You know times are strange when you’re hearing from everyone – from the government to your local grocer – on what to do about the coronavirus. Unless we can source some toilet paper for you (here’s some fascinating commentary on what’s up with that!), what else is there to say?
Believe it or not, we have a fresh perspective, which we think you’ll find helpful.
What if the COVID-19 pandemic is more than just an unmitigated disaster?
What if it’s also an important, if incredibly challenging opportunity?
How could this be? Consider these powerful words from the late Hans Rosling (emphasis ours):
Think of the world as a premature baby in an incubator. The baby’s health status is extremely bad and her breathing, heart rate, and other important signs are tracked constantly so that changes for better or worse can quickly be seen. After a week, she is getting a lot better. On all the main measures, she is improving, but she still has to stay in the incubator because her health is still critical. Does it make sense to say that the infant’s situation is improving? Yes. Absolutely. Does it make sense to say it is bad? Yes, absolutely. Does saying “things are improving” imply that everything is fine, and we should all relax and not worry? No, not at all. Is it helpful to have to choose between bad and improving? Definitely not. It’s both. It’s both bad and better. Better, and bad, at the same time. That is how we must think about the current state of the world.
That was a long quote, but we wanted to share it in full. Rosling was a physician, educator, and World Health Organization advisor who specialized in international health. He wrote this passage in his book Factfulness – while he himself was dying of cancer. So, clearly, viewing the world as “better and bad” was of utmost importance to him.
As awful and enormous as the COVID-19 pandemic has quickly become, it seems highly likely we will ultimately prevail. And the existing global outpouring of evidence-based initiatives suggests we should be able to prevail much more quickly and successfully than had we simply surrendered to what might have seemed inevitable.
Consider this: As recently as last week, none of us had heard of “social distancing” as a medical prescription. Today, we’re enacting it worldwide. It may not be obvious while we’re in the thick of it, but right before our eyes, our amazing race is making miracles happen.
And we’ve only just begun. After we’ve prevailed, just think of all the other things we will have learned. Companies will have made major, if painful advances in their rapid mobilization procedures. Governments will have discovered ways to more efficiently implement life-saving civic policies. Healthcare facilities will have thoroughly field-tested their disaster protocols. Not only are these advances admirable in their own rights, they should also translate into continued market growth for those who have faith in the future of commercial enterprise.
No doubt, mistakes will be made; some will be bad ones. But – both bad and better – we will probably have learned far more than we will have lost. Society will be better prepared for a next global crisis. Markets will likely come out blinking, and then could well recover with the same speed at which they stumbled. (Consider this telling Dimensional Fund Advisors chart on historical market recoveries.) We’ll have discovered how quickly we can still come together in unimaginable ways to protect our collective future.
We could repeat, “don’t panic,” “stay the course,” and “wash your hands” until we’re all muttering damage-control missives in our sleep. But that may feel like cold comfort at this point. Instead, let’s focus on Rosling’s suggestion: Think of the state of the world and your current investment opportunities as both better and bad.
It’s bad, in that the near future ranges from uncertain to pretty darn bleak. But it’s also better. Focusing in on your investments, you’ve got a plan in place to see your way through to the other side. You’ve got more historical evidence than your forebears had on what to expect next. You’ve got us by your side, to help you stick with and/or adjust your plans as needed.
Together, let’s focus on how to make the best of things. And, yes, wash your hands.