The evolving nature of homeownership in the modern world: A more-complex and expensive existence and the proliferation of boomerang children
The American Dream: Owning your own home
Buying a house is a critical step in most adults' lives in the western capitalist world. Still, we've seen a lot of changes related to homeownership and when homeownership happens over the last century. The way things are now from a home-buying perspective is not how they've always been. In fact, the way things are today is very different than they've ever been in human history.
Family life and real estate have changed after the Industrial Revolution
Before the Industrial Revolution, the world was very different than it is no. People lived in small communities, traveled very little, and interacted with less than a few hundred people over the course of their entire lives. A man leaving his home go out on his own would rarely have seemed like a prudent decision - how would he and his family survive without kin? A woman leaving her home alone to go out and make something of herself in the world? This was a non-starter in a non-capitalist and agricultural world when kinship and ancient communal ties kept you safe, fed, and busy.
In the 21st century, real estate traditions and family life evolved further: The rise of the boomerang child
Over the last century, as the western world (especially the US) modernized, it became typical for young men and women to leave their parents' home when they turned 18 - this usually coincided with the start of a college education. Not everyone had the opportunity or the desire to leave home in this way, but many did, and this phenomenon increased over time.
In the early 21st century, further shifts and refinements to this novel paradigm occurred. A combination of factors, including the following
In today's world, students leave at 18 for college, but typically either return home or need some extra support from their families even after they graduate. The idea of being able to leave home at 18 and have an economy that is able to provide enough income for you to do that in a separate housing unit is a bit wild - only economies that are growing substantially can support that sort of lifestyle. A more reasonable lifestyle is staying within the parental unit, at least in part, until you develop enough skills, income, and savings to be able to go out on your own and be a productive part of the global economy.
A lot of people, however, never develop the needed skills or the required savings and income to go out on their own. This is something that has been increasing. You can now easily find people in their late 20s living at home and even people well into their 30s. In 1950, if a 35-year-old man was living at home without a family of his own (and he came from a typical middle-class family), it would be a pretty big negative for him.
Maybe boomerang children aren't so bad? Towards a healthier perspective on modern real estate and modern family life.
Many people talk about the second shift (the one from leaving at 18 for good to the more complex current situation), but not a lot of people talk about the first. You won't see articles in the financial news and financial media talking about how interesting it is that society has changed so much. Still, you'll read about boomerang children and college-education coffee makers all the time on popular financial websites.
We've got to do a better job of putting things into perspective and understand that just because things were a certain way for a bit of time (maybe a few decades), doesn't mean that's how they've always been or how they should be. Perhaps it makes more sense for families to be tighter knit from a financial perspective. Maybe it doesn't. Either way, assuming something without taking a broader perspective is both narrow-minded and will prevent you from making some interesting and potentially useful insights.
Some of these insights might include the following:
Economic recoveries and bull markets move slowly; recessions and downturns move fast. So, be prepared...
Do you think that once a recession looms on the horizon, you'll be able to make preparatory moves to sustain your financial investments and your portfolio? If so, you're probably wrong. You're taking on too much risk and not effectively managing the risk within your portfolio and your financial life if you naively think that pre-recession prep isn't necessary.
Recessions come too quickly for most people - it'll probably be the same for you
Too often, people fail to take prudent steps to prep for recessions, market corrections, or economic downturns - they think they'll see the signs close to it and will be able to make the needed financial adjustments. This is incredibly hard to do, however, and most people fail at it.
The main reason it's hard to do is that, unlike economic recoveries and expansions, recessions come quickly and don't tend to give warning signs until after things are already bad (so, they're not really warning signs in this case).
There's too much prep work to do pre-recession
There is too much to be done to prep for a recession, and there might not be enough time to do it if you wait for some sort of warning sign to begin. These things may include the following:
The above items are essential if you want to both protect your financial and non-financial worlds during a recession. It's also important if you're going to thrive post-recession because of recessions, market corrections, and economic downturns bring asset prices down. The smartest investors are those who are eagerly awaiting a recession with a list of quality firms and other assets to buy up at low prices.
It's hard to find great firms at any time
Generally, quality firms are those who have healthy balance sheets, strong and growing earnings, proper management, and are engaged in businesses that are not readily open to competitive entrants. This is an entire field of study, however, and there isn't enough room in a single article to even begin to delve into this topic.
How to use historical stock market data to build your investing intuition, and move one step closer to becoming an investing superhero
On Monday, October 17, 1987, the S&P 500 dropped a little over 20%. Going back to 1950, this was the single worst one-day drop in the stock market. It showed and taught a lot then, and it can still teach market participants and investors today if they are willing to listen.
