Munger often says that, for a white guy with a math brain, there wasn’t a better time or place to be born than in 1920’s Nebraska.
I strongly disagree.
No doubt, Munger had impeccable timing. The concept of putting money into a 401k and expecting to buy a beachfront mansion in Florida at the age of 63 is long gone. The rate of return over the next 80 years isn’t going to match America’s post-war industrial boom. See’s Candy can’t be bought for $20 million anymore.
But Munger isn’t giving himself enough credit. He wouldn’t be buying companies if he were starting over today. The number of ways to make money has increased exponentially.
The mom-and-pop-hardware-store world of yesteryear is vastly overrated.
The reality of the 20th Century is that if you didn’t have a cushy corporate executive job, you didn’t have it that good. Ho-hum, 9-to-5, go to work, sock a little away, hope you’re able to enjoy retirement “some day.”
Engineers had to wear white button-downs and spend their entire careers with IBM, musicians had to convince labels to distribute their music, authors had to find publishers, marketers were men who lived near 5th Avenue, Wall Street was the only place an Ivy League grad could make a fortune.
Now, anybody can publish software and charge for it. Anybody can record their own talk show. YouTube stars have bigger audiences than A-list actors on TV. Engineers at Facebook make more than analysts at Goldman Sachs.
Opportunity has always been distributed, it just didn’t used to be discoverable.
The challenge in 1920’s America was being matched with the opportunities that did exist. Munger was lucky to have worked for Warren Buffett’s grandfather at the Buffett & Son grocery store. Without that stroke of geographical luck at birth, he may have never partnered with Warren.
Nowadays, opportunities are both distributed and discoverable.
You can talk to Richard Dawkins on Twitter. You can find partners and customers and coworkers and jobs by publishing articles. You can distribute software and books and music without a suit’s blessing.
As the odds of discovering opportunities increase, skills become more important than time or geography in determining success.
I’d choose being born today over 1924 every single time.