I realize that aggressive optimism is a big part of MMM's schtick and I see the value of it, especially in terms of helping to shake people out of complacent or conformist behaviors. I also agree that obsessing over crashes and collapses can become an excuse for avoiding personal responsibility and an unappealing personality trait when taken to extremes. Lastly, I agree with the basic advice that we should focus on those things we can personally control, and be very cautious about making major life decisions based on some doom-and-gloom scenario from the internet.
That said, I thought this article overstated its case. It's not mature or responsible to just assume that things are awesome today and will always get better, therefore no worries, man. "Just keep your head down and increase your skills and acquire productive assets" is good as far as it goes, but it will always require subjective guesses about what is or isn't a productive asset. People who bought homes in downtown Detroit in the 70's, or who started tech companies in the late 90's, or started their own contracting firm (or pursued a finance career) in the mid-2000's, or took out huge loans to get a college degree in the last few years, were all working hard to develop skills and acquire assets, that very likely turned out to be economically disastrous and may have set them back many years in their attempts to build wealth.
It's good to believe in yourself, your willpower and self-discipline and ability to learn new things and adapt to changing circumstances. It's also good to strive to maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity. But it's also necessary to have clear-eyed perception that risk is part of life and everything fails sooner or later, and do your best to gather enough information to exercise good judgment. When buying a house is it being a boo-hoo doom-and-gloomer to take a hard look at valuations, interest rates, comps, and rental prices to make a prudent informed decision? Or should we just ignore all that stuff and claim to be on a "low information diet" about things we can't personally control (and yes, I realize the point of that post was to not spend excessive time on the internet, but the answer is not to just stick your head in the sand)?
Someone who is nearing early retirement and is heavily invested in stocks will naturally be worried about the market. It can fall by half in a year (or by 20% in a DAY). I wrote another post elsewhere on the forum recommending the Permanent Portfolio, which has a lot less volatility than stocks, but apparently I am a tinfoil hat survivalist kook for including an allocation to gold, even though it crushed stocks from 2000-2010 (this pattern has reversed since then, providing a nice smooth low-volatility net return). Claiming that it doesn't matter if stocks crash because they will soon recover all the losses is a novel idea, I wonder what the average Japanese person thinks of it.
The nailgun thing really made me laugh. It's like the bit where Louis C.K. can't understand how his fellow airplane passenger can possibly be unhappy when their plane has a wi-fi internet connection. Comedians are supposed to have some insight into human folly and vanity, yet apparently he doesn't have enough life experience to appreciate that gadgets and technological gimmicks don't really have much to do with human happiness, or that having or not having an internet connection on a plane is approximately #1,423,918 on the list of things that actually matter to anyone. It's embarrassing enough coming from him, but just plain dumb to hear MMM, who constantly talks about how getting nicer stuff is not the key to improving your quality of life, claim that everything in the world is awesome because his fancy construction toys are cheaper than they used to be (even as he admits that the lower cost is due to the manufacturing being outsourced to Chinese workers who live in conditions approximating slavery). If you want to talk about actual quality of life factors and claim that life is so much more awesome today, let's do an experiment. Compared to, say, 50 years ago:
- How many more people are overweight or obese? How much of their daily calories comes from corn syrup and soybean oil?
- How many people exercise regularly and get enough sleep?
- How many friends does the average person have? How many of their neighbors do they know well?
- How likely are people to get and stay married?
- How many family members living within 50 miles does the average person have?
- How easy is it to support a family in a middle-class lifestyle off a single income and without a college degree?
- What percentage of kids are born to married parents?
- How involved in community activities is the average person?
- How many people go to church regularly (I realize church is not for everyone but there's very strong evidence that religious people are on average happier, so it counts as a quality of life issue)?
- How much faith do people have in the honesty and transparency of government, big business, the media, and other important public institutions?
- How many people are being medicated for depression or anxiety?
- How safe are public spaces? Did big cities back then all have significant areas that are no-go zones for law-abiding citizens like they do today?
That's just for a start, I'm sure other examples will occur to the reader. Believe it or not though, it's possible to recognize bad things about the world and still be a basically positive and upbeat person (this is the real essence of stoicism, not denial that the bad things even exist as the original article seems to suggest). I don't spend all my time worrying or thinking about this stuff by any means, but I also don't want to be a sucker and make stupid decisions because I was too scared to educate myself about possible pitfalls and risks. The nuanced argument is that there is a balance to be struck, and sometimes MMM comes across as a little sheltered when he is so adamant that things can only possibly get better from here because gadgets.