Historical financial data can be magical - it can help you travel into the past and see the forests from the trees. By listening to historical data, we can more easily understand that a single-day drop of 20% in an index such as the S&P 500 is possible. By knowing that a 20% stock market drop is possible -- and by seeing the number present itself to us in the data -- we can better understand the risks we face by investing and participating in the financial world.
How do we know whats or of stock market drops are possible?
What exactly does possible mean in the context of investing and considering severe market declines? Sure, we know it's "possible" for the S&P 500 to drop by this amount or that amount. But until you ground your understanding in some historical data, you're not going understand this possibility at a deep level.
Observing the S&P 500's daily price movements will help you learn what sort of severe drops are possible for your portfolio
First, a quick note on using the S&P 500: The S&P 500 is a great place to start because it's a reasonable proxy for the market. The S&P 500 surely doesn't represent the entire market of equities, financial assets, and let alone of all assets; but, it's a reasonable and easily-manipulatable proxy for "the market."
If we care about how bad things can get in a single day (eg. an extremely severe yet plausible one day decline in your portfolio), we'll want to look at daily price data. This type of data is readily available online. There's a lot of free data, but you'll have to pay to access longer time horizons or more esoteric data.
Below, we have S&P 500 data April 3, 1950 to September 6, 2019. This represents an almost 70-year time horizon, a bit less than the expected lifespan of a person today. You can see this in the screenshots below (bottom and top of the table shown; table ordered earliest to latest).
The data has three columns - one shows the date, the other the closing price of the S&P 500 on that date, and the last column is the day-over-day change int he S&P 500 stated as a percent. The day-over-day change is easy to calculate - it's merely the one day change divided by the previous day's closing price. Declared as a formula, it is: [Day 2 - Day 1]/Day 1
This is called the arithmetic return. More complex return types -- namely the geometric return -- exist, but they are outside the scope of this discussion. The simple arithmetic return above is sufficient for our purposes.
Observing financial market data can teach you a lot and help to build a bit of market-related intuition
Just observing stock market data like this can be useful. Exploring data visually without graphing it can give us some interesting and potentially-valuable preliminary insights. This is especially true for people who haven't done this sort of data analysis before. For example, we can observe that in the very beginning of our data set (the first few days of April 1950), the S&P 500 was around $18. This is in sharp contrast to the almost $3000 S&P 500 level we observe below for September 2019. This plainly shows us that there has been some dramatic growth over the last 70 years in absolute metrics.
Although we can see some things by observing the financial data, it's hard to determine summary statistics about the S&P 500 data set visually. Stats like mean, median, minimum, and maximum are hard to see because all of the data needs to be taken into account. Taking all of the data into account can't easily be done relying on the human mind - it's just not what it's made to do. The data set has almost 17,500 rows - that's simply too much to comprehend without the use of computing devices/methods (or without a considerable amount of time to devote to this endeavor). Luckily, such devices/methods are easily available for free (eg. Google Sheets) or cheap (eg. Microsoft Excel) in the form of software. More complex options are available that are both free and paid (eg. R, Matlab, Tableau, etc.). Something like Microsoft Excel would be enough for the vast majority of use cases, however.
Finding the minimum, or the worst stock market day over the last 70 years
Some relatively easy functions can be used in Excel -- the tool of choice for most finance people -- to get some stats on the data. In the screenshot below, you can see the average, the max, and the min. The min is what we care about most here - it represents the lowest day-over-day S&P 500 change; it represents the most severe single-day drop in the S&P 500 over the last 70 years.
We can see that the worst drop is -20.47%. That means that in one single day, the stock market effectively dropped by over 20%.
Black Monday - an over 20% one day drop in the stock market
We can see the drop occurred on Monday, October 19, 1987, by examing our data set in greater detail. By filtering the data from largest to smallest, we can see what date corresponds to the worst stock market drop. Once we have the date, we can observe what happened around it in the days before and after Black Monday, which is what Monday, October 19, 1987is called in the financial industry.
The image below is the copied and pasted data from around Black Monday. It's interesting and useful to observe what happened around that time. We can see in the 10 days around Black Monday, 7 out of 10 days were losing days. We can also combine the losses to see what the cumulative loss over the 10-day period would have been. We can see that it's even worse - over the 10 days, the stock market dropped over 26%.
