The Business of Living Well

There was a news-hole-filler story today about how 19 predictions Bill Gates made for 2014 in 1999 have mostly come true. In one prediction, he prognosticates that by now we’d have devices that would provide us with up to date flight information, market quotes and news. Something about his list rang true with the way I was raised, but not the way I live now.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. When the day was done, and my dad was home from work, he would park himself down in front of the TV playing some sort of stock market review show about how things had gone. I grew up thinking that this was all really important news gathering. And to a lot of professionals in certain markets it is. But as an amateur stock market investor who’s occupation was a doctor, the market was really more of a fetish.

What I failed to realize then is that far less important that what the Blue Chips did on Mach 19, 1999, was what I was doing on March 19, 1999

I appreciate that may sound conceited, or grasping. But what I mean is that what my dad was up to watching the stock market roll along was the work of millions of people doing something. Bubbles and stock fraud aside, the best way to ensure growth in your company’s valuation (and if it’s public, it’s stock value) is to run the company well, increase the value it provides to it’s customers and treat your employees right. That’s not a promise, even for a company with great stock growth. But the only way you get a four percent average return over a century is by working efficiently.

Those who ride the market hoping to make a sound investment should either make their living helping people make sound fiscal decisions with their savings, or are mildly delusional. Real estate has always, and will always be a better guarantor of return on investment over extremely long periods of time. And land has another benefit, it can be developed, improved and made into a business on it’s own merits, rather than by holding on the coattails of hot-shot business owners.

None of this is to say that I advocate avoiding the stock market, or that there isn’t a sound personal fiscal policy in market investing. But watching the “markets” day in and day out for growth is a bit like buying an apartment building and then standing in the doorway when you get done with your work day just to appreciate that it has people living in it.

That gets us back to Bill’s post. The predictions Bill Gates made about where we’d be with technology was from such a twisted and narrow view of the world. Flights, market quotes and “news” will just come to us! What he failed to see, and I believe was part and parcel of the world I grew up in, was the growth in the web as a learning medium, a place where you can get answers to rather mudane, but important-to-you questions.

Even more than that, digital devices and the web have allowed many people to decentralize their life, telecommute, and live where they want, instead of where Sears tells them they need to for that promotion to middle management.

As someone who builds websites for a living and also lives on and runs a small organic farm, the ability of my digital device and the web to allow me to do what I love, while living where I love and with the hobbies I love, that makes all the difference.