VOLUME 2, ISSUE 8 AUGUST Time is limited well-being don t pay the rent and you can t hock your Facebook status at the pawnshop.

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1 VOLUME 2, ISSUE 8 AUGUST 2015 Technosis Time is limited well-being don t pay the rent and you can t hock your Facebook status at the pawnshop. The new reality is nothing more than an impoverished version of the old one. Joseph Weisenbaum Montgomery Place, a mansion on the banks of the Hudson River, hosted a large show of antique automobiles on August 16. I hastened thither to see a success story. On display were technology and capitalism in their heyday. Model Ts, Crosleys, Packards, Studebakers they were all there, along with dozens of brands I d never heard of. More than 1,800 entrepreneurs tried to make their fortunes in the early dawn of America s auto industry. They were tinkers, mechanics, and Industrial Age adventurers each one with new ideas about how the automobile should work, how it should look, or how it should be produced. Their factories were often little more than large garages. Some were financed with their own money. Others sold shares to the public. And all of them made cars. Of course, that was before the EPA, FTC, SEC, NLRB, EEOC, and a hundred different agencies were set up to stop them. As it turned out, the Great Depression stopped 1,792 of them. By the end of it, only General Motors, Ford, Crosley, Packard, Nash- Kelvinator, Studebaker, Chrysler, and Hudson remained. My grandfather drove a Packard convertible a beautiful car. I also recall sitting in the back seat of an uncle s Hudson Hornet. A neighbor greatly impressed us all when he drove home in a Studebaker Golden Hawk. What a pleasure it was to see those old friends again at Montgomery Place! But this issue is not about the cars of my youth... The auto industry offers a valuable lesson for anyone investing in new technology: Even when it turns out to be genuinely game changing, it doesn t mean you will make any money. A Paradox of Productivity After going up for 70 years at a 2.2% rate, productivity has slowed for the last seven years to little more than half that speed. In one of those years 2013 quarterly productivity numbers fell below zero twice. That hadn t happened in the last 30 years. This is important. Because the growth rate of the economy is thought to be productivity plus population increases. Since 2010 productivity has averaged just 0.65% per annum and only 0.3% last year. At those levels, significant growth is probably not possible, no matter what the Fed does. Productivity is a measure of how much you get for your time. More than any other single measure, it tells whether we are getting richer or poorer. When productivity increases, output goes up, people earn more and can buy more. ( More is not all there is to it, but it will do for now.) Janet Yellen said the recent productivity numbers were disappointing. Alan Greenspan said the lack of productivity was the most serious problem confronting the U.S. It s certainly a contrast to the 19th and 20th centuries. Then, a number of discoveries and innovations in metallurgy, mechanics, and chemistry, chiefly suddenly gave the human race a lift. Productivity rose sharply. 1

2 No longer dependent on feet or hooves, mankind was riding in trains and then Packard Twin Sixes. Economic growth progress not only made it possible for a man to move himself in greater comfort and speed, he could also take the raw materials the earth offered and work them into the stuff that he wanted. He did not want a pile of iron, rubber, and plastic; he wanted a Chevy truck. Energy, know-how, and technology could do the job. But this raises the most profound questions. What is wealth, for example? Economists have wrestled with it, indecisively, for years. In this month s letter, if nothing else, I hope to pin it to the mat. When you take a dollar into a liquor store, that dollar has value only inasmuch as there are bottles on the shelves. In an empty store, money is worthless. Ultimately, as Jean- Baptiste Say observed, it s the ability to produce stuff that gives money its value, not the other way around. The type of money and the number of units you have of it are irrelevant to your real wealth. Any kind of claim on output an IOU, a bond, a dollar bill, a line of credit, a promise is a form of money. What matters is not the form itself but how much you can buy with it. An economy that produces more (that is, a more productive society) is one in which people are richer no matter what graven image they put on their money. Which gives rise to an immediate puzzlement: If output is wealth, the companies that produce the most should be those that are most valuable. So, those with the highest capitalization should be those that produce the most. And yet, many tech companies are valued at billions of dollars even though they seem to produce little that adds to our wealth. It was new technology that made the wealth creation in the 19th and 20th centuries possible. Breakthroughs seemed to come reliably newer and newer, more productive each time. Hydraulic transmissions, overhead cams, safety glass by the 1920s, Preston Tucker was already producing a car with a water-cooled engine, aluminum block, disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, and fuel injection! This has led to the belief that material progress is permanent and that the future will always be richer than the past. This, in turn, led people to think that they could safely spend more than they earned, because tomorrow s tech breakthroughs would always provide more bounty than they expected. Governments, in particular, got in the habit of making promises that could only be supported by increases in output, which could only be achieved with the help of technological advances. And where are we now with those government promises? The Social Security/Medicare trustees recently reported their latest forecasts. According to their estimates, the present value of claims against the system, net of expected revenue, is $72.1 trillion. In other words, at present levels of output, the shortfall is equal to four years' worth of total U.S. output. Where will this money come from? The federal government is running a deficit this year and expects to run a deficit from here to eternity. There is no surplus available to close the gap. In the private sector, corporations have been returning 90% of their profits to shareholders through dividends and buybacks. And the personal savings rate is only 5.1%. At that rate, even if 100% of savings were devoted to Social Security/Medicare, it would take 81.5 years to bring the programs into solvency assuming the claims don t rise. Making a long story short, at present levels of technology and productivity, there is no way those claims can be honored. In his book Knowledge and Power, George Gilder argues that it doesn t matter. Because technologically driven growth will more than take care of it. That is the question on the table: Will it? Also on the table is a simpler question: Are these billion-dollar techs really worth the money? But to answer them, we need to first try to understand what money and wealth are all about. Defrauding the Working Man In the late 19th century, when gold was still money, consumer prices fell. Gold mining did not keep up with the amount of stuff that could be purchased with it. But generally, prices were stable during the whole period from around 1800 until World War I. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve System was established. Monetary flexibility was thought to be needed in order to keep prices in line with increased output. In practice, the money supply rose. This inflation was, in effect, a loan secured by economic growth. As long as growth came on schedule, price increases would be modest. If growth were to fall, the holders of dollars (i.e., notes of immediate maturity) would lose out. The stock of stuff would not rise sufficiently to keep up with the stock of money; each unit of money, therefore, would buy less stuff. Economists also noticed, mistakenly and possibly fraudulently, 2