That means you could wake up one day over the course of your investing life and see that your portfolio is down 20% in a single day. That event would be tough to deal with - you'd be in for a very rough day and rough week. It would take some time to recover from the loss, but recovery would definitely be possible. A mistake, however, would be to panic and deviate form your long term investment strategy for no real reason beyond the fact that you're freaked out.
Use this knowledge to avoid panic sales and other forms of freaking out during the next inevitable stock market disaster
We all get freaked out in investing - it's your money that's on the line, and you don't want to lose it. Even small drops can seem bad. Even times where there's no movement could be perceived as bad if you were anticipating gains. You can't let these investing difficulties make you make investing mistakes, however. You've got to do your best to maintain a long-term perspective on investing. Something that helps us do that is exercises like the one we just went through. Looking at historical market data, understanding how the markets have moved over time, and understanding how markets may tend to move int he future are all essential things that will buffer you from foolish investing mistakes made out of fear.
If you'd like to explore the Excel file form which the above screenshots originated, you can download the file here. You'll be able to copy and paste the S&P 500 data to do your own data analysis work, like finding the maximum one-day increase.
With each economic cycle in modern economies, we experience the same thing - there's a boom, then a bust, then a recovery, and then another boom...
It's typical after a long period of growth for investors, the financial media, and your everyday Joe Shmo to start thinking that a recession looms on the horizon. But, recessions don't like fear - people freaking out doesn't usually beckon a recession.
In actuality, recessions are more often seen right after periods of intense euphoria in the economic and financial worlds. These times are marked by excessive optimism and a fear of missing out (FOMO) by many market participants. During such times you'll hear people traditionally not involved in finance or investing talking about investing - this is markedly different than how people act during times of fear or caution.
Thinking that a recession is near when most others think this is an error in most cases - one likely based on not understanding financial market history well enough. Although real panics will very likely have macroeconomic consequences (and might cause a recession or even a depression), general but relatively subdued caution and fear is not likely going to be the cause of a recession. It's when people expect it the least do macroeconomic downturns start to brew.
A cryptocurrency is a secured decentralized digital medium of exchange developed to facilitate secured peer to peer transactions. While many people have heard of cryptocurrencies and some are involved in the purchase and sale of cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets, only a few are aware of the history behind this potentially world-changing application of cryptographic technology.
As such, compiled below is the history of cryptocurrency. This history will be both useful for newcomers to the cryptocurrency and cryptoasset worlds as well as those that are more seasoned - understanding the history of a topic or technology almost always is useful in terms of adding context and grounding to one's understanding.
The late 1980s to Early 1990s - Foundations begin to Form
In the 1980s people began conceiving the idea of the creation of digital cash and/or virtual currency. These people then began to seek ways to bring this idea to fruition. However, none of their efforts and/or the results was reported.
In the year 1990, American cryptographer David Chaum invented DigiCash, the first form of electronic currency. This new "e-cash" gained tremendous publicity and sparked interests in various diverse intellectual quarters, including libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and those interested in the applications of cryptography. Chaum's DigiCash was however later found to have some faults and subsequently, was no longer used.
1998 - A Precursor to Bitcoin
In 1998, Wei Dai, a computer engineer created and published an article on "b-money". Dai regarded b-money as an anonymously distributed electronic cash system which allows for senders to directly communicate with buyers over “an untraceable network”.
Also in 1998, computer scientist Nick Szabo, designed the mechanism for a decentralized electronic currency he termed "bit gold". To use bit gold, a person would have to solve cryptographic puzzles whose solutions would be sent to a registry and then assigned to a designated public key representing the solution provider. Each solution would then become a part of a subsequent challenge which would then help to create a growing chain of new property for the solution provider. This design was created to help validate new coins.
Although bit gold was never implemented, it is regarded as the precursor to Bitcoin - those who know anything about Bitcoin mining will see the somewhat shared intellectual DNA between Bitcoin and Szabo's bit gold.
2009 - The First Truly Decentralized Digital Currency, Bitcoin
The year 2009 can be said to be the year the concept of cryptocurrency became established. Although much work (both technical and non-technical in nature) had been done in the previous two decades pertaining to digital currency and the potential application of cryptographic methods to make them effective, 2009 can easily be considered the genesis of cryptocurrency proper.
In 2009, Bitcoin was established. This establishment and its subsequent use can be attributed to Satoshi Nakamoto, who is a pseudonymous individual (or more likely, a group) that developed Bitcoin. Nakamoto articulated the concept of Bitcoin in a white paper published in the same year. Per his white paper, Nakamoto called Bitcoin a peer-to-peer cash payment system - little did the initial readers of the white paper (and possibly Nakamoto himself/herself) know what Bitcoin would become over the course of the coming decade.
