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Big Tech vs. U.S. Government -- What Comes Next?

By Chris Hill – Jun 11, 2019 at 1:00AM

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What investors should know in advance of some serious U.S. regulator interest on the big four.

For years, U.S. lawmakers have increasingly fixated on big tech companies. This week, intent became action. The House Judiciary Committee launched an antitrust investigation into Facebook (META 4.10%) and Alphabet (GOOGL 2.42%) (GOOG 2.51%), while other branches are centering crosshairs at Apple (AAPL 1.48%) and (AMZN 2.10%), too. In this episode of Motley Fool Money, host Chris Hill together with Motley Fool analysts Ron Gross, Andy Cross, and Jason Moser explain what this means for the businesses, how politics and consumer protection come into play, and what shareholders need to look out for. Plus, they share some stocks on their radar. Also, stay tuned for an interview with best-selling author Dan Pink about the science of timing and productivity.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 7, 2019.

Chris Hill: It's the Motley Fool Money radio show! I'm Chris Hill. Joining me in studio this week, senior analysts Jason Moser, Andy Cross, and Ron Gross. Good to see you as always, gentlemen! We're going to dip into the Fool mailbag. We've got a great conversation with best-selling author, Dan Pink. And as always, we'll give you an inside look at the stocks on our radar. At the end of this week, we are all going to be involved in Fool Fest, the annual two-day investing conference put on by The Motley Fool, so we are recording this week's show earlier than usual. But we do have news that affects some of the biggest and most influential companies in America. 

On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee launched an antitrust investigation into some of the largest tech companies, including Facebook and Alphabet. This coincides with reports that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission are expanding their oversight of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet. Andy Cross, I will start with you. We've got the Trump administration and House Democrats -- who normally don't agree on that much --

Andy Cross: [laughs] If anything!

Hill: -- both focusing on big tech. Of these four, is there one that you look at and think is more vulnerable than the others? Or one that's maybe in better shape than the others? 

Cross: Well, I think the one that's in better shape, Chris, is Apple. And I think the one that's in a little bit more of a precarious position is Alphabet and Google just because of the search dominance they have, and the advertising dominance they have, and the fact that, I mean, just look at the newspaper industry, Chris. I mean, half its subscribers have vanished over the last five, 10 years. And when you think about how we go about finding everything these days, it's all done through search. Almost all done through search. Now, I know we're using Amazon more for search when it comes to specific products. But really, we use Google, and that is just so tied to the way that we integrate with so much of what we find information about and for, and that drives their advertising business. And they also have the tie-in with the Android system, and the dominance on the phones on the software side. So I just think they're going to be in a little bit of a tricky situation. 

Jason Moser: I definitely agree with the Apple sentiment. I mean, to me, that is the one that kind of stands out here. I'm not exactly sure why they're even included with the other three. I feel like maybe Facebook might be the company, it feels like to me, they're going to be the ones that are going to have a lot of explaining to do in the coming years. And I think part of that is just because of the misinformation that just is rampant on their platforms. I mean, when it comes to social, really, the biggest networks win. I mean, that's why Facebook has done so terrifically over the past several years. I mean, I think that between Facebook and Instagram and WhatsApp and breaking out Messenger, I mean, they've got a lot of ways to win. And they've got a lot of ways to really sow some chaos, particularly during election seasons. And I feel like search is forever. Social can be fleeting. Google provides a lot of really valuable services. I'm not sure the same can really be said for Facebook.

Hill: Ron?

Ron Gross: At the risk of agreeing with my colleagues, I do think Alphabet feels like the biggest monopoly of the four. When I think of Apple, I don't feel or think monopoly. Amazon, obviously, is the category killer. They're the most dominant competitor. But just think of all the other e-commerce sites out there. Thousands, hundreds of thousands. Whereas, think of all the search providers out there. You've got Google, for the most part. 

Cross: Well, I'll say, Alphabet also has been the one that's been in the crosshairs around the globe, especially over in Europe, the most. Facebook's the smallest of the bunch from a market cap perspective. The other ones are north of $700 billion. Amazon, bigger than $800 billion now. That's a small fish of the four. But they're 100% advertising driven. The other ones are much more diversified. 

