Thankful for What Didn’t Happen

I’m thankful for family, friends, good health, etc.

But look, many of us are.

We don’t pay enough attention to things that aren’t obvious. Things we don’t see, and that never make headlines. Stuff that could or should have happened, but didn’t.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for …

1. There hasn’t been a nuclear bomb attack since 1945. No one would have believed this if you told them in 1945. Or 1955. Or 1985. It’s probably the biggest news story of the last 72 years, both because by all accounts it should have happened, and if it did it could have killed millions of people. (The history of how close it’s come is so terrifying).

2. The 2008 financial crisis should have been worse than it was. Judging by other financial crises, we easily could have been stuck in a 20-year nightmare of stubbornly high employment and zombie banks reluctant to lend to credit-worthy projects. It’s easy to think of a world where Ben Bernanke – who spent his life studying how to respond to financial crises – wasn’t in charge of the Fed in 2008, and the global economy spiraling down so much deeper than it did.

3. The 2014 U.S. ebola outbreak was nipped quickly with few casualties. It’s easy to envision a different outcome, with both direct impacts and indirect panic.

4. If there was evidence of Russians tampering with actual vote totals, we would have had a social uprising that I don’t want to think about. The mess we’re in is comparatively small against an easily envisioned possibility.

5. Without just four companies – Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – people could legitimately say, “We don’t innovate anymore.” At least on a big scale. That would fuel pessimism, which spreads quickly. (Related: Decent chance we’d still be using Motorola Razrs if Steve Jobs got cancer a decade before he did.)

6. I’m glad the dot-com bust didn’t create a lasting culture of risk avoidance. It easily could have, which would have been devastating. An economy that can’t take any risk can be as dangerous as one that takes too much.

7. If Vanguard founder Jack Bogle wanted to be a billionaire, individual investors would be tens of billions of dollars poorer today. He’s one of the greatest philanthropists of all time, in a back door, unnoticed way. (Vanguard is “owned” by those who buy its funds, run effectively at cost).

8. The spillway of the nation’s tallest dam was hours away from catastrophic collapse ten months ago. It was saved, so hardly anyone talks about it. But it’s not hard to imagine it turning out differently and becoming one of the biggest stories of the year.

9. If California didn’t have a wet winter last year, we’d likely be in serious agricultural crisis. Its multi-year drought ended after big winter storms, but it’s easy to forget how dire the situation was just a year ago.