A Guest Post by Judge Jim Troupis
Amazon buys Whole Foods. Sears heads to bankruptcy. More graduate degrees in engineering will be granted in India this year than the United States. A country (Venezuela) with nearly the largest reserves of oil in the world is in chaos. Crypto currency is now accepted worldwide.
What, you ask, do all these have in common? They represent the dynamism of change. More than bit a scary, wouldn’t you say? Is it?
One of the beauties of aging is the opportunity to look back, and I found myself doing just that this past several weeks in the glow of that Amazon buyout. It’s a frightening prospect for one’s stock portfolio to realize the retailers of today may be gone tomorrow.
Remember the Sears catalogue? Probably not, if you’re younger than 50. It was not only the source for everything one could imagine (they sold both underwear and houses along the way), it was the entertainment for every teenage boy, toilet paper in the privy and the thing of dreams for every young woman. There is a story told at Los Alamos that comes to mind.
Dr. Oppenheimer of the University of Chicago visited the Los Alamos area as a Boy Scout. It was a remote area of New Mexico virtually inaccessible except for the few hardiest visitors, rattlesnakes and assorted archaeologists. When the government came to Dr. Oppenheimer to oversee the Manhattan Project (the Atom Bomb) it was essential that everything remain confidential. It is said the good Doctor recalled his youthful adventures and suggested they locate the project in the remotest part of the country—Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Manhattan Project (an ironic name, don’t you think, for a project located as far from the city’s hustle imaginable?) ultimately employed thousands, and all of them were sworn to secrecy. But all those people did need things–clothes, pots and pans, laundry detergent, hats, gloves, coats and everything you can imagine needed to live. So, they did what everyone did in the 1940’s, they got a Sears catalogue and ordered things. Now, that caused a bit of a problem because, you see, they all had the same address–P.O. Box “X”, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
It is said that Sears finally got concerned when they kept shipping hundreds of catalogues to the same address. I’ve never heard how that came out, but I’m guessing a visit from a guy in a suit to the Sears executive suite in Chicago probably solved the problem.
So that’s the Sears Catalogue. A place everyone went to buy things. And, that sure seems to be what Amazon is today. Changed—yes—but still meeting the demand for goods. Quite different, of course, but still the same. So, it’s a bit curious, a bit ironic and a marvelous lesson in economics that, at the same time Amazon is the headlines for making internet commerce ubiquitous, Sears is on life-support.
The Buddhist says that one can never step in the same river twice. Why? Because the river’s water continually flows. It’s a different river with every step.
The capitalist economy is often hard to watch. The dynamism of disruption is everywhere. It’s hard to watch as dreams fail and other dreams are fulfilled. The fellow founding a business today believes in tomorrow. It’s such a magnificent faith. But, as with all faith, it’s often premised in something other than numbers. It’s a belief, but it’s not a guarantee.
Amazon was a book seller a few years ago, and now it’s everywhere, selling everything. India was a backwater third world colony several decades ago and now it leads the world in engineering. Oil will fuel the world, but no amount of oil can overcome the corruption Venezuelan socialism brings to the soul, and too its economy. The American dollar may have changed the world, but it will not likely continue alone in that quest for financial supremacy.
All these changes and many more are worth our consideration. But don’t contemplate too long. The river will continue to flow.