This system was able to actualize true decentralization which was a feature many before him/her could not achieve. He was able to achieve this such that there could be a consensus between parties without the need for a central authority (eg. a financial firm or a government). Additionally, Nakamoto's Bitcoin was able to seemingly solve the double spending problem, something that seemed unachievable without a proper centralized network or clearinghouse.
Bitcoin has since gone beyond being the first cryptocurrency to also be the most popular, most sought after, and most used cryptocurrency with over 16 million in circulation (out of a total of 21 million that will ever exist per Nakamoto's original design).
2009 to Present - Altcoins, Proliferation, and Investing
Since the creation of Bitcoin in 2009, over 850 cryptocurrencies (often referted to as altcoins) have been developed and are now in circulation. Some of these altcoins are Litecoin, Peercoin, Robocoin, Ethereum, Salt, Cardano, Iota, Viacoin, Siacoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ripple, and Dogecoin.
Many of the new cryptoassets or altcoins that are on the market today are not considered high-quality cryptoassets like Bitcoin but are instead considered frauds, scams, gimmicks, or schemes that allow the creators of the coins to make a quick profit (through the use of what are called initial coin offerings or ICOs).
Other cryptoassets or altcoins, however, seem useful and add capabilities beyond what Bitcoin is currently capable of. For example, Bitcoin is generally only used for payments while Ethereum has the capability for use in what are called "smart contracts" and Iota is created to assist with the creation of an internet of things (IOT) world.
The concept behind cryptocurrencies is now being researched by financial institutions and governments, its’ monetary value is on a steadily rising (in terms of fiat currency such as the USD or the Euro) and many are beginning to see cryptocurrency as an investment option.
Foggy Future - Where will cryptoassets go from here?
Given the past 30 years in cryptocurrencies, cryptography, and the concept of decentralized digital cash (and especially the last 10 years since the creation of Bitcoin), it's a fool's errand to try to predict in any meaningful way where things will go in the cryptoasset space. However, it is likely that many of the early trends seen today will continue on. Specifically, it is likely that cryptoassets will consume more mindshare globally, will break into Wall Street (eg. futures, ETFs, hedge funds, etc.), and that a broader infrastructure (both in support of and in use of crypto assets) will be built up over the coming years and decades.
There have been 22 recessions since the turn of the 20th century -- see the table below for a list of all of them (sourced from here) -- and we have currently experienced one of the longest expansion in US history as of early 2017 - by June 2017 we will have experienced an 8-year expansion (almost 96 months) - this is the third longest bull market in over 100 years. Clearly at some point within the next 2 to 5 years, we're going to experience a recession.
This article isn't about 2017 or this latest bull market, however - it's about the economy in general and the fact that things so far have been cyclical. Given the last century of markets, we can safely assume things will continue more or less the same way unless deep structural changes cause some sort of change. These types of changes might be:
Until those things happen, a prudent person would assume a recession will occur when a bull market has been going on for a long time.
Can you predict when a recession will happen? NO.
Can you predict how bad the recession will be? NO.
BUT, can you reasonably assume there will be one? YES.
Now, why are we writing this piece? Doesn't it seem obvious? Well, in fact, there are generally two schools of thought in personal finance and investing when it comes to recessions - neither of which are healthy for most people to adopt:
What's a better option? The better way is to simply observe things in light of historical data and without trying to quantify things. In this observation, you need to be incredibly humble of your lack of ability to really predict much but you still need to be mindful of the length of bull market runs. As the run gets longer - as Year 1 turns into Year 5 and then turns into Year 8 of a bull market you will want to
Most people will sell during a recession - usually after having purchased at the previous highs in a euphoric frenzy. You, however, should be sitting calmly with a pile of cash ready to buy excellent stocks at very low prices. In the meantime, you'll still want to be investing - you don't want to stop investing and wait for a recession because you can't rally predict when it will come and you don't want to spend years sitting around waiting without getting any market returns.
Be wary of those individuals who try to predict things too much, in fact, add a lot of risk to the equality. The risk comes from the false assurance they provide themselves or others - it is better to wisely understand your total lack of knowledge about something than to confidently go forward when ou really don't understand something. As Mark Twain so eloquently stated: "It ain't what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
Most people in history created their livelihood -- either by creating income or by actually producing the necessities of life with their own hand and toil -- within family or communal units. The idea of working at a job for a larger entity such as a corporation is extremely new in the grand swath of human history. In effect, almost all of the people who ever lived could in effect be classified as small business owners - this is even true today as most US employment comes still from sole proprietorships or small businesses.
