ALEXANDRIA, VA (Nov. 22, 1999) -- The Rule Breaker portfolio rocked and rolled today, rising another 2.79% to now exceed 60% in total gains for 1999.

We've come a long way since the launch of our little three-step experiment on August 4, 1994. What were the steps?
  1. Create an online page to teach the world how to invest in stocks.

  2. Using our own real money, to tell the world what stocks we were investing in and why, before we even invested in them. And...

  3. To account for our performance on a daily, monthly, annual, and historic basis, comparing ourselves to the industry benchmark that beats 92% of all stock mutual funds, the S&P 500.

Keep in mind, most of the world back then believed, and still much of the world today believes, that you as an individual should NOT make your own decisions ("you need a professional"), should NOT invest directly in stocks ("funds, funds, funds!"), and that no one can consistently beat the stock market (incorrect conclusion derived from the efficient markets theory). As individual stock-market investors, we have been told that we're playing a game not worth playing, either too dangerous or too complicated.

I still encounter these backwards (and usually agenda-ridden) concepts in everything from financial services TV advertising (First Union's major-market campaign comes to mind) to printed content like the aptly named Investing for Dummies books.

You can't do this yourself.
You shouldn't invest directly in stocks.
No one can consistently beat the stock market.


I know many of you have disagreed with these, and your own thinking and your own actions for lo these several years prove it (...and some of you for a few decades before that!). For that, and for more than five years of success for our simple three-step process above, I am thankful. For these numbers, I am very thankful:
             RB      S&P 500
1994      11.03        0.19
1995      68.17       37.43
1996      42.93       23.07
1997      25.75       33.36
1998     199.08       28.33
1999      61.51       15.60
And in fact being thankful is our theme for today's recap.

It's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and a wonderful statistic came out today for which we should all be very thankful, one that most people will probably find very surprising.

(After you finish this article, try it out on your friends: I'm betting they guess wrong.)

It's our national crime rate. Why am I grateful? It's dropping.

Is this obvious in our media-rich world, with information from every disaster and death being communicated almost instantaneously via satellite feed to the newswires, which rush out articles or rush reporters to the scene for the live tale to tell? I don't think so. I submit that if you polled most Americans today (and I haven't), you would find a majority believing -- if not convinced -- that violent crime is on the rise, maybe even a dramatic rise.

Two of the three best measures of quality of life are, to my way of thinking, life expectancy and crime rate. These show how long we live, and how safe we are as we're living. What is missing (the third) is some measure of freedom -- because those two statistics taken together with nothing else added could make a repressive police state look golden. Now, I don't know of the single silver-bullet numerical measure of personal freedom but a few novel measures suggested to me by a fellow Fool, Bill Dixon include number of Web pages and/or number of business startups.

Though I don't personally believe we allow enough freedom in America today, I nevertheless believe you find more in this country than most others in the world... and you probably find more in this country than at any point in its history (with the possible exception of the first 25 years of the Republic). That is something to be thankful for as well.

Now, I think we're all conscious that life expectancy is showing incredible long-term gains, presenting a graph over the course of human history that looks much like the graph of the Dow Jones industrials over the 20th century. BUT, for most people I don't believe they realize that we have seen U.S. crime rates come down dramatically not just in the past year, but for the past 7 consecutive years running.

That's right, the violent crime rate (murder, assault, robbery, rape) is down from the previous year every year of the last seven, with this year so far (the 8th) being no exception.

In fact, despite some tragic and extremely well -- or, I believe -- over-publicized events this year that have received intense nationwide scrutiny, you might be surprised to learn the following:

For the first half of 1999, the violent crime rate was down a full 10% over the first half of 1998. We spend a lot of time here in Fooldom analyzing a corporation's latest earnings report versus the comparable period last year. In this case, we're talking an even more important rate.

Violence everywhere on TV. All those violent action movies. Planes going down. Local and national nightly news that often lead off with several consecutive stories of blood and woe. Hate crimes. And yet....

None of this is to minimize the violence that does occur. We would all like to see that disappear altogether, whether it's the hate crimes or the terrorism or just the senseless shooting done by someone who is quite often severely deranged. So while we can only celebrate so far tonight, we can certainly be thankful that as a society that many others around the world look to for leadership or inspiration or even in some cases as The Great Satan, we are systematically reducing our crime rate while promoting perhaps the highest degree of personal freedom available in the world.

This is a portfolio recap written by a U.S. citizen to other U.S. citizens, the week of our own Thanksgiving holiday. In a column usually devoted to making money as shareholders of great companies, tonight we are giving thanks. And issuing a gut check or a reminder: Our cities are not just "murder zones," our youth are NOT all a bunch of gun-toting rebels who listen to nihilistic music, our world is not a ticking time bomb. The media that surround us build big businesses off of worrying us, or focusing their cameras on catastrophe, and they have a vested interest in shocking us as much as they can. But look at the truth, a truth I wish more people knew: Violent crime is declining for an 8th year in a row, and at an accelerating rate. How subversive a message. How against the conventional Wisdom. How Foolish.

So I say, to close tonight's report on a day in which Excite@Home rose more than 10%, and Rule Breakers AOL, eBay, and Amazon all tacked on about a billion dollars of value each, very simply:

Pinch yourself.

You are living at a time that would be the envy of history, if only the many who have gone before know what we enjoy today. Even some of the richest, most powerful potentates lacked a toilet, a light bulb, and an online connection. To say nothing of any meaningful exposure to outside cultures, or new ideas. Or the ability to order up a pizza at midnight to be delivered safely and dependably in 30 minutes.

Pinch yourself. Fool on.

One final note of thanks: Motley Fool Radio Show producer Mac Greer wanted to shout out a heartfelt thanks to everyone who contacted him about the Thanksgiving program. While we're not able to have everyone on the show due to the sheer volume of e-mails that came in, Mac was inspired and truly enjoyed reading each of them.

-- David Gardner

What do you think?
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