Gross: Yeah. I'll make one political statement, at the risk of getting emails. I think the antitrust laws are there to protect the consumer, obviously. So if any of these practices are anti-consumer, then I'm cool with breaking them up. It's an election season. I think there's a lot of talk that sounds anti-capitalist to me. I'm not on board when it comes to that. I think this is a competitive market, a free market. There are always going to be winners and losers. I don't think we want to regulate that. 

Hill: We're all old enough to remember 20 years ago, when Microsoft was facing off against the federal government. Just from the standpoint of Microsoft, the stock, 2000 through about 2010 or so was a pretty lean decade. Maybe it's just Facebook and Alphabet, but when you look at these companies, and what they are facing from the federal government, should we as investors ratchet back our expectations in terms of the returns we should expect over the next five years or so? 

Gross: I would think, from a monopoly perspective, from an economic perspective, if you control a market, your returns should always theoretically be higher. If you are broken up by act of the government, then you are therefore less competitive, and perhaps your returns would be impacted by that and you should assume less returns going forward. 

Moser: I think when you look at companies like Alphabet, and the services that they provide, I mean, it'd be one thing if the stuff that they did sucked, but it doesn't. I mean, Google Maps is great. Their search is terrific. YouTube is terrific. All of these things that they do, they do really well. So I mean, I think that even if you said, OK, we're going to try to stoke more competition, I think most people are going to start migrating toward the better performers, which is, in many cases, Google. This does seem like it's more politics than anything else. I mean, at the end of the day, these are companies that provide services that consumers are using, and they use them because they're good.

Cross: I think you have to reset your expectations just because they're so large. I mean, they're close to $1 trillion, each of them is, like I said before, those big ones, not Facebook as much, but the other ones are so large, and those three are really diversified. I think for the services side, Apple's pushing more into services, Amazon's starting to get tied into the advertising business. Now they're the third largest digital advertiser out there behind Google and Facebook. That opens up more competition for them, more concern from the regulatory perspective. And by the way, from the antitrust perspective, so much of historical concerns about monopolistic practices have been around pricing for consumers. Ron mentioned the consumers. JMo just mentioned about how this helps consumers, these services help consumers. We just see continuing lower and lower cost for consumers, if not free for these solutions. This is really a political concern around them having too much power when it comes to the data and the way they're using that data, and how it's all linked in. Apple just announced a revamped maps service this week at their conference. That's going to compete and more with Google Map. It's how Google uses that data, not so much the pricing of that data. 

Gross: Just one final word on returns. If any of these companies gets split up, your returns will be impacted by whether or not you buy each piece. When AT&T was split up into the Baby Bells, you all of a sudden could pick and choose which of these companies you thought had the best opportunities going forward, and your returns were impacted based on the decisions. If Instagram gets removed from Facebook, you probably will have the opportunity to own Instagram as a stand-alone company, if you choose. 

Hill: These companies are big enough that they can be proactive if they want it. If Alphabet wants to stave off serious investigation, if they wanted to, they could spin off YouTube, they could spin off any number of divisions. Are there any of these four that you look at, and the CEO calls you on the phone, says, "What do you think I should do?" Are you advising any of them to spin off any parts of their business? Because Jeff Bezos strikes me as someone who wants to have as little interference as possible. And as great as Amazon Web Services has been for that business, it wouldn't shock me at all in the next five years if he just pre-emptively spun that off. 

Gross: I don't I think that helps with the antitrust argument. I don't think the antitrust arguments surrounds Web Services and Amazon, the retailer, being embedded together, as much as some of the other reasons.

Hill: But at least part of it has to do with how big the company is. 

Gross: Yes, for sure. So my advice to all of the CEOs was, keep your nose clean. The more scandal, like you have with Facebook, the more the political wind is going to be blowing against you. Just operate fairly, compete fairly, and make sure your lawyer bills are paid up. 

Cross: Yeah, you have to be out in front of all this too. And don't forget, with the Microsoft issue, Chris, you mentioned, I mean, that took 10, 12, 13 years to resolve itself, and ultimately ended up with them not having to separate the company into the baby bills. So I mean, ultimately, I think for these companies, they have to continue to be much more transparent than they had been before, and work with the regulators who clearly have their crosshairs now eyed on these companies. 