Why is it useful to understand the history of work/labor?
This idea is very important to people living in modern societies because we have a view within our minds that is quite different from reality. Many people believe that:
Going beyond the present day and having at least a basic conception of the things our ancestors did to create substance and value in their ancient worlds will assist in opening up your mind to new opportunities, new ways of combining life with work, and new ways of creating value for others.
Hunting and Gathering - The First Sole Proprietorships
For most of our history, we hunted meat and gathered fruits and vegetables to feed our families and our very tight-knit communities. The lifestyle involved simply waking up with the sun, looking for food during the day, and resting in the evening. Bedtime was when it became dark and no hunter-gatherer had to plan very far ahead.
The first really interesting thing to think about when thinking about how hunter-gatherers provided for themselves is how there were almost never any intermediaries. Besides the possibility of occasional trade within tight-knit communities, hunter-gatherers had what can be considered a two-step method to getting what they wanted. In terms of purity of execution, this was the most basic/fundamental way of obtaining food and water - a hunter gather would literally expend energy in order to obtain the final product he/she sought.
The second interesting thing arises from the first - hunter-gatherers didn't create value for other human beings in order to achieve their goals. Of course, a hunter-gather might want to provide for his family and create value in that pursuit, but that's not what we mean here. What we mean is that hunter-gatherers either went to pick edible growings or killed animals in order to obtain sustenance. In that pursuit they did not serve any other human being in any way - they simply went out into the world and obtained what they needed from it. Contrast that with today's world where we almost exclusively have to earn our livings by creating value for other people, be they your employees or your customers (which are also your employers in a sense). We're not making a normative statement here - we're simply making a descriptive statement.
The third very interesting thing about thinking of the working hunter-gatherers performed is that they had a direct understanding of how their efforts and skills translated into the final product they obtained. Of course, hunter-gatherers likely had some sort of quasi-religious beliefs where they imbued objects, the weather, etc. with spiritualistic aspects and they might have relied on them to provide. However, that doesn't detract from the simple physics of hunting and gathering - every hunter-gatherer must have understood how it was their own physical efforts out in the world that were the proximate cause of their gain. They could have thought the ultimate cause came from the skies or from the tree spirits or elsewhere, but they surely understood that the proximate cause was their own effort - they surely understood that without themselves leaving their cave, picking growing, or killing an animal and dragging it home, their families would not have food to eat. Contrast that with today's modern corporate worker who works in a corporate office or campus and who has
These complex factors can include things such as
Yes, a person's well-being still depends on themselves and everyone must take responsibility for their lives - you must work hard and well so that you're able to do well in your job and in life. However, it is abundantly clear that the level of mental control that a person feels over his or her method of meeting wants/needs should have been far greater in the past than in today's complex and interconnected environment where so much of the economy is not visible or understandable by a single individual.
This understandability of relationship between soil and result could be psychologically beneficial to human beings on many levels. This isn't a psychology website and we're not purporting to have any theoretical or empirical underpinning for these statements, but it does seem to make sense that an individual who has a clear "a leads to b" understanding of the relationship between toil and result -- as opposed of "a to b to c to d to a BLACK BOX to e to f to g" understanding -- would have greater psychological comfort and less psychological stress.
In no way is above supposed to make you envy a hunter-gatherer - we live in a far richer world (both physically and mentally) than our ancestors and anyone who would want to give up today's peace, today's luxury, and today's comfort for a hungry dangerous life of basic subsistence and survival is a quite unusual person.
Agricultural Revolution and Farming
After many centuries of foraging, humans ended up farming. This happened gradually over the course of centuries as well, but the end result was the literal transformation of human life from a nomadic existence to a settled life that would be far more familiar to the modern person.
Although life transformed as well as the approach fro providing for it, humans still operated at a family or communal level - humans still remained in effect small business owners. The business changed, of course humans went from hunting and gathering to
Humans mainly operated as family units after the agricultural revolution according to current historical data with larger family-based communities existing for things that went beyond the family. In effect, each household ran a small farming business that employed the entire household from a relatively young age by today's standards.
Here people had a bit more complexity - their toil no longer immediately translated into value creation (eg. food to eat) but had to go through the intermediate step of waiting for the seeds to grow into plants. The same is true for livestock - farmers and heard had to wait for livestock to grow and spend time and energy on breeding instead of just going out into the wild to kill game.