3 that this extra money seemed to stimulate the economic growth they wanted. They thought they saw the cart before the horse; it looked as though employment rose as prices increased. Money, they came to believe, created wealth; it was not just a way to keep track of it. A little bit of consumer price inflation is a good thing, they said. Today, the Fed targets 2%. Charles de Gaulle s economist, Jacques Rueff, explained half a century ago how these inflation targets work; they defraud working people. He pointed out that the reason employment appeared to go up during periods of rising inflation was simple: Inflation reduced the relative cost of labor, making it cheaper to hire people. Nevertheless, throughout the 20th century, the economy grew larger, and claims against future output the money supply multiplied. Promises for health care, pensions, mortgages, services of all sort, bonds, debt household, public, corporate all rose. GDP measures spending. Take out the spending made possible by excess credit and you get a real economy of only $8 trillion, not the $18 trillion reported by Washington. On the other side of the ledger, total claims against that real GDP number things like household, corporate, and government debt, plus the total unfunded liabilities of the U.S. government are about $230 trillion. Debt claims have completely parted company with the output needed to pay them. If output does not rise, dramatically and soon, trillions of dollars worth of claims will expire unfulfilled. And so we hold our breath and watch. We have a great moment coming up a once-in-a-lifetime moment in market history. At least 50 years worth of pretensions and illusions are about to be tested. Economists, policymakers, speculators are in for a shock I can hardly wait to see the looks on their faces. On the one side are the billiondollar techs, technophiles, high-stakes gamblers, activist economists, central bankers, and a whole world full of cronies and zombies, all desperately hoping to keep the system together and all flying along at incredible speed on a road they believe leads to a fantastic future. On the other side is the real economy of entrepreneurs, jobs, wages, payrolls, and spending. This is the real economy. And judged by the productivity numbers already presented to you, it seems to be grinding up a hill, on a different road altogether. Where these two roads intersect is where we will unfold our lawn chair, open our cooler, take out a can of beer and wait for the inevitable collision. Energy + Matter = Stuff WhatsApp, the phone-based messaging platform acquired by Facebook for $22 billion, has a greater market value than Sony, writes our favorite humbug, Larry Summers, with next to no capital investment required to achieve it. Ponder the fact that it used to require tens of millions of dollars to start a significant new venture, and significant new ventures today are seeded with hundreds of thousands of dollars. All of this means reduced demand for investment, with consequences for equilibrium level of interest rates. This passage from Summers gives us a sense of foreboding. If these companies require little input might they also produce little real output? Or possibly a type of output that cannot be easily monetized? Summers is talking about the way the new Internet-based companies replace capital with cleverness. They take out heavily capitalized intermediaries with cheap apps. Newspapers, for example, require huge inputs. But their lucrative wantads slipped away from them, thanks to the cleverness of ebay and Monster. com. And think of all the capital it took to research, write, and publish the Encyclopedia Britannica. Then, in a trice, it was dead weight replaced by Internet-based, user-supplied Wikipedia. These new companies are more efficient. But do they produce new wealth? Or do they simply destroy old wealth? One time, perhaps 10 years ago, I was sitting in the lounge at Paris Orly International Airport, waiting for a plane. With me was my son Edward, then about 14 years old. A group of people watched a news report on a TV screen set above the bar when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the channel switched to a soccer game. Who changed the station? a man asked. The passengers all looked at each other. After a minute or two the channel suddenly switched again this time to a children s program. Again, the passengers looked at each other. None had touched the TV. Then, I noticed Edward giggling. Putting two and two together, I suspected that he had a remote control for the TV. But he did not. All he had was his cellphone. But somehow he was using it to change the station. This was technology. Not the kind of technology I d grown 3