Moser: So I'm going to venture to say that in the next five years, I don't think any of these companies are going to be broken up. I don't think they're going to spin anything off. I did look at this for a second, I thought, OK, if I spoke with every CEO, what advice would I give each individual? Because I think they have their own little different things they need to focus on. With Jeff Bezos, just because you run The Everything Store doesn't mean you literally have to do everything in the world. Maybe don't make yourself such an easy target. Tim Cook, really just keep doing what you're doing! I think that your stance on privacy is going to be your legacy. That's going to be a good one. Zuckerberg, make me trust you! I'm not sure you can do it. But I'm keeping an open mind. And, Page, you've got the best search product out there, you know it. Just don't be evil! 

Hill: Our email address is [email protected]. Question from Tom in San Francisco, who writes, "Recently, I've gotten interested in Miller Industries, a company that makes towing and recovery equipment. It's been on a bit of a roller coaster so far this year, but it looks like it might be a good value. They do not have any Wall Street analyst coverage. And other than the recent tariffs that have increased the cost of steel and aluminum, I can't find any reason for the pullback. What are your thoughts on Miller Industries? Good value, or value trap?" What do you think, Ron?

Gross: All right, Tom. Lack of analyst coverage and information in general can often lead to a company being undervalued. That's why folks like me, back in a different world, back in my hedge fund days, would focus on micro-cap companies. That's why value investors often fish in the micro-cap waters. I think the opportunity has lessened over time because everyone's caught onto the fact that you can do that. So, that arbitrage between price and value has come down a bit. 

But specific to Miller, it's a nice little company -- $350 million market cap; only trades 40,000 shares a day. It's pretty illiquid, which is another reason it could be undervalued. All profitability ratios, for the most part, are trending in the right direction. This is not a troubled company. Sometimes you'll find a troubled company, leading to a value trap. This is a nice little company. The one thing I notice is that gross margins have contracted because raw material prices have increased. They've been able to pass along a price increase. But I think investors are probably concerned, caused the stock to get hit a bit. All the valuation ratios are pretty good. You're less than 6 times EBITDA, only 1.4 times tangible book value, again, indications that this may be cheap. 

So, what's going on? Why would that be the case? Look at other companies that are resource raw material intensive. Look at Caterpillar, look at Deere, superimpose the stock charts against Miller's, and you see the same thing happening. So, it looks to me like this is a macro problem based on raw material prices. If you look at a small micro-cap company like Commercial Vehicle Group, it's almost the identical chart to Miller. So I think we have a macro problem here. You have to make a macro call to decide whether it's a value investment or a value trap. But I actually think he may have uncovered a good opportunity. 

Hill: Tom in San Francisco, getting some serious heft there from Ron Gross. Jason, Tom points to something that I think we forget from time to time, which is that in the wake of the Great Recession, 2008, 2009, there are far fewer analysts on Wall Street, which means there is far less coverage of individual stocks. How should people look -- beyond using The Motley Fool, of course, as a resource.

Moser: Oh, of course!

Hill: How should people think about researching stocks? 

Moser: I mean, I think that's the beauty of today's day and age, the way that we can access information. I mean, everything is at our fingertips. I mean, no longer do you have to pull the old Warren Buffett move of going to the library, sitting down there for hours on end. I mean, you can find pretty much anything you need on any company's investor relations site for one. So I mean, if you just name the company and google the name of the company and investor relations, that'll take you right to that site. You can find presentations, links to filings. Of course, you can use EDGAR, which is the way to pull up those SEC filings. You can look at 10-Ks and 10-Qs, 8-Ks are the press releases, typically, when companies make announcements. So really, the information is out there. It's all a matter of understanding how to use it. And hopefully that's something we're helping people to do. If there are any questions out there on how to use that information, lob them our way. I'm sure we'd love to answer them. 

Cross: Chris, I love using the website. I just went to Miller Industries. They have a picture of a NASCAR car getting towed on their website, on one of their trucks. I definitely want to read the annual report. If you can get a hold of the shareholder letter from the CEO, from the chairman, that gives you a good feel. Hopefully it's not too advertise-y for them, or too promotional, but it's actually an honest letter. As you read more and more of those, you get a good feel for the company. 

Hill: But you know what? If it is too promotional and too advertise-y, that's also a signal as well. 

Cross: That's right, absolutely! You learn as much what not to look for as what to look for. 

Hill: Real quick before we get to the stocks on our radar. I mentioned at the top, we've got our annual investing event, Fool Fest. Jason Moser, I know you've got at least one breakout session you're leading. Quick preview, and maybe a stock out of that breakout session you're doing?