We can see that from hunting and gathering to farming -- things which make up by far the vast majority of human existence -- we operated in very small-scale communities and were in effect creating our livelihoods within our family units. In effect, all hunter-gatherers and farmers until the Industrial Revolution turned farming into big business can be classified as small business owners in the very broad sense of the world. These individuals worked primarily for themselves and their families. Farmers in certain eras might have had to pay taxes to lords or barons or other elites, but these can be thought of as quasi-taxes. Almost all of humanity did not know the meaning of providing your labor (either in the form of physical or mental exertion) to another individual in return for some sort of payment - this was the case for many reasons, one of which was an economy that was so poor that it could not sustain such interactions in a meaningful way.
Artisans and Craftsmen - Sole Proprietors Throughout History
Beyond farming, there have been at times in history a class or artisans or craftsman. This class developed after the Agricultural Revolution as settled communities were needed in order for this class of people to arise. They mainly operated in larger cities and they ran what can be considered small businesses. The words "artisan" and "craftsman" is too narrow, however, as these individuals operated a large variety of business. These businesses including:
All of the above can also be classified as small businesses. They are more like the small businesses we think of today - instead of directly producing their own livelihoods, these artisans and craftsmen would set up shop and serve their communities. They would very likely have most of their family involved in the business and live either close by or directly above their shops.
The Modern Working World
Although the majority of US jobs still come from small businesses, most people think of work as something you do in a large-scale setting such as a corporation. Most people even aspire to such work.
This work is quite different than operating a small business because it involves providing your labor to a larger entity that you do not control and likely can never fully understand (not even the CEO of a large firm fully understand what's really going on). This creates a sort of "black box" effect where you provide your labor into a "black box" and then some income is given to you. You aren't totally sure about the actual value you're creating for the firm and you don't fully understand how your labor fits into the bigger puzzle.
There are of course many benefits working in jobs - most of these benefits come from a certain stability that is not always present in running a small business. However, there might be some psychological costs that affect a person in the following ways:
Working in a job might make a person blind to other small but very profitable opportunities where their skills might be used. They might not ever consider opening their own business, running their own website, consulting on their own, or providing value on a small scale. This is unfortunate because it is in such small setting where you are able to capture the full value of your efforts (instead of the employer capturing most of the value). This is really how people get rich today - most people will never get rich working for a job and saving a large portion of their income; the vast majority of people in our world get rich in entrepreneurial activities.
Some Examples of Employment Throughout History
Although most people worked for themselves throughout history, there were some interesting examples of employment throughout history. Here are a few:
Dow Jones Industrial Average Components Over the Decades: A view of the changing face of enterprise in the United States
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is one of the longest-running stock market indexes in the world. Its components have changed since inception - they've changed 51 times since the inception of the index by Charles Dow.
Looking at the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (or simply the Dow's) components over time allows us to see how American business (and the world in general) has changed over the last century and a half.
We won't go into all 51 component changes here -- you can find them here if you'd like -- but we will focus on the most interest and relevant ones and discuss them in a bit more depth than you can find elsewhere on the internet. Instead of giving a cursory overview, we'll dig a bit deeper to see what underlying changes were the root causes of the changes and in the process, we'll gain the following benefits:
The Dow on July 3, 1884 (precursor)
The initial Dow (which wasn't properly the Dow Jones Industrial Average but was instead a creation of Dow called the Dow Transportation Average) consisted of the following:
As the original "Transportation Average" name should indicate, the original Dow components were heavily focused on transportation. We can clearly see that there are a lot of railroad companies represented in the initial Dow mix. In the 1880s, railroads had been around for a few decades, but they still represented the new and happening industry - similar to how technology is today fast growing and focused on thing in business even though computers have been around for a few decades already. Railroads represented Manifest Destiny and a new industrial era where lots of money was being made in the business of moving things from one place to another.
We see that 9 out of the initial 11 firms represented in the 1884 Dow were railroad companies - that's a very large representation and should clearly indicate the importance of transportation generally (and railroads specifically) in the pre-20th Century US economy. As the country moved westward and as more and more goods were in need of rapid transportation in the post-Industrial Revolution era, railroads were able to extract very healthy nominal and real profits.
Basically, a discussion of the early years of the Dow inherently is a discussion of railroads. The first public railways opened up in the US in 1830 using steam engine - by the 1880s, technology had improved as did ridership and a need for transporting goods in a new type of economy where self-reliance was beginning to give way to mass consumption and production.
