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Only In America

April 13, 2020

I have always been an optimist about our country -- even in what appeared to be her darkest hours of wartime, assassinations, rioting, runaway inflation and economic distress. I always knew, as Americans we could truly "overcome," find a way and solve whatever threatening problem engulfed us at any particular time and place. Perhaps it was because of the hope that was provided to me by an immigrant family that came to these shores with nothing but hopes and dreams for themselves and future children and saw those dreams fulfilled within one generation despite the privations and suffering they had to endure..

A few days ago a friend forwarded an email from someone who was laying out all the reasons we would be in decline and was writing the epitaph for the United States. He asked my response and in a very few words I stated the individual did not know our country and what it was made of. E Pluribus Unum was far more than a motto it was the essence of America and that essence has gotten us through just about every possible travail one can imagine, whether wars or economic disasters or pandemics or even a civil war that tore this country apart for a period. As a nation of immigrants -- regardless of how far back the family trees go, there is that certain, intrinsic something, a pioneering, risk taking spirit that is the underlying foundation of our success as a country.

Today we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, circumstances not entirely unknown in our history and in terms of the disease we face I see the medical personnel and hear their names, reflecting Anglo, European, African and Asian ancestry and it is they who are going to bring us through this latest pandemic threat. I see those who are going to be dealing with the economic issues facing us and I see the same ancestral lines. This is the greatness of America and why I have hope, courage and am optimistic about how this will all eventually and successfully end -- and end it will.

Fifty years ago tonight, 9:07 PM Texas time to be precise, an explosion occurred on board Apollo 13. It would do well to reflect upon how this country and some of it's best and brightest responded to that great threat and disastrous situation. 

Nick Murray a quite popular and famous financial writer -- at least among we who reside within that professional universe wrote a very interesting piece reflecting upon that event, what it told about America and how it relates historically to out present situation and the future. I commend it to you hear for your reading enjoyment.

Fifty Years On: An American Miracle In Space

APRIL 13, 2020 • Nick Murray

If you’re still awake at 9:07 tonight – Houston, Texas time – take a moment to mark the occasion. Because it was in that minute, fifty years ago tonight, that oxygen tank # 2 in the service module of the Apollo 13 moon mission exploded, imperiling the lives of the three astronauts aboard.

In the first hours after the explosion, it was responsibly estimated that those three men – Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise – had, at best, a ten percent chance of returning safely to the earth. In the event, their command module splashed down quite gently in the Pacific, four days later.


The story of that fateful odyssey – and indeed, of the whole space program up to that point – is told beautifully in Jim Lovell’s and Jeffrey Kruger’s book Apollo 13 (the original title, reflecting Lovell’s personal disappointment, was Lost Moon.) Though replete with technical detail, the book never fails to keep us riveted, as the three astronauts in space, and the hundreds of people on the ground, work the enormous problem.

We grownups certainly have time to read the book Apollo 13 these housebound days. But especially if you’ve children of any age at home with you, I urge you also (not instead) to watch Ron Howard’s 1995 film with them. As I said to Mr. Howard the one time I met him – on a plane, years ago – this is how our grandchildren will learn about that transcendent episode of American courage, grit and ingenuity.

I would particularly draw your and the kids’ attention to the moment in the film when the rocket scientists in Houston begin working one of the disaster’s serial problems using slide rules. (I don’t doubt that you’ll have to explain to them what a slide rule was.) And why? Because NASA’s mainframe computers were so far behind all the computations they were being asked to perform that the engineers couldn’t wait for the answers.

For this, remember, was the spring of 1970, and the microprocessor – the single most important invention in the history of mankind – was still in its earliest infancy. (Intel’s breakthrough chip technology was almost a year away.)

You will then get to point out – to the wondering eyes of your middle school children or grandchildren – that the entry-level smartphone they carry in their backpacks is (very conservatively) a thousand times smaller, a thousand times more powerful, and a million times cheaper than all the computing power NASA had at its command fifty years ago tonight.

In their own way, the implications of this fact are as dramatic as is the saga of Apollo 13 itself. Because they speak to the larger issue of mankind’s technological progress, which has been during these fifty years – and continues to be – exponential.

In these dark days of the coronavirus pandemic, this is a critically important thing to remember, as we coach our clients into and through two-person, thirty-year retirements. And especially as we work to create legacies for those children and grandchildren.

In that vein, it will be useful to note that, at last Friday’s close, the S&P 500 stood thirty times higher than it closed on April 13, 1970. The cash dividend was eighteen times higher in 2019 than in 1970. (Indeed, on your 4/13/70 original cost, your cash dividend yield last year was 66%. As Casey Stengel memorably and repeatedly said, “You could look it up.”) The CPI cost of living: up a tad less than seven times. American common stocks were and are the most efficient long-term inflation hedge ever crafted by man.

I literally can’t imagine the exponential increase in the quality of life that awaits my children and grandchildren between today and April 13, 2070. I know only two things. First, I’m working to endow them with equity portfolios which will be the direct beneficiaries of that progress. And second, optimism is the only realism. It’s the only worldview that squares with the facts, and with the historical record.

Tonight, of all nights, let’s bear that in mind. This too shall pass.

 © 2020 Nick Murray. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

Note: Nick Murray and Triad Advisors are not affiliated.