On this Rule Breaker Investing podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner revives a theme he first used early last year, based on the classic rhyme for wedding luck: "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." It suited the hodgepodge of points he wanted to make then and a similar patchwork of ideas on his mind this week.
In his second segment, he offers up an essay he's been crafting for a while on what he sees society evolving toward next. As he explains, the modern idea of a nation-state is only a few centuries old. To assume it's eternal, or that it has to last in its current form, is a bit naive and shortsighted. (And as we all know, one key part of the Foolish mind-set is long-term thinking.) Meanwhile, two major forces have developed and are growing increasingly muscular: the internet and modern capitalism. What will the world become as those two shift power away from centralized halls of government? It's a question worth considering.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 23, 2018.
David Gardner: And now, for something new. Well, what I'm going to be sharing with you is a short essay that I wrote. I just wrote it to myself. I wrote it, in fact, last May of 2017 and I've just kind of been sitting on it. I've tweaked it a little bit, here and there, and I've entitled it, Imagine. And I think you'll understand why I'm including this to Rule Breaker Investing and how it fits, but I guess I'd want to say that this is just the first time I've ever shared this one out. If you're interested by any of the thoughts, I welcome any thoughts back in our mailbag at the end of this month as we do every month. I hope you enjoy this. Here it is: Imagine.
We all come from a background of a world that has firm borders and sovereign governments that have been in place for about three centuries -- three hundred years -- not three thousand years. In other words, while we are inured to it, and it seems the way of things, it's really only a very recent development.
What appears to give it even more heft is the increasingly centralized power of these governments. In the U.S., our federal government has grown large. It's become a huge entity over the past 100 years. Other areas of the world that are smaller often have, ironically, even more powerful governments dominating their citizenry.
In the U.S., despite what some of us may view as an overweening-sized government, we are far freer than so many of our sisters and brothers worldwide who have little to no freedom: freedom both political and economic. Anyway, it is the way of things to think in terms of nation states. And the so-called rise of nationalism in recent years plays off this.
Before there were nation states, people seemed to have cohered, instead, around their respective languages or cultures. Religious beliefs. Race. Often more than one of these factors taken together.
In the U.S. today, interestingly, while the perception is of racial divide, far more Americans, when asked, will say that they are grateful we are a melting pot and that we are stronger for immigration, etc. Again, this is the majority. But headlines spend most of their time pitching a different message and pitching people against each other.
Now, for a second, imagine that you are not part of a nation state. Imagine. Imagine there are no nation states. It's hard to imagine. Some people might call that anarchy. Other people might just call that the way of humanity up until about the year 1700. But try to imagine it and sit with it.
I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, but I do think there are really important countervailing forces against nation states that are ungluing the traditional power centers around centralized governments. I've thought these thoughts for some years, now, and at least from my vantage point, they're becoming more and more relevant.
So, two key forces of our time that are perhaps most in evidence in the U.S. [and this is easiest to see as an American, I should say, but they're certainly relevant for the entire world and evident, I hope, from any vantage point], and they are these two: the internet and capitalism.
I believe these are two of the greater forces of good ever created. My cards are on the table as they've always been. As an investor I'm so grateful every day for their power and their success in improving my life and the lives of all my fellow earthlings. The degree to which the internet has raised humanity is, to my thinking, incalculable.
This is not to say that it's all good. Virtually nothing ever is, and we can easily take time to create a list of the internet's negatives [from piracy to mobile phone distraction], but the gains we take for granted today, whether from e-commerce, greater transparency and accountability, [to] skyping your child halfway across the world by video for free. Some of us may remember when the only option was an expensive collect call. The gains have been and will continue to be incalculable and primarily beneficial.
And the same goes for capitalism, which is increasingly practiced more and better by more people and firms worldwide than at any point in history. Again, business has its excesses and many bad forms it takes. Crony capitalism. Or maybe what I'll call, as well, squatter capitalism. Think of the many foreign governments worldwide, these days, that are largely economies just based on their natural resources. Milking natural resources which are finite without growing their thinking economies which can be infinite.
Think of Japan as an excellent example of a country that has a huge thinking economy. Capitalism and entrepreneurship dominate. The country isn't sitting on a big mine full of diamonds or fields dripping with oil and, yet, look what Japan has become after a war-torn 20th century. Japan has the third largest nominal GDP in the world. The third largest.
