Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Finished the book off – Amazon link here

Tough one to write a review off or at least a short one. 

Before I try to post some thoughts on it – I will share this link from the buffet event since it fits a bit with the book:

“There’s been far, far, far more money made by people in Wall Street through salesmanship abilities than through investment abilities,” Buffett said, citing a simple Vanguard Group index fund that tracks the S&P 500 index of large American companies. He said that fund has beat a group of costlier hedge funds over time.

That quote fits well with one of the key premises of the book. Lots of folks making money on little more than trading but not really increasing the value of anything or making a difference in the world.

The root thesis of the book is that modern capitalism, technology, and the monetary systems are mostly making the rich, richer and creating platforms that tend to foster a winner take most or all strategy. That Uber, for example, is worse that say a taxi system. Or that Amazon and Walmart tend to ruin local markets and that the peer to peer notion of ecommerce is nothing more that a centralized system with Amazon making most of the money.

This is the first book I have read by Rushkoff and I will give him props for his thinking and his ability to craft a book of such notions but I also think like anyone trying to make a dramatic point he is also being a little over dramatic. When I talk to most Uber drivers in Singapore I find part time students paying for school, property agents using a rental car to make money while having a vehicle to take prospective buyers and tenants around, or I have seen people just driving enough Uber to pay for the monthly rental on the car so they have a car. None of it seems as bad as Rushkoff explains and I for one enjoy the cheaper mode of transportation in Singapore. Of course Uber is controversial and I don’t agree with all of their tactics but I have enjoyed the ability to travel to almost any city and summon an Uber versus deal with the local taxis. Especially in places like SEA region where Uber has made places like Kuala Lumpur actually enjoyable to visit again.

80% of the book is questioning the current grow and get rich mantra as being more important than anything else. Unified prosperity, the environment, health and any sort of long term capital appreciation takes a back seat to getting rich. I can’t argue with this premise but I don’t think the author did much to answer how it might be fixed. One sees this grow at all costs mantra with the current quarter of Apple and their stock drop off when they announced the iPhone sales dipped. The growth cannot go on forever and even so the company is incredibly popular and making huge strides in many other product areas. The stock markets are not rationale and tend to favor trading versus investing. It is a troublesome trend but not sure it is a new problem or not.

Fixing the monetary system, using local currencies, barter systems, co-ops, non profit companies and even alternative means of financing were mentioned as solutions but at an individual level – these are not easy to act upon. They are no doubt valid ideas and something to ponder but not sure how I can act upon them. I am thinking about it though.

There is also a damning section on tech, venture capital and how it is contributing to the demise of general prosperity versus enabling world changing tech. I am not sure that I entirely agree with it but again I think in any situation there are examples of both sides of any extreme. As an apprentice VC I think a lot about how one balances the desire to fund companies that have a positive effect on the world versus just creating an exit. I am not saying I have any answers to this but I do think about it.

The world has monetary issues, human health problems and massive environmental damage – I am encouraged by the tech and venture capital industry as a means to have a positive effect on these global issues.

The book is also somewhat plagued by out of date examples, sidecar versus Uber. Sidecar is toast. Not sure if this supports his thesis or not. There were a few other examples of companies that are gone or where a company was used as an example I just don’t agree with. 

Regardless, I am happy I read the book. It has me thinking about these issues more. That was probably the author’s intention since there are no easy answers to the problems in the book but bringing them to the forefront as a global discussion is valuable.

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