More “New Economy” Hyperbole
| Peter Klein |
Wired’s Chris Anderson drinks the New Economy Kool-Aid. It’s the same old argument — information technology reduces transaction costs, leading to a radical disaggregation of industry and society — still supported by little more than a few colorful anecdotes, not any kind of systematic analysis. The new twist is the financial crisis, described by Anderson as “not just the trough of a cycle but the end of an era.”
What we have discovered over the past nine months are growing diseconomies of scale. Bigger firms are harder to run on cash flow alone, so they need more debt (oops!). Bigger companies have to place bigger bets but have less and less control over distribution and competition in an increasingly diverse marketplace. . . . The result is that the next new economy, the one rising from the ashes of this latest meltdown, will favor the small.
Nonsense. The major banks, the Chrysler corporation, and whoever is next to fail have not become nimbler and smaller, but larger; they have become part of the Federal government. Fannie and Freddie have swollen and taken on additional responsibilities. The financial crisis, as argued repeatedly on these pages, was spawned by a credit bubble brought about by loose monetary policy and massive government subsidization of the home mortgage market. It has nothing to do with firms being too large or somehow failing to take advantage of the Next Big Thing in social networking or cloud computing. I mean, seriously, is there anything here that couldn’t have been written ten years ago?
To all the usual reasons why small companies have an advantage, from nimbleness to risk-taking, add these new ones: The rise of cloud computing means that young firms no longer have to buy their own IT equipment, which helps them avoid having to raise money or take on debt. Likewise, the webification of the supply chain in many industries, from electronics to apparel, means that even the tiniest companies can now order globally, just like the giants. In the same way a musician with just a laptop and some gumption can accomplish most of what a record label does, an ambitious engineer can invent and produce a gadget with little more than that same laptop.