June 06, 2020

Value of nothing

Here we are at year’s end, and riding out the storm of stock trades that have seen fortunes melted like snow on a poorly insulated roof. Many are wondering where all that wealth they built last year has gone.

Priceline.com has lost William Shatner and a huge amount of stock value. Pets.com and eToys have plummeted to pennies. Apple Computer, Intel, Microsoft and many others are trading at less than half their highs for the year. What has happened to the “New Economy”?

Who thought that growth like Apple’s 40 percent sales increase could be sustained in the long term? Who thought it was a good idea to have consumers go online, select groceries sight unseen, guess at prices, and then go to the store hoping the items would be in stock? Who thought we’d be willing to spend 45 minutes of our already overbooked time to save $5? Apparently, a lot of people with Harvard Business School diplomas and Wall Street credentials did. What does that tell us about their esteemed credentials?

Oscar Wilde said, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” That same quotation could be applied to accountants and financial analysts. They thought the rest of us would be so impressed with the ability to select items online that we would override our need for speed and convenience. They also forgot that most of the world doesn’t live on networks that are fully connected to the Internet at high speeds.

They forgot that many people stop at the grocery store on their way from work to pick up the kids, and that spending a precious 45 minutes online at work to pick out groceries or pet supplies would be unethical at the very least, and could put jobs in jeopardy, and rightfully so. They forgot a lot of things about how people really live and really do business. They made words like “business model” commonplace expressions, no matter how meaningless.

Roy Atkinson


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