Brexit, Trump, Climate Change & Scare Campaigns - Why You Should Still Be An Optimist

If you've been following the media or public debate lately, you might be worried about events currently gripping the world. Britain's exit from the EU is 'unprecedented', and 'the end of globalisation as we know it'.  Donald Trump - at best one of the most dishonest and unpredictable candidates to ever run for presidential office, could win the U.S election. World stockmarkets seem in the permanent grip of volatility. Indeed, if you were looking for evidence that the Brexit is a big deal for the world economy, you'll find plenty of it in Friday's trading results. $50 billion dollars were wiped off the market in 24 hours, and big stocks such as Westpac crashed 5% and BHP 8%. Maybe we're in some trouble here.

Actually, no, wait a second, why did the market decide that a mining company with almost no exposure to the UK and Europe was worth 8% less than it was 24 hours ago? Does it know something the rest of us don't? The simple answer is no. If somebody buys BHP shares thinking they are a great investment, and then decides after Britain votes to leave a floundering economic union to sell them all, then that is their problem, not yours. The likelihood is, Brexit will actually mean very little to almost everybody in the world. The UK will probably renegotiate a few treaties and everything will go back to normal. Switzerland isn't part of the EU, and it's doing just fine. Who knows, Brexit might even benefit the UK. Wasn't it only a few years ago we were talking about what an economic disaster the Eurozone had become due to its ill-considered single currency and one-size-fits-all monetary policy? I'm sure there are arguments both ways; at the end of the day though it won't truly affect the vast majority of the world one iota.

In the meantime, while the media and sharemarkets are wringing their hands over all this apparent uncertainty, the real economy is delivering us better and better goods and services at an ever faster rate. The quality and availability of food has never been better. Our houses have more comforts and are safer than ever before. Healthcare is keeping us alive for longer. Information is amazingly accessible and global communications basically seamless. When it comes to transport, I can order a personal driver on my phone and have it arrive in minutes, for a real cost lower than taxis have ever been. Alternatively, I can get on the world's most modern aircraft and fly to Asia and back for under $400. And there is nothing that I can see that genuinely threatens this economy. We have abundant food and water, no shortage of resources (look at the oil and iron ore price!), and the intellectual know how to preserve and continue these gains. Politicians won't have the guts to say it, but life truly is easier, safer and better than it ever has been.

Despite the pervasive sense of unease generated by the media, the strong likelihood is that 'Brexit' won't have any real effect on our daily lives whatsoever.

Despite the pervasive sense of unease generated by the media, the strong likelihood is that 'Brexit' won't have any real effect on our daily lives whatsoever.

Moreover, we are in the process of an accelerating revolution which is helping us to better employ our resources, solve problems and improve every aspect of our lives as humans. We are now at a stage where there are very few barriers to good ideas becoming reality, and where the interaction between good ideas is so seamless that we are progressing at an exponential rate. We are using knowledge and technology to drive revolutions in health, safety and lifestyle that will make life longer, easier and richer. For example, the smartphone wasn't with us 10 years ago, yet now we can use it to video call almost anyone in the world, navigate us to most places in the world and find almost any piece of information that exists in the world. Imagine what the next 10 years is going to bring.

Let's assess a much bigger problem to Brexit through this lens - climate change. Is it a problem? Yes. Should we do something about it? Certainly. But it's not going to end the species. We can and will adapt to whatever changes it brings; indeed, we've never been better positioned to do so, although you'd never know it from the constant sense of crisis created by the media, where every event is infused with a sense of underlying peril. Take rising sea levels for example. Much of The Netherlands is already below sea level or vulnerable to flooding, yet it is one of the most advanced and safest countries in the world. I also have no doubt we will dramatically reduce emissions this century, after all, we are only decades away from the production of unlimited and cheap renewable energy to power our homes, businesses and transport. It's not science fiction anymore, it will very soon be fact. Regardless of politics, climate change will be turned around by technology, and while it may set us back in some ways, it's not going to be the Black Plague. 

So in general I'm an optimist. Mankind's capacity to solve problems has never been greater, and I'm reminded of this on a regular basis. I was recently thinking of how I could find a better way to wake up than using my regular phone alarm. I found a sleep app which uses my phone's microphone to monitor my sleep, and wakes me close to my alarm time at the lightest point of sleep cycle. It also can integrate with smart lights in my home to turn on and brighten like a sunrise. It's not putting a man on the moon, but I think it's pretty awesome. And it's this kind of groundbreaking integration of technology that we can look forward to on an almost daily basis in the future.

So bringing it back to the public discourse we currently enjoy, am I concerned that a future Australian government might privatise the payments system for Medicare? No. In fact, if you're so without intellectual substance that an issue as marginal as this sways your vote, then you should seriously consider trading places with somebody from Zimbabwe, or North Korea, who has actually given some thought to the value of a vote in a democracy.

The only thing that really concerns me is that we'll be held back by vested interests (think taxis with Uber, hotels with Airbnb, unions with employment, medical groups with healthcare, fund managers with superannuation etc.), and that in our vapid and analysis-free political debate we won't be able to debunk the specious arguments used to defend these privileged positions. But I'm not going to get too upset. They can't hold back progress forever.