Those of you who are old enough to remember the dot com bubble bursting some 15 years ago might also remember the handwringing about how Microsoft was becoming a monopoly. Microsoft was the juggernaut that could only be taken down with antitrust suits by the federal government. Other companies simply could not compete with such a well-established corporation; the free market was inadequate.
Fast forward to where Microsoft stands today. The once seemingly invincible company has succumbed to the realities of competition and now finds itself in third place on the Nasdaq index.
James B. Stewart writing for The New York Timesexplains:
The Nasdaq composite that peaked at 5,048.62 on March 10, 2000, in what turned out to be the height of the technology bubble, bears little resemblance to today’s Nasdaq index. Of the top 20 Nasdaq companies by market capitalization in 2000, only four — Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Intel and Qualcomm — remain in the top 20 today. Eight no longer exist as independent companies, most as a result of bankruptcy or acquisition, and several are shadows of their former selves. The current Nasdaq composite index has only about half as many companies as it did in 2000.
“Joseph Schumpeter was spot on when he said capitalism is all about creative destruction,” said Richard Sylla, an economics professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a specialist in the history of markets, referring to the Austrian-American economist who described the phenomenon in 1942 in “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.”
In the intervening 15 years, a new generation of entrepreneurs, newly public companies and entire industries have emerged and seized the dominant positions in the Nasdaq index even as their predecessors faltered. Apple, now the world’s largest company by market capitalization, barely registered in 2000, and the first iPhone was not announced until 2007. Over a billion smartphones were shipped in 2014.
The chart below which accompanies the article illustrates this creative destruction of the past decade and a half quite clearly.
What this tells me is that no matter how large these corporations get, they cannot rest on their laurels. They cannot assume that just because consumers like their product(s) more than the competition today that the same will be true tomorrow. How many people use Myspace today as opposed to Facebook?
It’s the creative destruction of the free market – not additional regulations which ultimately allow consumers to have more choices.
Russia’s been in something of a spot of bother lately. The decision by OPEC to continue elevated levels of oil production (in order to deliberately suppress oil prices, and drive higher production cost competitors out of the market), in addition to American sanctions, have caused the Russian ruble to plummet against the American dollar. Steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Central Bank of Russia to halt this decline have not been effective, causing Putin to call what’s happening a “catastrophe”.
These reduced oil prices of course have many benefits to the US, beyond schadenfreude at Russias predicament. Fuel prices are the lowest they’ve been in almost ten years; which has had a positive effect on consumer prices overall, travel, and holiday spending during retail’s heaviest season.
So with prices at the pump going lower, and Putin struggling, everything’s all good, right??
Here are a few reasons why we should be concerned at what’s happening right now:
* There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on both inside and outside OPEC – What’s really happening, is Saudi Arabia is effectively in a staring contest with weaker members of OPEC, and no one has the strength to end the standoff. These low prices are harming oil producers everywhere. The price can only be so low, for so long, before there’s so much pressure (both internally, and from other oil producing nations); that the Saudis will cut production, and allow the price of oil to rise.
* We’re due for an energy market correction – As I said above, this action isn’t just hurting Russia. It’s hurting Venezuela, Mexico, Norway, and all other oil-exporting countries, and it’s not sustainable. Speculation, aggregate demand increases, and softening of the Saudi position, are likely to bring the price back up within a few months, which benefits Russia in the long term.
* Vladimir Putin’s support is, and will remain, solid – Breathless articles in the Western press about Putin’s “challenge” possibly leading to his downfall are vastly overblown at best. For one, Putin knows who his key allies are, and they – the oligarchs in Russia – will be taken care of first. Furthermore, he is virtually synonymous with the once again powerful Orthodox Church, and his domestic policies (which basically amount to keeping the buses running on time and eradicating homosexuals) are still extremely popular. If push comes to shove, the Russian people will stick with him; partly because he’s their best chance against the west (and more importantly, China), and partly because if they do protest, they stand a good chance of not making it home (Putin’s history is clear in this). It’s just as well, because…
* There are no legitimate alternatives to Putin – Simply put, Russia’s liberals (and in fact all political factions other than Putin, and those even more hardline) are broken; either irrelevant and ineffectual, or small, hardcore sects, that hold little appeal for a nation that still remembers bread lines. Financial transparency? Human rights? These are things which, in the mind of a hardened nation, don’t pay the bills; and in the opinion of many Russians, may not be desirable, as they would benefit currently disfavored people (such as gays, and those of religions other than Russian Orthodox).
* When you poke the bear… – Russia has shown that they will act with violence when it suits their desires; ask Georgia, Chechnya and the Ukraine about that… if they can pick their heads up long enough to speak. I’m not entirely sure we want to see the Russians become desperate, or feel truly threatened, economically or politically. At best, many lives may be lost or destroyed in small scale conflict, and the disruption of that inevitably comes with it. At worst we could see war with Russia and “the west” (under whatever pretext or theater in which it may begin); perhaps including support from China, splinter eastern Europeans, “enemy-of-my-enemy” Islamic groups; and governments around the world, who would have to pick a side in a war between the United States, and “anyone other than the United States”.
That’s a wild scenario, but not wild enough to be completely discounted.
In the end, I predict that Russia will ride this out, and wait for mutual interests in the oil industry to start wearing down the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. There could be some retaliation, leading some to guess at a second Cold War. However, ultimately, Russia doesn’t have sufficient economic clout to meaningfully damage the United States and its allies, without also causing greater damage to themselves.
Enjoy the gas prices (and laughing at Putin) for now, but understand that, most likely; prices (and the ruble) will swing back closer to their recent medians, by the end of February (March at the latest), with little or no long-term damage to Putin.
Christopher Bowen covered the video games industry for eight years before moving onto politics and general interest. He is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus, and has worked for Diehard GameFan, Daily Games News, TalkingAboutGames.com and has freelanced elsewhere. He is a “liberaltarian” – a liberal libertarian. A network engineer by trade, he lives in Derby CT.