Thursday, October 30, 2003

sector logic

There are all sorts of 'sector funds,' and approaches to 'sector investing.' The latest craze is 'socially responsible' company grouping.

I propose creating a sector of companies that produce excellent products and/or services and treat their customers like customers should be treated -- with genuine dignity, and that don't misrepresent themselves to their customers or to the public at large. We might call it the 'honest companies producing real value' sector.

It should be a sector that disqualifies companies whose stock in trade is something that degrades the dignity of human life, or profit from stimulating and then feeding the base motives. That rules out the cable providers who traffic in pornography, for example. This isn't just a 'morality play,' though that can be a very sound investment guide. It's common sense. Just look at the chart of T after they announced thier deal with porn cable provider Telecommunications Inc., back in 2000. It looks like the cross section of a ski resort -- all downhill.

Of course it will be a very small sector, and some immediate disqualifications come to mind. From recent experience I can disqualify Verizon; in fact, most of the cellular providers are patently unqualified for the sector of honest companies. These companies have employees that have lied to me as a customer. I can't help but suspect that employees who regularly lie to customers are probably lying to other parties as well. Auditors and shareholders, perhaps. But that's just a hunch.

I have identified a natural law that says that hype is inversely proportional to value. The more hype, the less real value. This is common sense. Remember common sense? Treat your customers like they matter, not like they are disposable. If you treat customers like they are disposable, you eventually run out of customers. And if you run out of customers, what sort of business have you got?

Companies that profit from bad business, from the base and unproductive motives of people, are simply making bad bets. They may flower for a season, but seasons always change.

Good business, productive, sound, and life affirming business, if you think about, is a good bet because it supports growth in the macro sense and it has going for it another natural law: good business does not go out of style.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

first, do no harm

Suppose there is a person who is mentally unfit to care for himself. Further suppose that person is unable, physically, to feed himself. Is there a responsibility on the part of others, say, family members, to feed and care for that person?

Or should that person be placed on a bed and denied food until he dies?

If you, a perfectly healthy and vibrant human being, were denied food for a long enough period, you too would die. The only difference between you and Terry Schiavo is that you can feed yourself.

A baby is a little person who is totally beholden to another human being to care for it. That's a no-brainer. Is Terry Schiavo any less worthy of care?

Terry Schiavo has proven, for something like 13 years, that if she is fed, she will go on living. How then does she differ from you and me? Feed us, we live. Starve us, we die.

Is the answer that Terry can't live a productive life, as determined by consensus? If so, is the only life worth living one that others say is a "productive" one? Do you want others deciding if your life is worth living? Is anyone really fit to decide what life is worth living? If so, on what basis? On the basis of a persons ‘productivity’ or ‘usefulness?’ ‘Usefulness’ to whom? To the people who make law?

Entertain this. Suppose tomorrow morning you woke up and your husband or wife denied you food. Suppose further that this person engaged the entire legal and political system to prevent you from eating, and it became illegal to feed you. Let that sink in.

Finally, a bit about the legalities -- just a little common sense. The law on any 'right to death' question is very unclear and subjective, as it should be. No state worth being in existence has any stake in legalizing the killing of its citizens, least of all the weakest and most defenseless of them.

But the law on the 'right to life' is crystal clear. It is spelled out explicitly in our founding documents. Everyone is entitled to the right to life. Moreover, this right is not given by men or women, only recognized by them as being given by our Creator. It's not man's to give, and it is not man's to take away.

Of course the state, therefore, has a duty to protect life (as do its citizens), all life, and how much more the life of the weak and defenseless, who are in the precarious position of needing constant advocacy.

And that subject leads me to an interesting analogy. If you're not a lawyer, but you have a legal issue, the law entitles to the right to obtain representation. This representative is your stand-in, your advocate, doing for you what you cannot do for yourself. To deny someone legal representation in this land is unthinkable. The law is clear that your inability to represent yourself does not deny you legal representation.

Terry Schiavo, silent and bedridden, is unable to feed herself. Should she be denied food because of that inability?

A word about politics. People who think the Terry Schiavo story is about politics have completely and predictably missed the point. It's not about politics. It's about a human life. The life of the weakest and most defenseless among us.

While we're talking politics, I observe that conservatives generally weigh in as 'right-to-life.' The other side, not liberals, but the left, is, of course, adamantly in favor of pulling the feeding tube. It's all about Terry's right to die.

But what about Terry's right to live? Ironic, isn't it, that those on the left, ever vigilant to remind the rest of us of our responsibility to help the disadvantaged, don't see Terry Schiavo's helplessness as a disadvantage worth aiding. Indeed, for some, it's only about politics after all.

It blows my mind that grown-up, intelligent people, in positions of great power and influence, can go on record in favor of killing weak, innocent human beings.

Lunatic fringe, we hear you calling. But we're bigger than you.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

death, taxes....and trading

In the aftermath of the manic 1990’s, when something called “The New Economy” was supposedly being forged, when billionaires were made -- and unmade about as fast; when, truth be told, the more things changed the more they stayed the same, at least one venture has survived the storm. Behold, a survivor of an economic revolution that really wasn't a revolution after all.

This survivor was not built from a cure for cancer or impotence, nor from a magical wireless gizmo, nor even from some newfangled alchemy that might someday turn water into gasoline. This venture is pretty much just an electronic flea market. It is called E-Bay.

E-Bay has created opportunity, employment, and wealth. Its stock performance has been stellar compared to that of the myriad others floated during its time. Thus far, E-Bay has been an astounding success; just being profitable makes it a dramatic counterpoint to the dubious dotcoms of its era. Unlike so many of its contemporaries, its business works.

They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes. But that second certainty exists because of and obscures a third -- the certainty that goods and services will be exchanged among those who have not yet succumbed to the first certainty. While we are alive, we will trade. And trade we must, if we are to obtain, produce and distribute the stuff of the business of life.

E-Bay’s success may offer many lessons, including the power of a simple idea executed well. That idea: a venue for people to exchange goods without prejudice at relatively low transaction cost. In other words, it’s a market. It's not entirely free or without regulation, but as near so as is reasonable. Such markets always work… for the living.

this is not investment advice and the author has no stake in ebay.