4 accustomed to but the intangible new technology of the Information Age that exists only as lines of programming code somewhere out in the ether. Was it adding to GDP? To output? To the stuff that gives money value and helps to make good on the claims made in anticipation of it? People are now used to hiring an Uber car or renting a place to stay via Airbnb. We use Bitcoin, Netflix, and Pinterest routinely. These may be valuable services, but what kind of value is it? There is chatter, in Internetland, about the economy dematerializing or demonetizing itself. Perhaps there is a new kind of value, unconnected to stuff? This seemed like such a promising idea, I asked our tech expert, Jeff Brown, to explore it for us: At the core of the issue, is how we as a society define economic wellbeing. Historically, to your point, that has been done by measuring increases in output more specifically in GDP. Exponential improvements in technology do not directly correlate to increases in GDP; in fact, they often have the opposite effect of reducing cost, demonetizing products and services, and thus lowering GDP and hindering GDP growth. That said, exponential improvements in technology absolutely improve economic wellbeing. This is precisely what GDP is not capturing and specifically why GDP is no longer a suitable measure, by itself, of economic well-being. A simple example is being able to use FaceTime or Skype for video conferences or real-time joint project work from disparate locations anywhere in the world. This technological capability has a tremendous impact on productivity and it costs nothing. Thus, it adds no increase to GDP. This kind of service was not available at any price in previous decades; there is no way to compare to previous GDP statistics. The breadth and depth of services are also not captured in official GDP data. Jeff was able to find four valuable statistics that estimate what is missing from GDP as a result of some of these new tech improvements: 1. A study by MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and JooHee Oh surmised that accounting for ITrelated intangible assets would increase capital assets by more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. 2. Economist Robert Gordon estimates that official GDP numbers miss the value of new goods and services by 40 basis points of additional growth every year. 3. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, valued the time savings gained from Internet search technology at about $500 per adult worker per year. 4. Brynjolfsson and Oh also estimated that the Internet creates about $2,600 of value per user per year, which would increase GDP by 30 basis points per year. Over the last 100 years, average annual GDP growth is about 2%. Based on the numbers above, as much as basis points of GDP is missing from the current calculation. There s No Magic About Time GDP measures are a fraud, from several points of view. Most important, they do not measure anything worth measuring. Their numbers only record what I call economic commotion. They can measure activity. But they have no idea about whether the activity has any real value. That is why economists were so monumentally flimflammed by the Soviet Union. They saw full employment and an economy pumping out steel like nobody s business. How were they to know the output was worthless? The Soviet economy took valuable resources, added labor, skills, energy, and other resources, and created final products which were worth less than the raw materials themselves! The more stuff the Soviets produced, the poorer they got. Economists missed the point: GDP figures do not calculate well-being largely because it is a qualitative measure, not a quantitative one. You can count tons of steel. You can add sales figures. You can tote up profits. Does any of this make people better off? We can only tell when prices are set freely. Prices connect demand to supply. They tell us when people think something improves their well-being; they vote with their money, selecting the things they most want. Anything they want to buy can be considered wealth, just as anything they use to buy it with can be considered money. But not all forms of wealth or money are the same. Some hold up better than others. Time is limited. Well-being don t pay the rent. And you can t take a back rub to the pawnshop. Here s Roger K. Brown: You give me a better back rub, and I sing you a better song. Note the emphasis on increasing 4

5 quality exemplified by the use of the word better. I cannot consume exponentially increasing amounts of back rubs (or of any other dematerialized service), and you cannot listen to exponentially increasing amounts of my singing. The idea that generation after generation of venture capitalists can pay for their mansions by financing such dematerialized services is nonsense. In several of my daily Diary entries, I mentioned how the mechanical clock had imposed its own order. It was, in a sense, a dematerialized value. The fabrication and sale of clocks became an industry in itself but the dematerialized value of the clock was far greater. The rule of the clock made modern industrial economies possible. Trains could run on time only after time was calibrated. Time management could only be done after time itself was measurable. Time became a verb only after the mechanical clock was invented and good timing was made possible. Lewis Mumford, in Technics and Civilization, writes that the clock: dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Something was gained. But something was lost, too. Man was no longer master of his time, but slave to a time that was beyond his control. He could not hammer it, press it, cut it, roll it out, or heat it up to mold into a shape he wanted. He could only obey it. I remember the dreary day I discovered this for myself. In the early 70s, I had taken up a brief career as a painting contractor. I had a Volkswagen bus full of paint cans, with a ladder on top. I would bid on painting jobs and typically, I was the low-cost bidder. Then, I would work longer hours than my competitors to complete the work. Per hour, I was badly paid, but I got the jobs. Then, one day, I saw a poster in a gas station. It was a reminder to the mechanics. There was a picture of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. There s no magic about time, it said. You can t stretch it. You can t compress it. You can t pull it out of a hat. So don t waste it! I felt very depressed. I didn t quite know why. Eventually, it was obvious that my business strategy underbidding and overworking was stupid. But that was not the depressing thing. Instead, for the first time in my life, time was closing in on me. I would be at its mercy for the rest of my life. There was nothing I could do about it. No matter how hard I worked. No matter how clever I was. Time had me in its beak, like a worm grabbed by a blue jay. You can acquire an unlimited amount of stuff in your life. But with every passing second, you will have less time. Unlike output, it cannot be increased. We all have far more stuff than we used to have. But we have not a single minute more. This puts a tight budget on the number of back rubs we can consume. You only have so many leisure hours. If you spend them on Facebook, you are not watching TV. If you are shopping on Amazon, you are not shopping at Walmart. This suggests, too, that the dematerialized, demonetized wealth created by Internet innovations more entertainment, greater efficiency, and further diversions may not take us very far. Where s All the Stuff? The latest info-tech innovation is to try to materialize and monetize the Internet by connecting it to stuff. Apparently, your refrigerator will soon tell you when you are out of milk. And your alarm clock will tell the toaster to get your breakfast ready, whether you want it to or not. Tim Price, analyst in our London office, offers: the advent of the Internet of Things means hitherto distinctly non-digital objects now come embedded with software, sensors, and the ability to send and receive data over the airwaves. But so what? Connecting your automobile to GPS may save some wrong turns economizing time. You might save a little time, too, by knowing what is in your refrigerator. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. And only so many years in your life. I wish it weren t so. I wish there were more. I wish cleverness could expand time. But if wishes were Teslas, we might all ride in style! I economize my time by using the Internet to bring me ideas and information. My cup runneth over. But so does my brain. I am swamped with things I should read, understand, and file away for future use. No matter how efficient, clever, or well organized the new data may be no matter how nicely packaged it comes in Twitter, WhatsApp, or I just cannot handle any more. So how can more attention-hogging information have any value at all? The Next New Thing only has value to the extent that it lures my attention away from the Last New 5

