American Consequences - August 2017

The WTFs I understand – sort of – why Microsoft is successful. It makes the most popular desktop-computer operating system. What I don’t understand is how to make that operating system quit operating. Every time I click my mouse I am confronted with complexities that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rube Goldberg cartoon. A computer is a fundamentally simple device – a combination IBM Selectric, filing cabinet, post office, and pocket calculator. But if I make one wrong move on my computer, the filing cabinet mails me the Selectric and the mailman drops the package on my desk – smashing the pocket calculator. There is no excuse for the complications of the Microsoft operating system. I picture a room the size of Redmond, Washington, full of pear-shaped nerds adding “features” because they can. I want to lock each of them in a small room with an IBM Selectric, a filing cabinet, a mail slot, and a pocket calculator... and not let them out until my computer is as simple to use as my automatic garage-door opener. There is also no excuse for Microsoft making the most popular desktop-computer operating system and then punting the mobile-device operating-system ball to Google’s Android OS on first down in the mobile-device game. Why is Microsoft considered a blue-chip stock again? JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank

of America are three more WTFs. Not because of the companies themselves or their fundamentals (low P/E ratios and some dividend yield, see chart). But I have my doubts about whether banks should be among the American corporations with the highest market capitalizations. In fact, I have my doubts about whether banks should be publicly traded corporations at all – instead of partnerships, as they once were. Before 1970, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) banned banks from being listed. Maybe the NYSE was right the first time. All corporations face what’s known as the “agency problem.” The goals and interests of management can conflict with the goals and interests of proprietors. It’s a familiar enough problem. It happens around the house. Let’s say I have a teenage daughter. (And I do. But she’s remarkably well-behaved... Either that or she’s incredibly discreet. Anyway, I’m not using her as an

By Rube Goldberg. Originally published in Collier’s Weekly , 1931.

American Consequences | 9

Made with FlippingBook Online document