So, squatter capitalism features weak economies run by governments that don't encourage entrepreneurship. That don't have a culture or a history of the benefits of trade and often foreign trade. They eschew innovation, but they rather have a history, ancient or recent, of tapping their natural resources and that's about it. As Michael Bloomberg has said, today's world is "an economy based on information. Acquire the knowledge, apply the analytics, use your creativity."
To me, that's capitalism. That's a very conscious form of capitalism, and while poorer forms like crony capitalism and squatter capitalism can give business and capitalism a bad name, they are weakening further and petering out because they don't offer better solutions, and the world will keep on getting and demanding better.
So, here's what's interesting to me. Both the internet, in taking out geography as a factor, and business, in being constructive, productive, oriented toward stakeholders, value creating, and now with a company like Apple having more than $250 billion in cash; both the internet and capitalism are outpacing, in many ways, centralized governments.
It's very evident and guess what? It's only going to speed up from here. The larger governments get, the more out of touch they can get with the benefits and the growth of the internet and capitalism. And, of course, the worst governments of all, responsible for the most repression and value destruction for all the citizens under their care, are repressive governments that attempt totally to control and/ or restrict what, exactly? That's right. They try to restrict the internet and capitalism, the two great forces of our time that I find so laudable and that these governments so attempt to repress.
These kinds of governments give privilege and almost absolute power to a tiny group of citizens who are, everyday, failing to support, invest in, help, or create any net positive value for their countrymen, and that is so very sad. The further the quality of behavior of even good governments, these days, seems at or near all-time lows if you're judging by things like the measure of approval of Congress today or the shock-jock polarization of public discourse. It's regrettable.
But, if you step away and use some systems thinking, and look at the motivations and results generated from government, from the internet, and capitalism; what is happening today seems both logical and predictable and seems likely, only further, to continue.
Again, the internet largely undermines nationalism and enables you to find your tribe anywhere. It massively increases our productivity. Capitalism creates value for all stakeholders. It lifts people out of poverty. It multiplies our choices and possibilities while also increasing our productivity as well.
Government runs on politics, which intentionally pits people against each other for votes, can attract extremists who often grab most of the media headlines and polarize people, and increasingly, it seems to me, makes an enemy of the other party, whatever that is. So, many governments today, and throughout history have, of course, a standard motivation to increase taxes understandably for all.
And oh, by the way, government does some wonderful other things besides. It keeps us safe through law enforcement and military capability. It builds roads. It runs some good schools -- some in some places.
So, as we close here, neither the internet nor capitalism are all good, and nor is government bad. I need to be very clear on that. But what I'm saying -- what I'm encouraging you to imagine -- is that take them all in all, the internet and capitalism are so much better, stronger, and faster than the way government is practiced today in many places in the world.
And really for the last 20 years, or so, the internet and capitalism have been speeding up and maybe leaving government in the dust. And there are factors in place such as where the best and brightest are headed from our schools. Where you can add the most value and gain the most value in your life. Factors that I see probably not changing anytime soon or going in reverse.
So, indeed the concept of nation states and the so-called rise of nationalism seem to me more vulnerable than at any time in our lives and meanwhile Apple, which is, though, a flawed human entity; a corporation that is wildly better and more powerful in the best way than many of the worldwide dictatorships that are in place, not repressing people but helping them. And with $250 billion plus, in cash, that's real savings. Money earned that is saved up for a rainy day. Apple is not in any meaningful debt. How many governments can you say that of?
So, this emerging model inverts the normal model for most sovereign governments. They have little cash, they have a ton of debt, they often don't create much net positive value for their people [some certainly do], but many are repressive and regressive in a way that's tragic.
Though they do have fiat power to print money, which is for many of them the most powerful financial leg they can stand on [except in some cases for a great bounty of natural resources], sometimes you wind up with a country like Venezuela, which although it's been blessed with outstanding natural resources [has], through its economical ignorance, its power structures actively now creating a dystopia before our very eyes for the very citizens it is supposed to support and protect.
So, imagine. Imagine that sovereign governments continue to have a hard time becoming more effective, less divided, less repressive. Imagine that they continue to be outpaced by the speed and growth of the internet and the best forms of capitalism. Imagine what might happen next.
I don't quite know myself, but I think we might find it surprising and, indeed, quite a bit better and more positive than the often dire or disastrous expectations harbored by people who overrate the importance of governments today. Who forget that the private sector's by far the greater employer and creator of value. And by people who are fearful and/ or who are the ones writing today's headlines.