How to Invest in a Bipolar World

howto: I seem to have caused some confusion among readers with my two recent columns on “Obama’s New War on Investors.” Several wrote to say they found my investment outlook positive and my new book inspiring, but they had a tough time squaring my optimism about the future with my profound pessimism about the state of today’s federal government. (And, as you’ll see, times have been better at the local and state level too.)

We truly live in a bipolar world today. As Charles Dickens put it in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

The Best of Times

These are the best of times because Americans have never been richer. The Federal Reserve reported in December that the nation’s household wealth hit $77.3 trillion in the third quarter, an all-time record, thanks to rising home prices and stock values.

These are the best of times because the human life span has doubled in the last hundred years. Standards of living have never been greater. Crime is in a long-term cycle of decline. The risk of death by violence has never been smaller.

Literacy and education levels are at all-time highs. Technology and medicine are revolutionizing our lives. We enjoy goods and services in almost limitless supply. Travel – to the next town or the other side of the world – has never been easier or more affordable. Human progress is in a decidedly upward arc.

The Debt Problem

Yet democracies from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., all face the same intractable problem:

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