Moser: Sure. The Entertainment Economy. It's obviously a very big one. And I'm trying to, with this breakout session, whittle it down to something a little bit more understandable because there are a lot of different ways to invest in entertainment. Break it down into ultimately four pillars, with video and gaming and advertising and then the last one being music, podcasts, and events. Ultimately come up with 12 stocks. I'll go ahead and give you a hint there. One of them is The Trade Desk. I think they're a pretty amazing opportunity in the advertising world. And let's face it, advertising is a big part of the entertainment economy. 

Hill: All right, let's get to the stocks on our radar. Our man behind the glass, Steve Broido, is going to hit you with a question. Ron Gross, you're up first. What are you looking at this week? 

Ron Gross: I've got RPM International, RPM. They're a holding company. They manufacture chemical product lines like paints and protective coatings. Very stable business. Really great record of growth, both organically and through acquisition. Big international opportunity I think. Their asbestos litigation is behind them, which is always nice. Increased their dividend for 45 consecutive years. That dividend stands at 2.6%. 

Hill: Steve, question about RPM International?

Steve Broido: What tips you off to a company like this? 

Gross: Well, I started with the dividend yield, looking for companies that pay dividends at least 2%; 2.5% is even better. And then we go from there. 

Hill: Jason Moser, what are you looking at?

Moser: Sure. Keeping an eye on Ameris Bancorp, ABCB. I'm sure listeners remember, I've spoken about this one before. But remember, there's a big acquisition pending of Fidelity Southern that is slated to close during the current quarter. I'd like to see that go ahead and happen. I think what it will result in is a bigger bank with a bigger asset base and a bigger deposit base. The nice thing about that deposit base with the Fidelity acquisition, it gave them access to a cheaper base of deposits. In this environment, where it seems like interest rates are going to start going a little bit further back down, it may be a little bit longer until banks can make a little bit more on the profit side with a higher interest rate environment. But low-cost deposit bases help that cause, and that will be something Ameris has.

Hill: Steve, question about Ameris Bancorp?

Broido: You bet. Jason, do you use your debit card? Or do you use a credit card? I always wonder with banks.

Moser: That's a really good question! Actually, I try to minimize the use of my debit card so that if there's ever any fraudulent activity with a credit card, you really haven't paid for it yet. The debit card is few and far between. 

Hill: Andy Cross, what are you looking at?

Cross: Chris, I'm going to be talking about IPOs at the upcoming Fool Fest this week, so I was going back through some past IPOs. Duluth Holdings has had a tough little run here. The maker, the retailer of casual wear, accessories, out of Wisconsin. Operates more than 50 stores. Sells most of those fun products via their online direct sales mechanisms. The stock's had a really bad run this year because their earnings and their sales growth has really slowed. I want to hear what management has to say about what they're doing to reverse the trend. They report earnings next week. DLTH is the symbol.

Hill: Steve?

Broido: I get mail from them. Is the direct mailer business a big one for them?

Cross: Well, the direct sales through their e-commerce and their traditional old fashioned mailer is the biggest part of their business. Yeah.

Hill: You have a stock you want to add your watch list, Steve?

Broido: I think I might go with Duluth. 

Hill: All right. Andy Cross, Jason Moser, Ron Gross, guys, thanks for being here!

At this year's Fool Fest investing conference, our guests include best-selling author David Epstein, and in the coming weeks, you will hear those interviews on this show. At last year's Fool Fest, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner interviewed one of our all-time favorites, best-selling author Dan Pink. If you're not familiar with Dan, he's written extensively about work, motivation, management, and behavioral science. He's the author of six books, including best-sellers like Drive and To Sell Is Human. His TED talk on motivation is one of the most watched TED talks of all time. 

They covered a lot of ground in this conversation. Dan and David talked about the changing nature of work, artificial intelligence, and the value of right brain thinking. They also talk about when we should take breaks, and, of course, investing. David Gardner kicked things off by asking Dan Pink about his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. 

David Gardner: Let's begin right away with your new book, Dan, When. I've seen you speak about it a couple of times. It's already influenced me. I want you to know, I had an age-appropriate medical procedure that you're supposed to after the age of 50, recently. It starts with a C. I bet some of you have had this. And I intentionally scheduled it for the morning, because that became a big deal to me thanks to your book. Could you just start right there? Let's talk about the idea that when we do things matters as much or more than how we do things. When you look at a typical day, Dan Pink, what should we be doing when?