The equivalent today in terms of industry would be seeing all tech firms dominating the Dow Jones Industrial Average - imagine seeing the Dow today composed of the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, Twitter, Apple, HP, Dell, Cisco, etc. An observer would think that the US economy was heavily dominated by tech. Luckily for us, today's economy is far more diverse than the industrial and transportation economy of the late 19th century - we have large industrial firms, firms involved in chemicals, firms involved in telecommunications, firms producing basic products, firms that primarily provide services (eg. consulting firms), etc. Today's economy is as diverse as any has been in human history.
May 26, 1896 (the first proper Dow Jones Industrial Average)
The first proper (non-transportation only) Dow Jones Industrial included the following firms:
This was the first real Dow Jones Industrial Average. Here we see many of the railroad companies replaced - only two of the firms (the Northern American Company and the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company) are firms heavily involved in transportation.
We can see that the list has now moved away from transportation and is focused important necessities for late 19th Century America. Things like cotton, oil, tobacco, cattle feed, coal, iron, leather and rubber are all represented - these basic necessities were key to a life that was moving away from self-reliance on farms and into a mass-produce economy that required energy (in the form of gas, oil, and coal), straps, linens and other fabrics, heavy metal, electricity, etc.
If the Dow had existed 500 years prior in the Middle Ages, things like electricity, leather, cotton, coal, and rubber would not be there - most of life would consist of cattle feed and other types of feed.
Another interesting thing to note is that the names of these firms are quite basic - they are literally are names of what the company produces. Can there be any doubt that the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company is involved in the production of coal, iron, and railroads? Would you be surprised to find out that the United States Rubber Company produces rubber? These firms were the first of their kind - they are representations of commerce and big business in an era that had only recently exited the darkness of the Middle Ages via the Renaissance. The unique names we see that not only don't represent the firm's products or services but sometimes are not even traditional words that humans have used are only possible in a world that understands what firms are - world filled with people used to branding, buying things from companies instead of from friends or family, and have a lot of trust in business and capitalism in general. The ability of firms to market and brand themselves in order to educate the public about their products and services allows firms today to eschew the basic naming conventions of the past and to use innovative and obscure names such as Twitter or Exxon. A Twitter or an Exxon would be strange in the early years of the Dow - no one would have any idea what these firms produced. Without the ability to create an image of the firm through the use of advertising (which requires a lot - print ads, TV, radio, the internet, etc.), firms would who used strange names would find themselves at a deep disadvantage in the past. It was a far smarter idea to make sure people knew what your business did just by reading the name.
October 1, 1928 (Dow expanded to 30 firms)
As the index expanded to contain 30 firms (the size it's been ever since), the Dow was comprised of the following firms:
Here, the index was expanded to the 30 firms we have today. This was an interesting time in the history of the United States and especially its economic history. The Roaring Twenties were coming to a close and little did anyone knows that the Great Depression was right around the corner.
Here we can see the that we have a few automotive firms represented - we've got General Motors, American Car, Mack Trucks, and Nash Motors. Car companies have come on the market and are now some of the largest firms in the country. A car firm at this time would be similar to seeing the edition of technology and internet firms in the 2010s and 2020s - the firms came up over a few decades and finally took their place among the largest in the US by playing in a new and important industry.
We see that the names here are still those basic names that hearken back to an era before sophisticated marketing and advertising and before readily available means of communicated such as radio, TV, and mass color print.
July 3, 1956
This is the first Dow changes after the US entered WWII - the previous Dow adjustment occurred on March 4, 1939. Since we last saw the Dow above (1928), the US had plunged into a decade-long economic downturn called the Great Depression, entered WWII (which helped it recover), and saw droves of new babies being born in post-war America (the Baby Boom). Let's see how the Dow has been affected:
Here in 1956, we can say that we are in a totally different America. The last time we checked in was in 1928 - almost 30 years later the Depression-era youths fought a war abroad and came back home to have a ton of babies. Although key staples remain in the Dow, we can see the addition of many new firms.
