The economics of bubbles

14 Sep

Last year, Ross Gerber, a corporate investment manager, Tweeted a warning about Tesla. Gerber wanted investors to know that Tesla’s success would put other industries ‘at risk’. Which ones? Just oil, internal combustion engine automobiles, car dealers, railroads, auto parts, automobile services, and gas stations. ‘Did I forget some?’ he asked, implying yes, he did. Gerber included hashtags referencing Uber and Netflix as comparable ‘disruptors’. This is why, Gerber implied, there was so much ‘FUD’ (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the media about Tesla. Gerber suggests a compelling storyline: the underdog hero, Tesla, is up against the evil incumbent forces that will play dirty to defeat it, but Tesla will overcome – just as Netflix and, presumptively, Uber have done.

The Tweet does not substantiate any of this. It doesn’t say why Tesla’s business case is like Netflix’s or Uber’s. It doesn’t say why all the purportedly threatened industries share the same interests here. It doesn’t have to – the human brain does that on its own without any help. As the US literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall has shown in his book The Storytelling Animal (2012), even the faintest sketch of a plotline is enough to prompt our minds to fill in the details. Gerber’s story outline is a familiar enough sketch of David taking on not just one but several Goliaths. It’s a good story outline. But it also ignores many important parts that do not fit with the plucky underdog narrative. It implies that all these alleged Goliaths have the same interest. It’s fiction, fantastically so.

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Economy, Reportages



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