Dan Pink: The last book I wrote came out a few months ago. It's called When, it's about the science of timing. The main point is just that we tend to think of the timing, the decisions we make about when to do things, we make those decisions based on intuition and guesswork. That's the wrong way to make them. We should be making them based on what turns out to be this very rich body of science across multiple disciplines that give us clues, evidence, data to make these decisions about when to do things in a smarter, more strategic way.

One of the things that you see, especially in healthcare -- I mean, as your friend, I'm glad that you got your colonoscopy in the morning because doctors find half as many polyps in afternoon exams as they do in morning exams for the same population. Anesthesia errors, four times more likely at 3 p.m. than at 9 a.m. Hand-washing in hospitals, which is not that high to begin with, goes down considerably in the afternoon.

One of the things that the science of timing tells us, at a broad level, is that our cognitive abilities don't stay the same throughout the day. Our cognitive abilities change over the course of the day. The difference between the daily high point and the daily low point can be significant, and when we should do things depends on what it is that we're doing. The evidence is pretty remarkable, especially in healthcare, but you also see the same effect in education, you see it in corporate performance, you see it in the markets.

Gardner: When we take breaks during the day, what kinds of breaks should we be taking when?

Pink: The science of breaks is where the science of sleep was 15 years ago. Fifteen years ago, it was a badge of honor, in some cases, to come in and say, "I pulled an all-nighter last night! I'm massively sleep-deprived! I'm so committed to this organization that I'm only getting by on three hours of sleep!" Back in the old days, when I was working in organizations, I actually used to admire that. I used to feel bad about myself because it was really hard for me to do that. Now, 15 years later, once we understand the science of sleep, we say to that guy -- and it's always a guy -- who got three hours of sleep or pulled two consecutive all-nighters, "You're not a hero, you're an idiot. Go home and get some sleep. You're hurting your performance; you're probably hurting everybody else's performance." 

The science of breaks is where the science of sleep was. What we know about breaks is the following: we should be taking more breaks, and we should be taking certain kinds of breaks. At a broad level -- this is something that I got wrong. I have not been a good break-taker. I always believed that amateurs took breaks and professionals didn't. That's 100% wrong. That's as wrong as a statement can be. It's the exact opposite. Professionals take breaks, amateurs don't take breaks. When I can finally steer this 18-wheeler to actually answer David's question directly, what we know about breaks is the following: there's some very good research that give us design principles about what kinds of breaks to take. 

Here's what we know about the right kind of breaks to take. One, something is better than nothing. Even micro-breaks can improve your performance. Micro-breaks, as short as something like something that I do sometimes, which is called 20-20-20, which is, if you're working at a computer, every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Even that can actually improve alertness and mental acuity. So, something is better than nothing.

We know that moving is better than stationary, big time. I think that's become pretty well-known. We know that social is better than solo. Breaks with other people are more restorative than breaks on our own. In fact, the remedy -- studied by Katy Milkman at Penn and Brad Staats at UNC, where they showed that deterioration in hand-washing in hospitals -- the remedy for that that got hand-washing back up, was to give nurses more breaks and to encourage them to take social breaks, breaks with other nurses. That ended up getting hand-washing backup. We know that outside is better than inside, and we know that fully detached is better than semi-detached. Leave your phone behind, don't talk about work. 

I think the science is clear enough that I truly believe there would be an uptick in productivity writ large if white collar workers, every afternoon, took a 10-minute break walking around outside with someone they liked, leaving their phone behind and talking about something other than work. I think that regular habit would actually be a massive productivity enhancer for no cost.

Gardner: Whenever you did first come up with this idea, let's go back to that Dan Pink, now looking at the 2018 Dan Pink who's already written the book and knows it -- how does this Dan Pink surprise or look different to that Dan Pink? How has this book changed your own habits in your life?

Pink: Oh my God! This book, probably more than any book I've written, changed how I do things. Truly, I'm not joking around about this medical stuff. My younger daughter, 19 years old, is having her wisdom teeth taken out. There's no question in our family what time of day she's getting her wisdom teeth taken out, because she's going to go under general anesthesia. Like, I will stand in front of the door, preventing her from leaving our house, if there was an appointment scheduled in the afternoon with general anesthesia for one of my kids, period, full stop. My mother-in-law had a heart procedure six weeks ago, and my wife, who was navigating things for her, negotiated with the hospital to do something out of the ordinary and do the procedure in the morning rather than in the afternoon. So, this is for real on that one.

