Simon Black On Apple As A Symbol Of "Peak Empire"

Tyler Durden's picture

"Sovereign Man" Simon Black's daily musing comes today from the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand where he contemplates the present and future of a civilization in which the biggest company in the world (soon enough) will be one that creates a la carte fads and focuses on one-time mindless gratification. "We live in rather interesting times, though; the technology sector’s
engineering brilliance goes where demand and financial incentives are
the greatest… and for now, that seems to be designing devices that can
mimic flatulence or geolocate the nearest pizzeria. This will change eventually as the problems worsen and society’s
priorities shift… but for now, I think that Apple’s soaring profits and
society’s evangelical devotion to its products may be a social
reflection of the final days of Rome
." If Apple is a sign of the end of empire, we would be even more curious with Simon's take on Netflix' symbology (which continues trading at such ludicrous forward multiples that excel goes straight to the BSOD when any modeling is attempted).

From Sovereign Man:

Apple’s Success and Peak Empire

December 13, 2010
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Even before Edward Gibbon published his famous treatise in the late
1700s, historians have frequently debated the causes of the fall of the
Roman Empire.

Some, like Gibbon, argued that Roman society’s moral decline was the
root cause, while others such as Toynbee suggested that the mere concept
of the empire was doomed from its inception due to institutional decay.

Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: it happened gradually,
with each successive generation of Romans becoming accustomed (willingly
or forcibly) to the new normal of their inflationary police state.

Most historians point to the reign of Emperor Commodus (180-192 AD)
as the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire; early Roman historian
Cassius Dio described the rule of Commodus as Rome’s turning point from a
“kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron.”

Commodus was known for his harsh cruelty, debauchery, and insanity;
contemporary historians suggest that Commodus actually believed he was
the reincarnation of Hercules, and he had a penchant for staging
expensive (and fixed) gladiatorial exhibitions in which he would
personally compete.

By the time of his assassination, Rome was nearly bankrupt… though
this didn’t stop future emperors from continuing the tradition of
self-indulgent largess.

If they didn’t have enough gold, they would plunder. If their armies
were too weak to plunder, they would raise taxes and debase the
currency. By the time of Aurelian in 270, the silver content in Rome’s
coins had fallen to less than 2%, losing any appearance of being silver
at all.

It didn’t seem to matter much.  Romans were convinced that the gods
favored them, and that it was their natural place in the global pecking
order to be the world’s dominant superpower.

The games continued, and Romans were too preoccupied watching
gladiators and chariot races to notice that, like boiling frogs, they
were being slowly heated by their imperial leadership.

I was thinking about this history recently while browsing some
financial headlines like “Apple stock heading to $500″ and “This will be
Apple’s Decade” and “Steve Jobs- Messiah.”

Apple is certainly an innovative company, and Steve Jobs is a media
and technology visionary…  but since dropping the “Computer” from its
name in 2007, Apple Inc.’s primary focus is designing devices that
facilitate the consumption of mindless and distracting media drivel.

Sure, iPhones and iPads are nice things, but with so many analysts
expecting the stock to keep soaring, what does it say about our society
that this may soon become the most valuable company in the world?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the company or any of the
consumer devices that it develops… it just seems to me that, given all
the problems in the world, there are more pressing matters than camping
out for 3-days to get the latest iPad release.

Like the Romans, our currencies are being debased and our governments
are bankrupt. Economies are stalling, North Korea is saber-rattling
again, worldwide governments are stamping out privacy and transparency,
and a global food and water crisis is looming.

And, like the Romans, most people seem too preoccupied to either care
much or make the necessary preparations to ride out the storm.

Technology is really a wonderful thing; I think that it will be newly
developed technologies that ultimately pull humanity out of the mess
that we’ve created for ourselves.

We live in rather interesting times, though; the technology sector’s
engineering brilliance goes where demand and financial incentives are
the greatest… and for now, that seems to be designing devices that can
mimic flatulence or geolocate the nearest pizzeria.

This will change eventually as the problems worsen and society’s
priorities shift… but for now, I think that Apple’s soaring profits and
society’s evangelical devotion to its products may be a social
reflection of the final days of Rome.