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.

 

 

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quintago's picture

Apple = Fall of Rome? Hilarious.

I'm no fan boy, but the reason why Apple is going through the roof is because it produces a product people want. Plus once payment gateways move mobile, Apple has the means to usurp Visa and Mastercard.

Of course, Steve Jobs is not immortal

destraht's picture

Apple is big on the trusted computing model. Basically they lock down the software and force you to go through their application and media portal.

The next step is code signing the operating system and not allowing anything to run that doesn't pass the test as administered by the CPU. Intel is big on this technology. More so than the powerpc technology can provide.

puckles's picture

Perhaps the trust will fade shortly with this new app:


iPhone snitch network launched

 

Jason Douglass | A new iPhone App with the misleading name ‘PatriotApp’ attempts to draw on the power of the patriot movement, turning smartphone users into a gigantic snitch network.

kiwidor's picture

Steve Jobs v1.0 is dead.  that emaciated wreck is the body double. OR a hologram.  every 30 years or so they'll roll out a new version, slightly thinner and older.  but he'll , for all practical purposes, be immortal.

4xaddict's picture

I think they've lost  touch with their true customer base and while they've been rolling out mass market cheese ball advertising the real Appleheads have been checking out alternative technology. If anyone takes a look at their "Back to the Mac" press conference from Oct you can see how little credit for intelligence they now give their customers - it was actually listening to them that made them popular in the first place.

Also interesting that the number of viruses being reported as now affecting Macs is increasing.................. silent protest maybe? Sure with greater adoption rates the incentive for criminal enterprise increases blah blah.

Steve Jobs is a smary dick who doesn't deserve your money.

Al89's picture

You have entirely missed the point of the article, which wasn't an attack on AAPL.

blindfaith's picture

humm, glad I was not alone on that observation.

At the checkout counter the other day and joked with another customer that as long as McDonalds was around, and the government put free charging stations under the bridges, most everyone would be quite happy.  Two teens, giggled and said  "so, what's wrong with that". 

TruthInSunshine's picture

Yet another person literally cribbing my notes!!!

I am the original thinker on Apple being the new 'Bread' in the 'Bread & Circus' scam, where iPads are bought with unemployment insurance and money that used to be used to pay for mortgages, groceries, etc. (mtg defaults & electronic debit food cards help with this), while the really smart criminals steal trillions off the top.

Damn you, Simon Black!!!!

<waving fist in hostile & angry fashion>

 

traderjoe's picture

And I presume he wanders the world and has people pay him for his insights in a subscription? Not a bad gig...

LMAO's picture

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

"I am the original thinker on Apple being the new 'Bread' in the 'Bread & Circus' scam"

 

It's much worse! If the historical tale (fabricated or not) about the Garden of Eden is anything to go by "Apple" spells nothing but trouble for mankind.

The Apple will turn our lives into a living Hell.

LMAO

TruthInSunshine's picture

It's much worse! If the historical tale (fabricated or not) about the Garden of Eden is anything to go by "Apple" spells nothing but trouble for mankind.

Then Steve Jobs is Satan?

Uncle Remus's picture

The Apple has turned our lives into a living Hell.

There, fixed it.

ZackLo's picture

Apple + (steve) jobs=no jobs? I never thought of the irony of the apple being from the garden of eden...damn those self fulfilling prophecies.

ExpendableOne's picture

I find Apple rather perverse in that they do not actually produce anything except design documents and profit. 

They design the gadgets and subcontract the production, pollution and OSHA hassle to others.  The music is provided by artists who receive a very small fraction of the value.

Hmm.... Perhaps I'm just jealous that I didn't buy a crap load of their stock many years back.

 

 

destraht's picture

They do make their operating systems in house. That is not a small endeavor.

Old Europe Avant-Garde's picture

Only in parts. The operating system is largely based on the BSD kernel. So are the tools. The browser is hugely borrowing from the KDE (Konquerror) browser, the compiler (LLVM) they use is open source as well.

Still they do a great job at integrating and making things look shiny, but the open source movement deserves some credit here. It's on those giants sholders they are standing (software wise).

curly's picture

not so much.  though the systems integration they do is not a small task

kernel is mach from CMU.

much (most) of the user-space library code is from bsd, except for the 2D gfx and UI which has at least roots from Next Computer.

3D gfx is OpenGL

compilers are open source (gnu or llvm)

even the web browser is largely open source -- webkit, roots in KDE project.

hidingfromhelis's picture

We're all ostriches now.  I think many people do see the cracks in the facade, but to contemplate the unsustainability of the empire is a scary thing.  And so they turn back to the safety of mass-produced, mind-numbing entertainment and gadgets, effectively burying their heads in the sand.

TruthInSunshine's picture

But in my version, Apple is sustenance to them. They have nearly infinite choices for their 'Circus' in modern day Amerika.

ronin12's picture

We're not all ostriches, but I will admit that the mindless entertainment can sometimes suck you in like a black hole.

TheProphet's picture

To suggest that people are now burying their heads in the sand is to suggest that there was a time that they didn't have their heads buried in the sand.

The world was truly made for those who lack self-awareness.

jimgcpa's picture

So true.  Mobile telecommunications and internet connectivity is so frivolous to those who wish they lived in the days before electricity was discovered.  What a freakin joke.

 

 

DonnieD's picture

The perils of technology innovation are beginning to outweigh the benefits. I often wonder if there will be a revolt against these products. Facebook is the worst.

TheProphet's picture

Want to revolt? It's easy. Put it down and walk away from it.

Stupid Donkey's picture

For the last week I have been asking people, "Would you rather have 100 shares of Apple or a 2011 Lexus?"

 

The resounding answer has been 100 shares of Apple stock, because it will go up.

