Opinion

The Edgy Optimist

Apple: The slaying of a tech hero

Zachary Karabell
Jan 25, 2013 17:23 UTC

Apple’s quarterly results this week drew a flood of reactions – almost all negative. Given how well the company did under almost any absolute measure, this is odd, though, for Wall Street, not necessarily surprising.

But the arc of Apple’s rise and temporary fall tells a more troubling story about our current inability to maintain positive momentum about any aspect of our culture. We slay our heroes with casual abandon. Then we wring our hands about the absence of positive catalysts in our world today.

Apple’s stock, already in relative free fall from an all-time high of more than $700 a share, plunged nearly 12 percent on the news. The company has now lost 35 percent of its value in four months – which represents an astonishing $235 billion. This decline alone is larger than all but three companies in the S&P 500, and larger than the gross domestic product of more than 140 countries.

That equity collapse was echoed by deeply pessimistic analysis of the company in the financial and tech media. Jim Cramer of CNBC railed against the post-Steve Jobs management under chief executive officer Tim Cook for failing to communicate a compelling vision. Others were less kind, dismissing the company as having no pipeline, no vision and little growth. “I think this is a broken company,” said noted investor Jeffrey Gundlach.

Apple matters on multiple levels: it is still (barely) the world’s largest company by market cap; it has been cited as a beacon of American innovation, led by a rare visionary, Steve Jobs, who resurrected the company he’d founded in the decade before his death; its products have been more than just hardware devices – consumers view them as a talisman, defining identities and allowing people to manifest their personal and professional lives as they chose. In the past few years, its stock price has been a proxy for that enthusiasm.

Fighting inflation. But where is it?

Zachary Karabell
Jan 18, 2013 19:08 UTC

Earlier this week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly inflation report. The numbers came in at 1.7 percent a year for all items. Excluding the ever-volatile food and energy, it was 1.9 percent.

That’s about as low as inflation has been in the last 50 years.  Only 1986 (1.1 percent), 1998 and 2001 (1.6 percent), 2008 (0.1 percent) and 2010 (1.5 percent) have come in lower, and a few years in the mid-2000s registered the same.

The disappearance of inflation over the past 20 years, however, has barely dented the pervasive belief that inflation remains one of the greatest threats to economic stability. These convictions persist in spite of all evidence to the contrary: Inflation is nowhere visible. For many, that is just proof that we are living in a lull — a phony war soon to be disrupted when that age-old enemy reappears and wreaks havoc.

Climate change doesn’t have to be all bad

Zachary Karabell
Jan 11, 2013 13:46 UTC

This week the National Climate Data Center confirmed what most had long believed: 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States. Ever. And not just a bit warmer: a full Fahrenheit degree warmer than in 1998, the previous high. In the land of climatology statistics, that is immense. In the understatement of one climate scientist, these findings are “a big deal.”

Almost every news story reporting on this juxtaposed the record with a series of disruptive climate events, ranging from the drought that covered much of the United States farmland and punctuated by Hurricane Sandy in its tens of billions of dollars of devastation. Many also pointed out that eight of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1990 (though it should be noted that official records only extend to 1895). Not surprisingly, these observations were almost always followed by warnings of more warming and substantially worse consequences to come.

But what if climate change isn’t the disaster we fear but instead one more obstacle that humans can meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity as well as demand ever more resilience? What if it ultimately improves life as we know it?

The fiscal cliff showed America is a country addicted to crisis

Zachary Karabell
Jan 3, 2013 17:14 UTC

So we did not fall off the cliff. But the reaction to the news of the deal suggests that we’ve become a culture addicted to crisis, because barely had the vote been taken when the spin from politicians, from the mainstream media, and from the cacophonous web was angry, sullen, and negative.

The problem is said to be, in no particular order: Washington, partisanship, Tea Party ideologues, tax-and-spend Democrats, unions, rich people, America, unemployment, underemployment, the shafting of the middle class, the end of the American dream, the untenable deficit, unfunded mandates, and unreasonable expectations. But maybe the problem is none of those; maybe it’s a deepening love affair with crisis. The perverse lure of descent and an inability to break out of the cycle is threatening to overcome us.

What did the deal actually accomplish? Taxes went up significantly for the wealthy and modestly for most, yet the core of lower rates for the vast majority of Americans was retained. Financial markets reacted giddily and made up some lost ground. And for all of the legitimate carping about the dysfunction and polarization of Washington, the deal was actually bipartisan. An overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats backed it in the Senate, while in the House the deal fractured the Republican caucus. The party split its vote and was then joined by a majority of Democrats.

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