I also changed the way that I conduct my own schedule, because one of the things that we know about the pattern of day is that we go through the day in three broad cycles. There's a peak, a trough, and a recovery. We do different things better at different points on that cycle. During the peak, which for most of us is the morning -- for night owls, it's much later in the day -- we're better at doing analytical work, work that requires heads-down focus, attention and energy. So, I changed my own schedule so that I do all my writing in the morning, because that's my best time of day. On writing days, I will not bring my phone into the office, I will not check my email, I will not take any phone calls, not do anything until I hit that number. So, for this book, I was really, really rigid in how I wrote it when I got wind of this research. I'd come to the office every morning, shut everything down, give myself a word count and not do a thing before I hit that word count in the morning. I probably wrote 90% of the words in this book before noon. And actually, no joke, this is the first book I've delivered on time. 

Gardner: [laughs] Broadening it a little bit, Dan, obviously so much of your writing and your work has been about the changing nature of work, of motivation. Let's go to work for a second, the changing nature of work. Automation, AI. How do you think AI will change work?

Pink: It's a great question! I think we don't know. I think we can use certain ways of reasoning through this issue. As it turns out, I wrote a book about 11 years ago called A Whole New Mind, and the argument behind that book was that certain kinds of abilities that were basically the thing that propelled you to the middle class, what we can think of as SAT spreadsheet abilities: logical, linear, sequential abilities, abilities that were metaphorically left-brain -- my argument was that those abilities were becoming commoditized, they were easy to outsource, they were easy to automate, and that was putting a premium on these kinds of abilities: abilities more characteristic of the right hemisphere of the brain. Artistry, empathy, inventiveness, big-picture thinking. 

I have a chapter on automation in that book, about how a lot of kinds of left-brain functions are being automated. I grew up in the American Midwest when the Rust Belt was rusting, and that was a change in the structure of work there, even in the kind of advice that middle-class parents gave their kids. Routine factory jobs that were basically about doing repetitive tasks over and over again were no longer the path to the middle class. So, parents told their kids to become accountants or engineers or lawyers. The argument was, a lot of the actual tasks in those professions were actually at risk of being automated and outsourced, because they were routine. An example would be something like basic tax preparation and TurboTax. We often get this wrong. Every year, every April, CNN does a story about chartered accountants in Manila processing American tax returns for $400 a month, and some sad sack personal accountant in Sheboygan, Wisconsin who is losing business as a consequence of that. They never mention anything like TurboTax. Any of you do your taxes in TurboTax? Yeah, look at that. You're the people with accountant blood on your hands. That's what's killing accounting jobs.

You have the automation of these kinds of white collar tasks and the outsourcing of these white collar tasks. The point of this is that the rise of AI was far steeper than I would have expected. For instance, I wrote about how empathy, our ability to read facial expressions, is something that is very, very difficult to automate. It turns out, it's actually less difficult than we thought. That kind of capacity, which I thought would be impervious to that, well, actually, you might be able to automate that.

I think that the world of AI -- to make a long story short, which I've never done in my adult life, is this: I think it's going to have an effect. I think it's going to be neither utopian nor dystopian. In 1999, I ordered on eBay a bunch of books by futurists from the middle of the 20th century who were projecting out to 2000. I was going to do a piece on this -- what did people think was going to happen in the year 2000? Basically, the distribution of these texts, these pundits, these thinkers, was this: You had about 45% of people, maybe 40%, predicting massive dystopia, charred landscape, widespread unemployment because of these things called computers. Then, you had about 55% of people saying utopia, we're only going to have to work five hours a week, the rest of it's going to be leisure, everyone's going to be having sex without consequence, it's going to be this incredible utopian vision. And then you had about 5% of people saying, "I think it'll be a little better." [laughs] And it turned out that the 5% were the ones who were right. 

So, using that as a heuristic for analyzing this thing, I was like, you know what, it's probably going to make things a little bit better. There's absolutely going to be disruption, there already is. In this country, we're doing a terrible job of being willing to leave people behind. But, I think that AI is going to replace some dreary tasks, and I think what we're going to do for a living are things that augment machine intelligence rather than compete with machine intelligence. But, I don't see a utopia, nor do I see a dystopia. I see things basically a little bit better, with some social consequences that it's a political decision whether we address.