6 Thing. I conclude that the business of delivering more information, ideas, and opinions to me has zero net growth potential. The 19th and 20th centuries delivered real growth. The model was simple enough. Companies took energy coal, then oil and used it to turn raw materials into stuff. This output filled the shelves and gave money value; people with money grew richer: They could buy more stuff. Today s model is less clear. Energy consumption is going down in the developed world. We are more efficient at converting energy to wealth-giving stuff partly thanks to the new technology. But the output of stuff is no longer increasing as it once did. Productivity gains are slowing. No one knows why. But I have a theory; it has three parts: First, debt levels are extremely high. Even at ultra-low rates, debt (and unfunded obligations) is a balland-chain on an economy. This is easily illustrated with the most recent Social Security/Medicare figures. If nothing changes, by 2030 the federal government will have to reduce all other spending by one third in order to finance these programs. Second, the regulatory drag has gotten worse and worse, too, as evidenced by the increase in federal regulations over the last 30 years. (See chart below.) There have been several attempts to quantify the loss caused by excess regulation. One study estimated that if regulations had remained at 1947 levels around 10,000 pages per year, which seems like more than enough the U.S. economy would be three times its current size. Three times the output would mean that the average resident should be three times as rich. Third, new technology is less productive than expected. Not that it isn t useful. Not that it doesn t increase our well-being. The Internet may be a valuable nervous system for the global economy; it may even be essential. But it doesn t increase the output of the stuff that makes us rich. Or, if it does actually increase output, it doesn t increase it enough to offset the effects of regulation and debt. But it could be worse. Technology Destroys Wealth George Gilder argues that information precedes and creates wealth. In the beginning was the word, he recalls. The Internet of Things is an attempt to give the word flesh. So far, the skeleton is pretty bare. But while the Internet may not be able to create wealth, it can surely destroy it. Think of all the hours wasted on Facebook! Think of all the billions of unnecessary messages that need to be processed. Think of all the hours spent trying to figure out how to program home-heating/cooling control panels, install new software on our computers, send photos to relatives, and otherwise keep up with the latest techno-fads? But those are just time wasters and nuisances. Wired magazine recently ran a well-publicized test. Could hackers take command of a modern automobile by gaining control of its electronic systems? Andy Greenberg reports: I was driving at 70 mph on the edge of downtown St. Louis when the exploit began to take hold. Though I hadn t touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting, chilling the sweat on my back through the in-seat climate control system. Next the radio switched to the local hip-hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. I spun the control knob left and hit the power button, to no avail. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass. [ ] As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers, I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That s when they cut the transmission. Immediately my accelerator stopped working. As I frantically pressed the pedal and watched the 6

7 RPMs climb, the Jeep lost half its speed, then slowed to a crawl. This occurred just as I reached a long overpass, with no shoulder to offer an escape. The experiment had ceased to be fun. To cause this kind of havoc, the hackers didn t need to modify the Jeep. Nor did they need to attach any physical devices or have any physical access to the vehicle. Instead, they got in through the entertainment system, which was connected to the Internet, as it is in most modern cars. This gave the hackers entry into the control system. The Internet of Things suddenly looked like the Internet of nothings. The hackers hadn t created wealth; they had destroyed it. They made a $25,000 automobile worthless. Hackers Kill a Jeep, was the Wired headline. Tim Price again: it s a potent example of how cyber-attacks can wreak havoc beyond the world of bits and bytes. If you can remotely crash cars, you can theoretically at least remotely stop passenger airplanes tanks and fighter jets. Presumably, that s why United Airlines grounded flights for nearly two hours in early July due to a network connectivity issue. This may seem like a run-of-themill kind of problem like dropping your Wi-Fi connection while surfing the Web. But it takes on more sinister overtones when you consider that the outage happened on the morning the New York Stock Exchange was forced to halt trading in all symbols due to a computer glitch of its own. The website for the Wall Street Journal also went dark at the same time. Also last month, the Obama administration revealed that hackers stole personal information including fingerprints and Social Security numbers belonging to 21.5 million U.S. federal government employees. It s no surprise that cyber-security is big business and a political and economic priority. With a little imagination, hackers could shut down power grids send nuclear reactors offline and even fleece the world s biggest and most powerful banks. It seems that the surest source of profits from the new technology may be in companies that try to stop it. New technology helped create the power grid ATMs traffic lights and Social Security s payment system. Now, all must be protected from hackers with newer technology. And that will cost real money. Not only can the new Internet technology destroy stuff it can destroy your ability to earn the money to buy stuff. NPR recently claimed that trucking is the single biggest job category in 29 states. I can t deny or confirm it. But here s the map: Driving a truck is the sort of thing that can be done by self-driving vehicles, like the ones currently being tested. It is probably just a matter of time until these trucker jobs disappear. KEY Truck Driver Software Dev. Primary School Teacher Customer Service Nursing Aide Secretary Cook Farmer 7