Temporalist's picture

I'd take the Lexus so I can run people over to escape the rioting.

DonnieD's picture

Yeah, but what are you going to wipe your ass with?

TruthInSunshine's picture

I'd take the Lexus so I can run people over to escape the rioting.

 

We're all getting Lexi for Christmas from our spouses/family members. With ginormous red bows on top.

TheProphet's picture

Be sure to get the big one. Don't want to risk someone bouncing off and then getting up all pissed.

DoctoRx's picture

What low end Lexus can you buy (new) for 32 grand?  I spent that much for almost the bottom level Lexus 11 years ago.  

doggings's picture

more specific Roman Empire comparisons here

When does a market crash become a depression

subqtaneous's picture

...so Commodus begat the decline, huh?

 

Spaniard! Spaniard! Spaniard! Spaniard! …

 

 

 

 

Dingleberry Jones's picture

Yes, that's all iPhones do is make fart sounds and find you food.  Kinda like how a computer is only good for porn and watching movies and spoons are good for preparing heroin or making music.

I get it, Simon thinks the end of the world is coming because a fraction of the US population (and not a huge one) likes to have an Apple made computing device in their pocket.  Yeah, I do think that the stock is overpriced, but most of the stock market is grossly overvalued as has been made abundantly clear on ZH. 

I don't get his connection with the fall of Rome. Every society in the history of man likes their distractions, particularly of the crude/vulgar variety. Ours are mainly tame in comparison with most of history.

Declinists are so over the top it's hilarious. Yes, I do think times are going to get worse for a bit than they are now. No, I do not think the world is going to collapse into a world war, with massive food, energy, and water shortages. We are in the midst of the failure of the capitalist entitlement society. The question is if we go towards the Chinese model (modern capitalistic feudalism) or back towards a capitalistic republic with a better set of checks and balances the protect the weak from the powerful and the few (and often powerful) from the masses.

My personal opinion is that our current model and China's model converge somewhere in between.

Regardless, globalist society isn't going to go anywhere barring a massive lobbing of WMDs.

Dingleberry Jones's picture

LOL @ the junking.  Why?  Because I don't buy into the end of the world scenario? I just don't see the need for extremism or any other "ism" here.

I simply can not see how society is going to be overrun by the barbarian hordes and a dark age will fall upon us (barring massive use of WMD scenarios).

Economics is a social science. Money is a social construct. Exchange of goods, labor, etc... All of that infrastructure is not going to go away if our robber barrons in DC and Wall Street go bankrupt.

traderjoe's picture

I thought your post was an interesting read, certainly a sincerely expression of your opinion, i.e. not trolling, etc. And it was obvious you took care in writing it. I too disagree with the junking. 

Dingleberry Jones's picture

Thank you for the kind words. 

 

I have no problem with someone disagreeing, just please write it out instead of mindlessly crapping on an opinion.

MrPalladium's picture

What makes you think that a massive nuclear war would leave only "Barbarians" roaming the earth. Given that the first targets of the nukes are command and control, the central government, the financial centers, and large cities, a nuclear war could just as readily restore our civilization.

Dingleberry Jones's picture

Agree that it might be better, but I was just using that as a caveat to what I don't see happening, i.e. the destruction of modern society.

AnAnonymous's picture

Yes, that's all iPhones do is make fart sounds and find you food.  Kinda like how a computer is only good for porn and watching movies and spoons are good for preparing heroin or making music.

 

If the other uses by the casual user were that productive, there should not be that debt issue, shouldnt there?

HarryWanger's picture

It's a stupid argument. Sounds like someone's upset that he missed out and continues to miss out on one of the best stock plays in recent history. Strong earnings for incredibly well made products that can't meet demand. Growth is in early stages globally.

Simon, get with the program - quit whining and buy some shares.

gloomboomdoom's picture

amen brother. I am up 5% in my account alone, today!

Ben Shalom is the man! His thesis will be in every econ textbook someday.

The laws of Macro Economists are being re-written before our eyes, folks

traderjoe's picture

Harry, when are you going to answer my question(s)? When does your professional assignment on the study of ZH perma-bears end? How many avatars do you use?

StychoKiller's picture

Waddya do when mold infects your petri dish(es)?  Like any good scientist, Harry should throw them away and start the experiment over (somewhere else -- the subjects KNOW about the experiment, which will change the results!)

Gubbmint Cheese's picture

Apple yes, but the E! networks, "Bridalplasty" is a better example.. its BRUTAL.

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridalplasty

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

Really? We're going to make Apple the poster child for this? Frankly, I get actual, productive business use out of most of their products.

If you're going to hang it on someone or something, why not Electronic Arts? or XBox? or Playstation? or ESPN? or American Idol? or WalMart?

Yeesh.

 

kiwidor's picture

You have a point.  Their stuff works, which is nice.  it doesn't hang all the time like some versions of windows.  I see my roommate and a friend both getting good [business related] value out of their apple stuff.  But what about the other 97% of the users, huh? 

financeguru500's picture

When are we going to see real articles pointing out the ridiculousness of our society. Yes, we all know that because consumerism is #1 priority for U.S. citizens, Apple has become way overvalued.

How about an article that identifies why you can drive down Interstate 10 in Texas, Louisiana etc and see mexicans towing cars like it's a circus attraction. Sometimes you can see a van/truck towing 2 cars behind it looking dangerously unsafe. Why would there be mexicans towing cars down to mexico you may ask? Because citizens in the U.S. value new cars so much that they throw away older very useful cars that Mexicans buy at auction for $100 which they then take to Mexico for people there to use. Often times, the cars can be resold for a couple thousand dollars.

The average U.S. consumer is so over indebted yet doesn't even keep very useful cars but instead has to have the very newest available. This should be the true indicator of a failing empire.