Those are the concluding words of a speech Sir John Templeton delivered to the Financial Analysts Federation in 1984. When I interviewed the master of global value investing in Nassau two weeks ago I asked his permission to reprint the entire speech for Thanksgiving. Here it is, as direct and meaningful today as it was twenty years ago.
What is the shape of the future? As long as freedom lives, the future is glorious.
When I was born in Franklin County, Tennessee, the uniform wage for unskilled men was ten cents an hour. Now the average for factory workers is nine dollars. Even after adjusting for inflation, the increase is more than tenfold. The federal budget in nominal dollars is now almost three hundred times as great as the peak of prosperity in 1929. In my lifetime real consumption per person worldwide---that is, the standard of living in real goods--- has more than quadrupled.
A landmark for freedom was the publication 208 years ago of Adam Smith's great work called An Inquiry into the nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The necktie I wear today, bearing the likeness of Adam Smith, is supplied by the Philadelphia Society to commemorate that great liberation. In 208 years of relative freedom, the yearly output of goods and services worldwide has increased more than a hundredfold. This is a hundredfold increase in real goods and services consumed, net after eliminating inflation.
Before Adam Smith, less than one thousand corporations existed on earth, but now corporations are being created at the rate of four thousand every business day. In the days of Adam Smith, 85 percent of the people were needed on the farm, but now less than 4 percent on the farms in America produce a surplus of food.
We now enjoy prosperity greater than ever dreamed of before this century. Will this level of progress continue in the future? If we are able to preserve and enhance freedom, these trends may continue and accelerate. We may expect more rapid change and wider fluctuations. Life will be full of adventure and opportunity and never be dull or routine.
In America alone this year over $100 billion will be dedicated to research and development--- more in one year in one nation than the total research for all the world's history before I was born. Awesome new blessings are visible also in health, entertainment, spiritual growth, and charity. In America alone over $50 billion will be donated to churches and charities this year. Each year the generous and voluntary giving by Americans alone exceeds the total income of all the world's people in any year before Adam Smith.
We should be overwhelmingly grateful to have been born in this century. The slow progress of pre-historic ages is over, and centuries of human enterprise are now miraculously bursting forth into flower. The evolution of human knowledge is accelerating, and we are reaping the fruits of generations of scientific thought: Only 60 years ago astronomers became convinced that the universe is 100 billion times larger than previously thought. More than half of the scientists who ever lived are alive today. More than half of the discoveries in the natural sciences have been made in this century. More then half of the goods produced since the earth was born have been produced in the two centuries since Adam Smith. Over half the books ever written were written in the last half-century. More new books are published each month than were written in the entire historical period before the birth of Columbus.
Discovery and invention have not stopped or even slowed down. Who can imagine what will be discovered if research continues to accelerate? Each discovery reveals new mysteries. The more we learn, the more we realize how ignorant we were in the past and how much more there is still to discover.
As Templeton suggests, the best we can do is to stand in awe, humbled at how little we yet know of all Creation.
On the web:
The John Templeton Foundation
The Templeton Press
Biography of Sir John Templeton
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