We can see a big variety of firms represented here - car companies, companies producing basic materials, food-related companies, retailers, energy firms, and even a photography company in the form of Kodak. In 1950s America, technology has advanced far enough to make consumer products (photography, cars, retailing, toiletries, etc.) major parts of the economy. A Procter & Gamble wouldn't exist just 50 years prior - people didn't have the disposable incomes to shower often and use toiletries nor did they have a desire to in their mostly self-reliant forms of living. In 1950s America, a firm producing household necessities would make a lot of sense. In the same light, in 1950s America, big retailers, big tobacco, and big car companies all make sense - our conception of that era is of one that has now moved way past the agrarian roots of the United States and now is in the realm of post-WWII technology and sophistication. If you had told the people living through the Great Depression that a photography firm (Kodak) would be one of the biggest in the country, they would have scoffed and not understood why - photography was a luxury and the technology was not all there yet. The same can be said about many things represented above.
August 9, 1976
Jumping forward another twenty years, let's see where this journey has brought us:
In these 20 years, surprisingly little has changed. Only a 5 firms were replaced since the last time we checked in in 1956. By comparison, there over 30 changes from 1928 to 1956 (some back and forth). What you have in this period is a stable period of growth, some merging of firms, and a movement away from those classic self-descriptive names to the more unusual firm names we know of today.
Look above to see the firms that remained in the Dow but changed their names - International Nickel became Inco, Texas Incorporated became Texaco, Swift became Esemar, and Standard Oil of NJ became Exxon. These movements are away from names that clearly state what the firm produces to more esoteric and strange names that don't provide any indication whatsoever about the firm - clearly a reliance on marketing, adverting, and branding is required in order to educate the public and create a mental picture of the firm when such strange names are used. This is possible because we are no in a world of color television, radio, print magazines, and other forms of advertising.
This trend has continued today where almost all new and interesting firms have absolutely strange names that give zero indication of what the firm actually does - names such as Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Apple, etc. If you took a person from 1850 and asked him to whet he or she tough a firm named Standard Oil or a firm named American Can do, he or she would very likely guess correctly. If you asked the same person to describe what he or she thought a firm like Exxon does (bear in mind this is Standard Oil with a name change), they would have no clue and rightly so because Exxon is a totally made up term. As stated above, such strange names can only work in a modern world filled with modern telecommunication systems and a general populace that is receptive to advertising and marketing.
March 17, 1997
About two more decades after our last stop, a lot has happened - the Cold War is over and we're at the apex of the 1990s economic boom. Here are the Dow components now:
Here we can see more name changes (eg. Chevron and AT&T), continuing the overall movement away from the simple names to the more strange and esoteric ones that require branding.
We can also see that some of the old components (eg. AT&T, Chevron, Exxon, Union Carbide, General Electric, General Motors, Minnesota Mining, Sears, and Union Carbide) still here - times have changed but these good firms have endured for a variety of reasons. Some endured because of good management (eg. General Electric), some because of early entry and the existence of various barriers to entry (eg. General Motors), and many because of luck.
It's interesting that even though we're in the heart of the proliferation of personal computing and the internet, there are few technology firms. This makes quite a bit of sense - it takes time for these new firms to grow to a size large enough that would put them in the Dow (the top 30 firms in the US). Firms like Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, and others might have been making big moves during this era, but they were still growing. IBM and HP are present because they were around longer - IBM was around for almost a century at this time.
November 1, 1999
About two more decades after our last stop, a lot has happened - the Cold War is over and we're at the apex of the 1990s economic boom. Here are the Dow components now:
With the addition of Intel, Microsoft, and SBC, we can see that in just about 2 years, the Dow has taken on some of the tech firms. These firms have grown in market cap by now (due in part to what would later be called the Tech Bubble) and had market caps large enough to allow placement within the Dow. The Dow here contains many old stalwarts but is filled with new firms that were either started within the last few decades or came to major prominence recently.
March 19, 2015
The last Dow Jones Industrial Average change happened in early 2015 - here is the current makeup of the Dow:
In today's Dow, we see the familiar firms that make up the market share and the mind share of the US economy today. We see an almost complete transition away from the simple self-descriptive business names to esoteric and strange names that require branding - compare this final list with the first list. Firms like National Lead, Tennessee Coal, United States Leather, and others are so clear in their descriptions while firms like Visa, Pfizer, Nike, and Apple would be totally obscure if not for branding and advertising.
Another interesting thing is the rise of big pharmaceutical and healthcare firms - firms such as Merck, Pfizer, and UnitedHealth have come to major prominence due to various large-scale factors. These factors include an aging population (Baby Boomers), a more wealthy economy that can spend more on healthcare, and the success of pharmaceutical research in producing new, innovative, and expensive drugs.
We also see the tech firms playing a bigger role - Cisco, Apple, Microsoft, and Verizon are all part of the overall technology economy, helping to provide hardware, software, and telecommunication services.
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