Early Action, Long-Term Thinking, and Exponential Growth

I’ve been sitting on this post for a week, but I’ll feel better just letting it out. When we talk about investing, a lot of it is about long-term thinking and exponential growth. There are many charts showing that the person who starts saving early and stops completely after 10/15 years does better than the person who waits around but eventually saves twice as much per year. Once the ball starts rolling, it’s hard to stop. Here is one example from ForUsAll.com:

This is the power that comes from forced savings (pensions) and automated savings with default contributions (401k/403bs). Along the same lines, here’s a chart of Warren Buffet’s net worth over time from ValueWalk. Most of his money came very late in life. Look at that compound interest.

This understanding of exponential growth and the importance of early intervention applies to viral pandemics as well. If you act early and aggressively, you can stop the exponential growth. St. Louis acted aggressively during the 1918 Flu Pandemic, shut down the city early, and saved many lives. It was unpopular, but it worked. Taiwan has been aggressively screening, testing, and tracking since December 2019 and despite its proximity to China has only 45 coronavirus cases. Singapore acted similarly.

Meanwhile, Italy went from only 3 confirmed cases to 15,000 confirmed cases in a span of 5 weeks. (February 6th to March 12th. Source.) The other option is to take a slow, reactionary stance. You let the exponential grow happen. The result is that you will need to shut down the entire country and do it more extremely and for a longer time. You picked the “Save more later” option. Unfortunately, here it means a lot more dying people and overwhelmed hospitals. It also means bankrupt businesses, less hours available, less jobs available, and huge childcare problems.

Do you think the US will be closer to Italy or Taiwan? The US has only tested 5,000 people total, ever. South Korea has tested 200,000 and is 1/6th the size. That’s 240x the testing rate. If you don’t test, you can’t get a “confirmed” case and they remain invisible. If you don’t track the infected people down and isolate them, you can’t stop the spreading. This is bad!

I’m not saying the world is going to end. I have not sold any stocks and am following my established investment plan. I believe that we will eventually get through this together. Mostly, I am greatly saddened that our local, state, and federal leaders have collectively decided to choose to the option of deferred, greater pain.

Bottom line. Each day that we delay widespread testing and tracking, the longer we will have to shut down our lives to get back to normal. It’s coming. Be ready. Think about how you are going to manage childcare when schools are shut down. Make sure you’ve built up that emergency fund in case your job hours are cut. If you’ve been meaning to lower your interest rate on debt, now may be a good time to transfer it to 0% APR. If your financial situation is stable, try to refinance your mortgage and lower your monthly expenses.

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