It wasn’t something you gave children. Instead, it was a tool commonly used in offices. It had weight and perceived value.

The ball point cartridges had been expensive to replace and the pens themselves had been costly. But that all changed in the 1970s when advancements in ball point manufacturing lowered the price of pens and made them readily available to nearly anyone. The mass-produced pens were made of cheaper plastics. Yet they wrote just as well as their more expensive predecessors which were made of steel and wood. Suddenly the ball point pen was affordable for doing homework or drawing or even just doodling.

The calculator, on the other hand, was not particularly cheap. I remember paying, what seemed at the time, a hefty sum for one. But I wanted my children to have access to the latest technology and innovations. By comparison, when I started my career, we made our mathematical calculations using a slide rule.

My son David took to the calculator like a duck to water. It nurtured his fascination with numbers. And the amount that I paid for that calculator, insignificant as it seems today, was an investment in David’s future. I’m glad I did it.

Ball point pens are even cheaper today. A calculator can even be downloaded from the internet for free. These two small examples, and the reality of our lifestyle today compared to JD Rockefeller, are just a few reasons why I have great hope for the future.

I could never have imagined that calculator could be free at the time I bought my family’s first expensive calculator. I had no idea back then what downloading even meant. This makes me wonder. What other good things are just ahead of us that we cannot see? How much better will the future be than we can even imagine today? 

 

Three Reasons I Believe In The Future

When I look at how far we’ve come as a people and think about where we are headed, I am drawn to three trends that give me great hope:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Technological innovations

As for health, the advancements here are hard to overestimate. A majority of children born this year will live to be 100 years old, if life expectancy rates continue to increase at the same rate as they have over the last 50 years or so. But it’s not just life expectancy. It’s also the quality of life.

As a people, we now have the option to be healthier than maybe at any other time in human history. We may not all choose to be healthy, but that won’t be for lack of knowledge. We now know what causes many major diseases and how to avoid these. Just think of how smoking is perceived today versus 50 years ago when it was unbelievably advertised as enjoyable and cool.

We know good foods to include in our diet and foods to avoid. We understand the importance of vigorous exercise, even if we don’t always do it. Screenings and early detection will catch many diseases before they become debilitating.

My granddaughter at university is studying epidemiology – the origin of diseases. I believe she, and the people of her generation, will help eradicate certain diseases that have plagued the human species for centuries. R&D initiatives in the pharmaceutical field and in research laboratories are now producing treatments for people with rare diseases. This is bringing hope to people who formerly had no hope.

The same is true in education. Early childhood education is creating advantages that children from other generations did not receive. This is producing more young people who are ready for secondary schools and further increasing attendance at colleges and universities.

While many people complain about the education system in the United States today, it is a known fact that more students in the US go to college than in any other nation. Our university systems, invested in by prior generations, are graduating more students today than ever before. Our institutions of higher learning are the envy of the world. This is producing a more educated mass population than we’ve ever seen.

Many people are concerned that today’s young college graduates will not find jobs. I share the concern, but I don’t believe it will stop this generation or the next several generations to come. There is a predisposition to problem-solving and innovation that is dyed into the very fabric of the American spirit. You are not wise to bet against it.

Almost 40 years ago, I bought my first computer – an Apple II – in 1977 for $1,298. You could buy memory of up to 64K! That was the beginning of how technology would change our lives. Then came credit cards, ATMs, personal computers, the internet and iPhones. All of these have improved, I believe, the way we live. One of my personal favorites is the free downloadable WAZE GPS app. I don’t leave home without it and I don’t get lost any longer. 

 

Financial Implications Of Progress

To put it in a nutshell, we will live longer, be healthier, be better educated and have access to more technology than any other generation who has come before us. That’s pretty amazing. That’s a future I can believe in.

So this raises some important questions:

  • What are the financial implications of these advancements?
  • How do we prepare ourselves financially to be ready for what’s coming?
  • How do we prepare our children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren so they will be able to live the best life possible?

If we live longer and are healthier, this almost certainly means we will need more income for our retirement years. This means that most folks will need to save more during their productive working years and invest for the long haul.

As for education, I believe that many working adults will need to have a college education to be able to earn an income that meets and exceeds their expenses, leaving room for investments. However, college tuition and related expenses will undoubtedly go up every year. The financial implications for parents and grandparents are significant. The current student loan system is a disaster and funding a college education is a major concern and potentially a major drain on overall wealth.

This likely means that you need to save more and invest in vehicles such as 529 education plans. I encourage you to speak with your Whitnell relationship manager about the most efficient tax strategies for funding college education.

I also believe that one of the most important things we can do is to model for our children and grandchildren how to live with an eye toward a good future. We need to have more discussions with our young folks, showing them how much we value innovations in health, education, making prudent financial decisions and yes – even technology. The benefits for you and your family could be a new-found mutual connection with the young people in your life. 

 

We Should Talk

No doubt the evening news will continue to carry stories of ugly things that are happening in the world. They are real and we cannot ignore them. But they are not the only reality. I embrace a future where good things, like better health, quality education and technological innovations, will be just as real. This predisposition has benefitted me and my family greatly for many years now and I would like to share with you the same experience. If you’re not sure what kind of future you believe in, maybe it’s time we talked about it.

 

The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only. No illustration or content in it should be construed as a substitute for informed professional tax, legal, and/or financial advice.