Gardner: Dan, on my podcast, Rule Breaker Investing, this coming week, we're going to tell stock stories. A lot of people talk about story stocks. We're going to reverse it and tell stock stories. You have an awesome stock story. I'm just going to spot you up with it. This is going to appear on my podcast, so start with "Once upon a time," once I spot you up. This is the one about a guy you got to know through social media who had an idea.

Pink: Once upon a time, in the middle of the first decade of this century, I wrote a book called A Whole New Mind. It had an orange cover. One of the ideas in the book, which I'm not sure is totally right anymore, was that, I had this argument that the MFA, the Master of Fine Art, is the new MBA. The MFA is the new MBA, because a lot of MBA skills can be outsourced and automated; the skills of an MFA, the Master of Fine Art, are harder to outsource and harder to automate, therefore they would be more valuable. The MFA is the new MBA.

That idea got me invited to a lot of art and design schools, [laughs] because everybody loves confirming their own biases. In the course of this, I went to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the premiere art and design colleges in America. It's an incredible institution. There, I met a young man. I'm not going to tell you his name. I'm just going to tell you, I met a young man who came up to me after the speech and talked to me a little bit, and then sent me an email afterwards and asked me some questions. And I responded to the email. He seemed like a good dude. I liked this guy, I thought he was super creative. Maybe a year later, two years later, he emailed me. I thought he was a super creative guy. He said, "I have this crazy idea for a business," and he told me about the business, and I thought it was absurd, it was just an absurd idea. 

But, as a way to raise money for it, because he was a pretty skilled designer and a very creative guy, he decided -- this is now 2008 -- to do a set of limited edition cereal boxes. This is going to sound weird. Limited edition cereal boxes, where he and some of his design colleagues created these two boxes of cereal -- literally, it had cereal in it. One brand was called Obama O's. Hope in every box. The other one was called Cap'n McCain's. And they said, "To raise a little bit of money, we're going to do these limited-edition cereal boxes." They're actually works of art in a limited edition, and each cereal box had stamped on it, No. 4 of 500, No. 6 of 500, or whatever. And I thought, "That's pretty good!" I actually really enjoy fine art, particularly conceptual art. Like, I like going to the Hirshhorn, and I like the more outré, forgive my French, kinds of art, and these kinds of wacky things. 

And they were selling it, and I liked this guy, and I said, "This guy could be a famous artist one day. It'd be really cool if this guy were, like, the next Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons or something like that, and I had one of his early pieces." So, for a tiny little amount -- literally, I think they were $75 a piece -- I bought these things. And I said to this young man, "This is totally cool! I mean, it's cool that you're raising money for this business, but I'm buying these things because I think you could probably be a well-known artist, and this is my investment, but I would never put a cent into your company." 

So, I have in my office -- I think David might have seen these -- these cereal boxes. They look really nice. They're super cool-looking. Obama O's and Cap'n McCain. And on the top of it, it says, "A product of AirBed and Breakfast."

[audience groans]

Thank you!

[audience laughs]

So, you know that old line, the country song, it's like, "You got the coal mine and I got the shaft?" I didn't want to say his name to tip it, but it's a fellow named Joe Gebbia, who is now, I don't know, what, the 41st richest person in the world. So, Joe got the billion-dollar company that's going to go public next year, but I have my cereal, man!

Hill: The book is When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In the 10 years of hosting this show, I've interviewed a lot of authors and a lot of books have come across my desk, and I can honestly say this latest one from Dan Pink changed my life for the better. Check it out when you get the chance!

And, if you're looking to pick up a little bit of Fool swag to show off the fact that you actually are one of the dozens of listeners, you can go to Get a hoodie, get a ball cap, get a coffee mug, because coffee is the most amazing beverage in the world. 

As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talked about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. That's going to do it for this week's edition of Motley Fool Money! Our engineer is Steve Broido. Our producer is Mac Greer. I'm Chris Hill. Thanks for listening! We'll see you next week!

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Andy Cross owns shares of Facebook. Chris Hill owns shares of eBay. Jason Moser owns shares of Alphabet (C shares), Ameris Bancorp, Apple, and The Trade Desk. Ron Gross owns shares of Alphabet (C shares), Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft. Steve Broido owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and The Trade Desk. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and The Trade Desk. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Ameris Bancorp, eBay, and RPM International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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