8 But the truckers won t be alone. McDonald s, one of the largest employers of minimum-wage workers in the world, had a response to all those pushing for a higher national minimum wage: Bring in the robots! And think how many jobs will be lost if 3-D printing technology ever becomes mainstream! My friend, Jillian Tett, at the Financial Times writes: analysts such as the Oxford Martin school are now predicting that digitalisation has become so powerful that it will replace half of all U.S. jobs in the next couple of decades. In the last two centuries, antitech Luddites and wreckers were mocked. They worried that new technology would eliminate their brain-numbing, dangerous, minimum-wage jobs. As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about. The new technology boosted productivity. Workers were able to produce more per hour worked; this gave them more purchasing power, which made it possible for them to buy more stuff produced by more workers. That is how that economy worked. New technology + more energy = increased output. More output meant higher wages. And richer people could buy more stuff. But that is not the way today s tech works. What s a Unicorn Really Worth? The Economist recently highlighted what are known as unicorns. These are tech start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. The top 10 companies in the category are shown on the next page. Together, they have a total market capitalization of $156 billion. But they have only $4 billion in combined revenues. And they employ fewer than 20,000 people. This means the top 10 are selling at 39 times sales with a total market cap per employee of $8 million. Could they possibly be worth it? As it happens, thanks to many years and much more luck, I am in a position to judge this as well as anyone. My own company, Agora Inc., operates in this new tech space, too. Like Amazon, we ve proven that we can make sales via the Internet and survive (we ve been in business for 35 years). Like Uber, we have no taxi medallions. Like ebay, we connect buyers (readers) to sellers (writers), directly, with no middlemen or hidden, thirdparty support. Like Airbnb, we allow private individuals all over the world to monetize spare capacity. (Our analysts and researchers are often self-employed they live wherever they want they monetize their spare intellectual capacity.) Like all the top 10, we operate almost exclusively over the Internet, using the latest, greatest technology we can get our hands on. How much is each of our employees worth? I don t know. But anyone who thinks they are worth $8 million apiece is invited to contact me directly. We have several employees I d be willing to sell for a lot less! In fact, one of our competitors also Internet-based, customer supported, etc. was for sale. Based on the earnings, at 15 times multiple (more than three times what the eventual buyer actually paid), each employee was worth less than $1 million, not $8 million. And if we apply that figure to the 20,000 employees of the 10 unicorns, we find their total capitalization should be more like $20 billion, not $156 billion. Or you could take a look at it from a profits perspective. My company has been making profits for 35 years (cash then accrued). It is an example of the sort of development that Larry Summers worries about. It required no investment to get it going, since it was entirely self-funding. Its growth has been steady. And now, with offices all over the world, it could be on the cusp of an explosive expansion. Or not. What do I know? As founder, 8

9 chairman, and oldest employee, I can t tell you whether, going forward, the business will be a flop or a fabulous success. I cross my fingers, avoid stepping on cracks, and bend over to pick up every stray penny I come across. Not that I m superstitious, but why take chances? How much is my company worth? I don t know, but if it were public, and trading at more than 20 times earnings, I d advise you to sell. So, let s apply a reasonable multiple of the aforementioned 15 times earnings. We could apply that to the unicorns, too. Where does that take us? Nowhere. Most don t have any earnings! So, we have to look at sales. Internally (my company is private), we buy and sell our shares for about one times sales, not 39 times sales. At one times sales, this implies that the whole unicorn group is worth only $4 billion, not $156 billion. And even if we are 10 times too cheap, those shares should still sell at total capitalization of $40 billion. That still leaves $116 billion between a reasonable ask and the current bid. Each of those dollars is ready to walk off the job at any time. But wait. The technophiles tell us that we can t apply normal metrics. They claim these companies are revolutionary. Game changers, they call them. The Real Game Changers In 1910, the internal combustion engine was the Internet. The killer app was the automobile. Every geek and gearhead rushed to Detroit to put America on wheels. Money was still backed by gold. And investors didn t throw it around. Of all the early auto companies, none made it to the equivalent of what COMPANY UBER AIRBNB SNAPCHAT PALANTIR SPACE X PINTEREST DROPBOX WEWORK THERANOS SQUARE Taxi hailings DESCRIPTION Accommodation for tourist and millennials Ephemeral messaging app Big data It is rocket science Photo sharing Cloud-based file sharing Office space provision Diagnostics through blood sampling Mobile-payments system we call unicorn status. That is, none achieved an early capitalization of $1 billion (adjusted to today s money) or more. I haven t been able to get exact figures, but in 1904 the Detroit census tables list 12 auto companies with total capitalization of just shy of $3 million by 1908 the total capitalization of Detroit-based auto companies was $5.7 million, or about $200 million in today s terms for the whole lot. Why? Were investors less able to see the potential? Or were they more aware of the risks? As it turned out, they were right. Looking down the list, what we will see is that many are called, few are chosen. A quick look at Wikipedia s list of Michigan-based auto companies reveals the following: 174 auto companies, mostly producing cars we ve never heard of (refer to Appendix A for the full list). Had you tried to pick the winners, the odds were against you. Most of these companies disappeared after a few years, leaving no trace. But what would have happened if you had simply recognized that the Biggest American Unicorns COMPANY VALUATION, $BN*, JULY FUNDS RAISED, $BN REVENUE, $M, technology was game changing and took $10,000 and invested it equally in all of them? There were more than 1,800 automakers started up between 1896 and Only eight of them survived the Great Depression: General Motors Corp. Ford Motor Company Chrysler Corp. Hudson Motor Car Company Nash-Kelvinator Corp. Packard Motor Car Company Studebaker Corp. Crosley Motors Nash-Kelvinator bought Hudson and eventually became American Motors. Packard and Studebaker merged but went out of the auto business in the late 50s. Crosley stopped making cars in By 1960, it was game over for all but the Big Three. And for ease of calculation, let us assume that of the eight survivors in 1940, listed above, all did as well as General Motors. Looking at the chart on the next page, we note that the price of GM went nowhere during nil EMPLOYEES,

