At times Jeff Bezos is viewed at from a peculiar light. How is it that Wall Street allows him the ability to operate an enormous enterprise and afford Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) such a erogenous stock price multiple? The company has recently traded near 188 times earnings. Reading Joshua Cooper Ramo’s “The Seventh Sense Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks,” the answer to the mystical question becomes clearer.
Ramo: Society will have new rules
In his book that could represent the next “Mega Trend,” Ramo takes a look at big societal momentum– the type of incremental movements that are sometimes so big and slow moving they don’t attract attention in the 24 hour news cycle.
His work, recently highlighted in an August 25 MAI (Macro Allocation) report, from my perspective puts a spotlight why the Amazon golden boy who also shrewdly purchased the politically influential Washington Post and runs a low margin business receives latitude on Wall Street not afforded to Wall Mart or Cosco.
It has to do with the structure of the future, as Ramos explains.
“This concept of a political and economic system tuned not merely to liberty but to the compression of time will force us to remake a lot of our institutions,” Ramos writes, pointing at winners and losers. “Nations and corporations and ideologies that can deliver this liberty of velocity will grow, thrive, and accelerate. Those that can’t, slowed maybe by history or blocked by social or ideological design, will miss the turn if they are more obsessed with control than speed. If they can’t innovate fast enough to develop tools to manage massive data flows or are unable to absorb the best new technology, they will be the new divergence club.”
Typically divergence means independent thought or price movements that defy traditional relationship patterns, providing traders opportunity. But in Ramo’s world, the “divergence club” refers to those who will be left behind, picked over and stepped on. These are the people who don’t recognize the new rules of society.
We are entering a new dimension where core fundamentals are shifting under our feet and they are not being recognized. The way our society operates and what provides a competitive advantage is changing. Jeff Bezos is in part perceived on the crest of this societal trend, and is building a power structure, like no one else. His thinking, his company and his approach at capturing the next competitive frontier is found in controlling time. Not by trying to control it, per se, but by understanding a new velocity of time paradigm and working with the trend, not fighting it. This is in part the logic that might be affording Bezos special treatment.
Neither the MAI report nor Ramos looked at the issue from the standpoint of why Wall Street gives Bezos such latitude. Some might say this shouldn’t afford him special math rules not afforded to Wall Mart or Cosco, but that is for the free market to decide, not analysts.
The focus of the book is not Bezos, he is just one sidebar in a much bigger story. What Ramos and MAI do is look at time from a competitive standpoint and apply it across a number of spectrums.
The next dimension is time velocity and those who understand will be admitted into an increasingly select group of winners
Ramos, for his part, takes a decided global control view point. Not surprising given his day job as Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates. The man working close to the former US Secretary of State who became famous during the Nixon years writes of a domination strategy as if he were describing a new Tet Offensive:
If a nation can dominate from above, nearly anything seems possible. But networks add a fourth dimension, time superiority. Can you move faster than your enemies? Can you bog them down? Or are you a victim of fourth dimensional envelopment? Control of time – yours, your enemy’s: This will decide your strength…Speed is now the decisive commodity, and it loves money. (The feeling is mutual, by the way.)…The compression of time is a fundamental and political requirement that none of our existing institutions have been built to answer.
There will be new issues and societal trends that, in a digitized world, will provide control of key levers of power to be managed by a few, as both MAI and Ramo observe:
Ramo further points out there is a small group of individuals manipulating the heart of networks on which we all rely. We may be aware of this New Caste, as he calls them, but few of us recognize their power. “Decisions about computer code-design, search algorithms, the structure of digital currency, DNAalteration rules – all these will be made by New Caste figures who largely operate outside the machines and corporations and governments we know and regulate now.” His insight here is stunning: “the most important thing that will happen in our lifetimes will happen in secret”.
It bears repeating: The most important things in our lifetime will happen in secret. That’s not the future, it is already happening, it can be argued.
Ramo goes on to discuss the disappearance of printed bills, which is already happening without much critical discussion. Just like Brexit, this issue is being tightly controlled and the questions being asked by the media are only softballs. Ramos points to the truth, that this new digital currency, currently being rolled out by the largest banks, results in the total reliance on “linked, digitized cash” that will “be distributed in different ways – as spending money will change significantly, and with it a new control will be in place.”
Understand this framing for the future and then understand why Jeff Bezos, with political and economic power, as well as the understanding of time velocity, might matter most in the future.