Thursday, April 24, 2014 - Northern Arizona's Locally Owned Newspaper

Why Did the Cannibal Move to Flagstaff?

FBN’s Business Book Review:

Andy Kessler’s new book, Eat People and Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs reads like Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead – lite. Early in the book, we find him lunching with Republican activist George Gilder (identified in his Wikipedia entry as a “techno-utopia intellectual”). Gilder dispenses this advice: the more you waste, the better! The idea is that the more we “wastefully refine energy, the more useful it becomes and the more we use it and the cheaper the ultimate functionality it delivers.” In other words, “waste is virtuous,” because it increases productivity, which leads to a better, more prosperous world.

Kessler has earned a reputation as a hedge fund manager, stock analyst, venture capitalist and, more recently, business guru provocateur. In Eat People, he offers a 12-step approach to becoming a great entrepreneur (the directive to “waste” is just one of them). His book is not for the faint of heart. Contemplating the world through a “productivity filter,” Kessler divides the world into two kinds of people: the Makes (aka The Vital Few) and the Takes. Those in the first category are the Creators. They live at the top of the food chain and make life better, according to Kessler, for the rest of us. They create code for automated systems, for example, and then fire people who are no longer needed once automation is in place. Kessler calls this “eating jobs.” So, “creating wealth means finding more jobs to eat,” filled by people, hence the book’s title. Do Creators feel guilty? No, because over time, “employment grows to fill the economy. In other words, in the long run, better jobs are created.” Government employees receive special treatment. They are the Sloppers. They slop things from one part of the economic plate to the other without creating. They are also Fun-Suckers because they pass rules and regulations that suck up all the fun entrepreneurs have eating people and making wealth.

Kessler also advises wealth seekers to “create scarcity,” “embrace exceptionalism,” “attack political entrepreneurs” and that “wealth comes from productivity,” On the surface, that’s good advice.

To sum up Kessler’s wisdom, Creators – people like Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeffrey Katzenberg – have made life better for us. “For the most part,” Kessler writes, “society didn’t do them any favors.” They took an idea and through hard work and gumption (he doesn’t actually say “gumption”), they turned their ideas into wealth. You can too, but you have to eat a lot of people along the way and keep government at bay, maximize efficiency and trust in markets.

Kessler’s book comes a bit too late for us to have faith in his advice. Eating resources in the name of productivity may have short-term benefits, but wasn’t that one of the factors that got us where we are now? There is much dispute over whether Rupert Murdoch has actually improved our lives. Facebook “creator” Mark Zuckerberg is under attack for allegedly taking credit for someone else’s ideas. According to Malcolm Gladwell, minus the lucky breaks and good connections, Bill Gates would be just another computer nerd. Among the people whose jobs have been eaten are people we know. And while we don’t want to do away with the market system just yet, a membership to Jenny Craig wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Over lunch the other day with a friend, we discussed how life is different here in the southwest. We agreed that our politicians aren’t any smarter and that our entrepreneurs are no less fond of making a buck. But here under the arid sky, we know that resources aren’t something you waste. There is more value in extending a helping hand than stomping on everyone else’s just to get to the top. And, efficiency means you don’t drink all the beer on the first night of your river trip.

Provocateurs like Kessler are fun to read and anything that stimulates your thinking about the best way to achieve success has its place. So why did the cannibal move to Flagstaff? Because he got fed up with people everywhere else. FBN

 

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