10 the first decade of its life. Changing the game didn t really pay off until the whole stock market went into overdrive in the 20s. In other words, it was not the technological advances that sent GM stock soaring it was a bubble market. But let s go back to our calculation. Take $10,000. Put it equally into the 1,800 auto companies. Most of the companies quickly close their doors. A few make it to If GM is a guide, those investments probably did well. GM was up 2,200% from 1919 to But then, along came the Great Depression, and all but eight of your original investments are out of business. In the next 30 years, five more go out of business. But let us be optimistic and assume all the eight survivors of the Great Depression did as well (through mergers and acquisitions) as GM itself and track the value of that part of your original $10,000 investment from beginning to end (today). Congratulations, you end up with a grand total of $ Lessons: 1) We don t know which will actually succeed. 2) Even in an industry that is destined to be one of the great success stories of all time, most new entrants go out of business. 3) Since you don t know which companies or which industries will be the winners, it is best to keep your bids low. Conclusion: Sell the techs. They are overpriced by any reasonable measure. The odds of making any money on them is remote even if the technology turns out to be all it is cracked up to be. GM Stock Price GM s stock price increased 2,200% between 1919 and 1929 $ A Technophile s Take on Valuations By Jeff Brown The S&P 500 Information Technology Index is composed of technology names you might recognize, such as Yahoo, Google, ebay, Facebook, PayPal, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, and 59 others. The index trades today at a P/E multiple of 18, or just a shade above the broader S&P 500 s mean P/E of multiple 16 since Additionally, the tech index is projected to have an EV/EBITDA (enterprise value/earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) ratio of 9.24 for the third quarter of According to most analysts, EV/EBITDA ratios of 10 or below are considered attractive. At these valuation levels, technology is by no means overpriced, let alone in a bubble. In fact, within technology there are many very attractive values among profitable, high-growth companies. Where valuations do appear to be overpriced is in the venture capital or $ 450 $ 400 $ 350 $ 300 $ 250 $ 200 $ 150 $ 100 $ 50 private equity-backed corporations that are not yet publicly traded. These are the unicorns Bill mentioned. A simple example is Uber. During its last funding round, it raised about $1 billion in exchange for a 2% stake. That put Uber s valuation at about $50 billion. It is critical to keep in mind that these unicorns are not publicly traded, so their valuations are merely implied based on the latest round of funding. And with venture capital firms locked in high-stakes competition to put their capital to work, pre-ipo valuations have been pushed well above what the broader market would bear. When or if these companies go public, these implied valuations will quickly return to levels that are appropriate for the underlying assets. 10

11 The Macro Consequences of the Tech Revolution But let us return to our lawn chair at the crossroads of the real economy and the fantastic future imagined by the technophiles, economists, central bankers, cronies, and zombies On the one side we see the dust rising as a gaggle of overpriced techs and overrated economists race to the intersection. On the other is the Big Bus, lumbering along, barely moving at all, at GDP growth speeds only half as fast as before the new technology came along. Where they meet is sure to be a bloody spectacle. For on the bus are the nearly $230 trillion worth of claims money that can only be made good by technological progress! George Gilder maintains that the growth made possible by new technology will set things right. He sees the economy speeding up turbocharged by the new technology and breezing through the crossroads with time to spare. He believes that the claims on tomorrow s production will turn out to be money after all. But Gilder sees the whizzy information wonders as much more than a turbocharge on the Industrial Age technology. He thinks it is more like the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria on the horizon already, bringing superior technology to the entire New World. But, like a foreign invader, once it is on your territory, new technology is hard to get rid of. And for all the new gadgets it brings, you also get exterminating diseases. Rushing to judgment, I suspect today s technology will not rescue yesterday s claims but annihilate them. The wealth of the last burst of superior technology brought by Watt, Ford, Edison, Rockefeller, McCormick, et al came from taking raw materials and treating them roughly scorching, burning, pounding, beating, molding into the shapes we wanted. You saw one of the results worth about $25,000 in the photo at the beginning of this letter. This stuff has value. The more we make, the more we have, the more we CAN make, the richer we are, and the more we can afford to promise to deliver in the future. The innovations of Brin, Gates, Zuckerberg, Thiel, and Bezos on the other hand, may deliver wealth. But it is a different kind of wealth. It is not stuff-creating. It is stuff-destroying. We don t need so much gasoline to shop. We don t need so much paper to read. We don t need to go to so many bars to meet pretty women. Airbnb unlocks the value of existing housing, so fewer new hotel rooms are necessary. Uber and Lyft allow existing automobiles to double as taxis; no need to buy more. WeWork makes more efficient use of office space. Facebook saves social time. Google and Wikipedia eliminate the need for libraries. These things spare resources. They save time. They make life better as judged by usage for millions of people. They improve our well-being. If Jeff is right, they may also contribute to output I m not convinced. It s not that simple. We don t have to bust so many rocks out of so many hillsides, hammer so much steel, or spend so much time in our automobiles. (If the new self-driving technology proves successful, we may not have to drive at all!) As investments, some of these things will succeed. Others won t. But as near as I can tell, the game is still the same. Those top 10 unicorn stocks, for example, are a mixture of unnecessary, unwelcome, and unpromising companies. WeWork, for example, is supposedly worth $10 billion. But it is nothing more than an office-sharing company. It leases office space, puts in brightly colored couches and dull gray copiers and then sublets for more than the going rate to people who don t want to work at home. Where s the new technology? Where s the moat? Where s the output? There isn t any. At best, it has a little angle, a little buzz, and a reputation for trendy office space. It is also planning residential space organized on the same model, its founder told the Wall Street Journal. How s that for radical innovation? Snapchat provides a way for people to share pictures and videos with each other without leaving a trace. It is valued at around $20 billion. That implies an ability to earn (at a 12x multiple) more than $1.6 billion per year. But the company reportedly lost nearly $130 million on revenues of just $3 million in But it s not the absurd valuations that we re talking about now. It s the total lack of output that you can hang your hat on. It isn t there. And that is true of the entire new tech sector. There are valuable properties in it. Some companies provide worthwhile services. But there is little of the stuff that pays the bills. Instead, the new technology seems to improve efficiency, but it does not boost productivity in any 11

