Thursday, June 18, 2009

Not Socialism. Not Capitalism. What is it?

Anyone who thinks that that what's happened in the last year is a transition from Capitalism to Solcialism is delusional. We lost the handle on Capitalism in the late 90s and have been lost in an as-yet-unnamed wilderness ever since. If you want to compare this period with the great depression, align the Tech Crash with the Crash of 1929 (particularly if you use the NASDAQ as the present-day equivalent of the 29 DJIA), and you'll be shocked at how little they diverge from there.

At this point from a strictly economic point of view, I have a hard time seeing any differences that matter between W and Obama. Both ramped up federal spending and bailed out large institutions. Both screwed over investors that weren't astute enough to get out of the way, and neither has any initiatives on the table that truly incentivize entrepreneurial risk-taking. While Bush may have been more deferential to big business, his policies did little to ecourage the kinds of high-risk entrepreneurial investment that produces long-term GDP growth. Obama may be a bit more brazen about using it, but the economic playbook itself has changed very little in the last decade.

Because Wall Street and Washington bought into the twin delusions of (1) real estate-related investment as a long-term growth strategy and (2) the unmitigated growth of financial engineering and leverage as somehow equivalent in value to building any other long-term industrial base (in the broadest sense of the term industry), we now find ourselves unable to cleanly unwind from the mess created when reality intervened. Talk to someone who's actually lived in a Socialist society; while they may struggle just as much to put a label on what we've got, if you compare notes about daily life you'll see we've got a long way to go before anyone can say we're there.

Best advice I've heard for unemployed bankers: Now's a great time to start a bank if you're ready to go back to the original concept. If you're in investment banking, think of the possibilities of using the immediacy and transparency of the Internet to directly connect millions of small investors with real entrepreneurial startups that may be willing to break through the traditional barriers of quarterly reporting in order to directly and transparently interact with small investors.

I personally know dozens of incredibly talented engineers and inventors who have been quietly working on breakthrough projects but have stayed out of the startup tech scene ever since it started to become dominated by Wall Street hot money in the late 90s because we all saw that the game had become rigged in favor of brazen exploitation-ism if you will. Everyone on the take, nobody minding the products themselves in the store. They know they'll get their shot soon, and all it takes as an old-fashioned investment banker to get them on their way.

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