Endowment manager here.
Investing works. Really.
If you think it doesn't, that's a knowledge gap. We'll close it. Now, investments earn money one of three ways: interest (on investments such as bonds or loans), dividends (on stocks), and capital gains (the increased value of the thing.) If Ford stock went from $8.10 to $8.80 in the last year, that 70 cents is capital gains.
Endowments are large buckets of money that are invested to produce "income forever". They support charitable causes like university professorships, soup kitchens, you name it. The endowment is invested to provide 4-7% a year while keeping up with inflation. Really.
Endowments typically have an asset mix of about 80% stocks and 20% bond-like things. How does this work? How is this wise? Stocks have the best long-term growth of any investment. But a high-growth investment comes with high volatility - sharp up/down movements in the short term. The muggles call this "risk"; endowment managers don't care, because their planning horizon is well beyond 30 years -- and over 30 years, volatility averages out. Over such long horizons, the stock market always performs well.
That is because the stock market is capturing the industrial output of the country/world, which is getting better and better in the long run. When you buy a high-profit iPhone, where does that profit go? Into AAPL stock, either as dividends or capital gains.
Consider dividends and capital gains to be equivalent
Our grandfathers expected that bought solid "blue-chip" companies that would last forever, like Sears Roebuck, US Steel or the Pennsylvania Rail Road. They paid high dividends, and that's how you took profits, and they would issue dividends even if it hurt the business' capitalization.
Today, issuing dividends has gone out of vogue. Now, the companies keep the profits, which causes it to increase stock value - i.e. it becomes a capital gain. For one thing, this works better for investors from a tax perspective: you choose when you take your gains, instead of having the gains (and taxes) forced upon you by a dividend issue. That is why average dividends are only 2% - most companies have quit doing them.
Before 2007, endowment law said you couldn't spend the originally donated dollar amount, but you always could spend interest and dividends. Which is a throwback to grandpa thinking. So managers chose stocks that paid high dividends, even if that was a poor investment overall. The bucket of money suffered.
- Ford (F) paying 6.75% dividend but losing 4% capital loss == 2.75%
- Google (GOOGL) paying 0% dividend but 24% capital gain = 24%
(These are extreme examples, but it makes the point. Optimizing for dividends isn't a great strategy.)
So endowment law was rewritten. Now, interest, dividends and capital gains are treated the same: folded back into the endowment's capital. Then you withdraw 4-7% only. Now it behooves the fund to buy high-growth (but high-volatility) stocks like GOOGL. After all, the ultimate goal is to grow the fund long-term.
Look at dividends and capital gains together
So this gets a little tricky. You can look at GOOGL's chart and instantly see the growth, because it's all in the capital gains. For Ford, its value appears to be backsliding in recent years, but that would ignore the substantial dividend it's been paying and you have to include that.
Now you may say "Well, a dividend is a payment to me; I can spend it! A capital gain only exists "on paper"/in theory, it buys me nothing." Well, yes, but you can pay yourself a "dividend" from a stock like GOOG by selling a small part of your holding. That's exactly what the endowment does; if it decides to withdraw 6% but only 3% of that is actually sitting in cash from dividends, then they sell 3% of the stocks. This is routine, and you'd be buying/selling stocks anyway as you periodically rebalance the portfolio.