12 clearly measurable way. It increases well-being but does not increase wealth. It does not create a new economy at all; it simply provides grease, making connections in the old economy faster and more fluid. It conserves time, resources, and energy. But real wealth requires using time, resources, and energy, not conserving them. The model that works is based on turning these raw materials into stuff. Imagine that I write a novel. I publish via the Internet. I am paid by readers. Has output gone up? Yes, money has changed hands. The GDP figures should capture the commotion. Has our well-being increased? Arguably. People paid for something. They must like it. But overall, there is not one more dime s worth of material wealth. Money was transferred to me from readers. Zero sum. As if I had given them all a back rub. I have more money. But readers have less money. Together, our wealth has not increased. Include the numbers in GDP or not; it is not the sort of wealth that can be used to pay the claims against future output. Debt represents usedup output. But debts must be paid in future output. And here, with the aid of my erstwhile collaborator, professor of economics Pierre Lemieux, I offer an improved definition: Wealth depends on utility, which depends on the circumstances. Pierre reports: One frequent error of pre-19th-century economists was that they assumed that only physical goods like agricultural products provided utility and, thus, that only agricultural land was wealth. Adam Smith, who believed in the labor theory of value, committed a similar error by assuming that all wealth comes from labor. (If that were true, Walmart paintings would sell at the highest prices; if Renoirs were sold at all, they would be cheaper.) As defined in economics, wealth is anything that brings utility over time. An apple that I will be eating in four bites, or that will otherwise rot, is not wealth because it will disappear rapidly. A refrigerated truckload of apples or a pile of money, however, is wealth. The trouble with back rubs is that the utility of them fades quickly. I can use the F-150 truck I bought yesterday to pay for tomorrow s back rub. But I can t use the back rub I received yesterday to pay for tomorrow s F-150 internal combustion engine. Anything can be wealth. But only some things give you the kind of wealth you can hold on to or use to create more wealth. Back rubs can be a form of wealth. But they are not the best kind, because time has us all in its beak. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many back rubs you can get or receive. And no matter whether you are the rubber or the rubbee the utility is quickly gone. Nobody doubts that Facebook has utility and, therefore, value. It is wealth, of a sort. But it seems to be more like a back rub than like an internal combustion engine. That is what I think the productivity numbers are telling us. And that is why a collision between the real economy of slow growth and low productivity and the fantastic world of unicorns, zero lending rates, and trillions worth of unfunded claims is inevitable. Technology brings us wonderment and annoyance, in roughly equal measures. Like money, it is only valuable in relation to other things. All very well to say you are rich in measure of your friends or that the best things in life are free. I don t doubt it. But the bottom line is that time is limited. Well-being don t pay the rent. And you can t hock your Facebook status at the pawnshop when you go broke. Best Regards, Bill Bonner 12

13 Appendix A Company Name Years Marques Abbott Motor Car Company Abbott-Detroit Aerocar Company Aerocar Aland Motor Car Company Aland Alpena Motor Car Company Alpena Flyer Alter Motor Car Company Alter American Cyclecar Company 1914 American American Motors Corporation AMC American Voiturette Company Car-Nation Anderson Electric Car Company Detroit Electric Anhut Motor Car Company Anhut Apex Motor Corporation Ace Argo Electric Vehicle Company Argo Electric Argo Motor Company Motorvique, Argo Austin Automobile Company Austin Autoparts Manufacturing Company 1910 King-Remick Barley Motor Car Company Barley, Pennant, Roamer Bates Automobile Company Bates Bean-Chamberlain Manufacturing Hudson Company Beisel Motorette Company 1914 Beisel Belmont Electric Auto Company 1916 Belmont Benham Manufacturing Company Benham Berwick Auto Car Company 1904 Berwick Blomstrom (C.H.) Motor Company Car de Luxe, Queen Blomstrom Manufacturing Company Gyroscope Blood Brothers Auto & Machine Company Blood Bour-Davis Company Bour-Davis Briggs-Detroiter Motor Car Company Briggs-Detroiter Briscoe Motor Corporation Briscoe Brush Motor Car Company Brush Buick Motor Company; Buick Auto-Vim Buick and Power Company Burtt Manufacturing Company Cannon C.V.I. Motor Car Company C.V.I. Cadillac Automobile Company Cadillac Carhartt Automobile Company Carhartt Century Motor Company; Century Century Electric Car Company Chalmers Motor Car Company; Chalmers-Detroit (to 1910), Chalmers Chalmers-Detroit Checker Motors Corporation Checker Taxi Cab 13

14 Company Name Years Marques Chevrolet Motor Car Company Chevrolet Chrysler Corporation Chrysler Church Manufacturing Company Lenawee Church-Field Motor Company Church-Field Clark-Carter Automobile Company; Cutting Cutting Motor Car Company Clark & Company Clarkmobile Clipper Automobile Company 1902 Clipper Columbia Motors Columbia Six Cricket Cyclecar Company 1914 Cricket Davis Cyclecar Company 1914 Davis Day Automobile Company Day Utility De Luxe Motor Car Company 1908 De Luxe De Vaux-Hall Motors Company; Continental-De De Vaux, De Vaux Continental Vaux Company Deal (J.J.) and Son Carriage Factory Deal Demot Car Company 1910 De Mot Detroit Air-Cooled Car Company D.A.C. Detroit Auto Vehicle Company Crown Detroit Automobile Company, Henry Detroit Ford Company Detroit Automobile Manufacturing Paragon Company Detroit Cyclecar Company Detroit Cyclecar, Little Detroit Speedster Detroit Steam Motors Corporation Trask-Detroit Detroit-Dearborn Motor Car Company Detroit-Dearborn Detroit-Oxford Motor Car Company Detroit-Oxford Dingfelder Motor Company 1903 Dingfelder Dodge Brothers Company Dodge Brothers Dodge (A.M.) Company Dodge Dodgeson Motors 1926 Dodgeson DODO 1912 DODO Dolson (J.L.) & Sons Dolson Dort Motor Car Company Dort Downing Motor Company Downing-Detroit Dragon Automobile Company 1906 Dragon Dudly Tool Company Dudly Bug Durant Motors Durant, Flint, Star Earl Motors Incorporated Earl Engler (W.B.) Cyclecar Company Engler Essex Motor Company Essex Excel Distributing Company 1914 Excel E-M-F Company E-M-F 14

15 Company Name Years Marques Faulkner-Blanchard Motor Car Company 1910 Faulkner-Blanchard Fischer (G.J.) Company 1914 Fischer Flyer Motor Car Company Flyer Ford Motor Company 1903 Present Ford, Edsel, Mercury Friend Motors Corporation Friend Gaylord Motor Car Company Gaylord Gem Motor Car Company Gem General Engineering Company Doble General Motors Corporation 1908 Present Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, LaSalle, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Scripps-Booth Gray Motor Corporation Gray Greenleaf Cycle Company 1902 Greenleaf Grinnell Electric Car Company Grinnell Griswold Motor Car Company 1907 Griswold Hackett Motor Car Company; Lorraine Hackett, Lorraine Motors Corporation Hammer Motor Company Hammer Hammer-Sommer Auto Carriage Hammer-Sommer Company Handley Motors Incorporated Handley-Knight Harrison Motor Car Company Harrison Harroun Motor Sales Corporation Harroun Havers Motor Car Company Havers Hawk Cyclecar Company 1914 Hawk Henry Motor Car Company Henry Herreshoff Motor Company Herreshoff Hitchcock Motor Car Company 1909 Hitchcock Hudson Motor Car Company Hudson, Terraplane Hupp Motor Company Hupmobile Hupp-Yeats Electric Car Company Hupp-Yeats Huron River Manufacturing Company Ann Arbor Imperial Automobile Company Imperial J.P.L. Cyclecar Company 1913 JPL Jackson Automobile Company Jackson, Jaxon, Orlo Jacquet Motor Corporation of America 1921 Jacquet Flyer Jaeger Motor Car Company Jaeger Janney Motor Company 1906 Janney Kaiser-Frazer Allstate, Frazer, Henry J, Jeep, Kaiser Darrin Keeton Motor Company Keeton Kermath Motor Car Company Kermath Kessler Motor Company Kessler King Motor Car Company King 15

16 Company Name Years Marques Koppin Motor Company 1915 Koppin K-R-I-T Motor Car Company "KT" Lewis Spring and Axle Company Hollier Liberty Motor Car Company Liberty Light Motor Car Company 1914 Light Lincoln Motor Car Company 1914 Lincoln Lincoln Motor Company Lincoln Lion Motor Car Company Lion Little Motor Car Company Little Lozier Motor Company Lozier Malcolm Jones Cyclecar Company Malcolm Jones Manistee Motor Car Company Autoette Marvel Motor Car Company 1907 Marvel Matheson Motor Car Company 1903 Matheson Maxwell Motor Company Maxwell Menominee Electric Manufacturing 1915 Menominee Company Mercury Cyclecar Company 1914 Mercury Michigan Automobile Company Michigan Michigan Buggy Company Michigan Miller Car Company Miller Monarch Motor Car Company Monarch Monroe Motor Car Company Monroe Mount Pleasant Motor Company M.P.M. Motorcar Company; Cartercar Company Cartercar Mutual Motors Company Marion-Handley Nelson (E.A.) Motor Car Company Nelson Nielson Motor Car Company 1907 Nielson Northern Manufacturing Company Northern Nu-Klea Automobile Corporation Nu-Klea Oakland Motor Car Company Oakland Olds Motor Works Oldsmobile Olympian Motors Company Olympian Owen Motor Car Company Owen Packard Motor Car Company; Studebaker-Packard Packard Corporation Paige-Detroit Motor Car Company Paige, Jewett Paterson (W.A.) Company Paterson Pilgrim Motor Car Company 1914 Pilgrim Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works Pontiac Princess Cyclecar Company; Princess Little Princess, Princess Motor Car Company Pungs-Finch Auto & Gas Engine Company Pungs-Finch 16

17 Company Name Years Marques Railsbach (L.M.) 1914 Railsbach Rapid Motor Vehicle Company Rapid Read Motor Company Read Regal Motor Car Company Regal Reliance Automobile Manufacturing Reliance Company REO Motor Car Company REO Rex Motor Company 1914 Rex Rickenbacker Motor Company Rickenbacker Robie Motor Car Company 1914 Robie Ross Automobile Company Ross Saginaw Motor Company Yale Saxon Motor Car Company Saxon Small Motor Car Company 1910 Cavac Scripps-Booth Scripps-Booth Soules Motor Car Company Soules Stout Motor Car Company Stout Walker Motor Car Company Walker Wheeler Manufacturing Company 1904 Detroit Wills (C.H.) and Company Wills Sainte Claire Customer Care: Call (800) a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, The Bill Bonner Letter is published by Bonner & Partners. Registered office: 14 W Mount Vernon Place, Baltimore, MD 21201, United States. Postmaster: Send address changes to Bonner & Partners, 110 East Atlantic Avenue, Suite 430, Delray Beach FL, 33444, United States by Bonner & Partners. All rights reserved. No part of this report may be reproduced by any means without the express written consent of the publisher. The information contained herein is obtained from sources believed to be reliable. While carefully screened, the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers should carefully review investment prospectuses, when available, and should consult investment counsel before investing. NOTE: Bonner & Partners is strictly a financial publisher and does not provide personalized trading or investment advice. No person mentioned here by our writers should be considered permitted to engage in rendering personalized investment, legal or other professional advice as an agent of Bonner & Partners. Additionally, any individual services rendered to subscribers of The Bill Bonner Letter by those mentioned herein are considered completely separate from and outside the scope of services offered by Bonner & Partners. Therefore, if you decide to contact any one of our writers or partners, such contact, as well as any resulting relationship, is strictly between you and that service provider. Bonner & Partners expressly prohibits its writers from having a financial interest in any securities they recommend to their readers. All employees and agents of Bonner & Partners must wait 24 hours after an Internet publication and 72 hours after a print publication is mailed prior to following an initial recommendation on a security. 17

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