Gold News

Lost Futures, REAL Moonshot Edition

One small step for a truly Soviet project...
 
"PEARLS before swine" might seem a bit harsh on the fair folk of my hometown, Birmingham, England, writes Adrian Ash at BullionVault.
 
But most of them hated all that beautiful concrete...
 
...poured across the UK's second city in the 1960s and '70s...
 
...and coming to define it by the 1980s.
 
Unloved and unlovely, pretty much all those brave, brutal visions of the future have now met the wrecking ball in the age they felt built for, here in the 21st Century.
 
Indeed, almost the entire wonderful legacy of the late John Madin has been erased...
 
...from his  Post & Mail building...
 
...to the BBC's Pebble Mill studios by Cannon Hill Park...
 
...the AEU Building on the corner of Smallbrook Queensway...
 
 
...and most awful of all, Birmingham Central Library.
 
Graham Beards [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
 
"The Friends of the Library grieve not only for the loss of a great and memorable building," said one campaign group after 12 futile years trying to stop the philistines, "but for the cultural reputation of the city of Birmingham."
 
But "it looks more like a place for burning books than keeping them," as Prince Charles famously hissed of Madin's awesome ziggurat...
 
...and like our future king (and sadly his people), the bureaucrats now running planning departments across the country here in what used to be the future seem to prefer fake, heartless architecture such as Charles' own model village of Poundbury...
 
..."an over sanitised middle-class ghetto," to quote one angry post-modernist...
 
..."[where] there is nothing positive to live for so we must retreat to the past."
 
Put another way, as historian Owen Hopkins does in his Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain (2017), "In time, the very idea of the future as something to be strived towards would come under attack, and many of the buildings that were designed to help bring it into existence would be demolished."
 
But who wants to see what the future used to look like when you can smother the town in block-paving and relentlessly jolly shopping malls instead?
 
And who doesn't love all this Apollo 11 nostalgia now that we're 50 years beyond Neil Armstrong's giant leap for his own posterity?
 
Given all the love showered on that first Moon landing this month, you might forget that the Apollo programme ended almost as soon as it succeeded.
 
Because with Soviet Russia defeated in the space race (albeit by a truly Soviet government-run project!) the propaganda war was won by capitalism...
 
...and the last man to step foot on the Moon left just three years later.
 
Perhaps that's why, for people of a certain age, this wall-to-wall remembrance of the first Moon landing is tinged with sadness here in 2019...
 
...because it brings back such deep memories of other lost futures...
 
...from living on the Moon or even on Mars...
 
...to commuting around Earth in a flying car...
 
...driven by your own personal robot...
 
...chatting to friends by hologram in far-flung galaxies...
 
...rather than trying to dodge grown adults riding electric scooters on the pavement while staring dead-eyed at your mobile phone and scrolling through Instagram in search of something like hope.
 
Yes, some of the late-1960s' future has arrived.
 
A small obelisk speaking like deranged killer computer Hal 9000 for instance, from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, now sits in perhaps 1-in-4 homes in the US.
 
Total sales of 'smart speakers' like Amazon's Echo Dot or JBL Link 20 mean there's 1 unit for every 3 humans in the United States!
 
Some of us might also wonder if we haven't got Charles Manson in the White House...
 
...trying to foment a 'helter skelter' war between black and white...
 
...while Star Trek flip-phones came and went with Motorola...
 
...and Woodstock's hippy dream ended with the Pusherman hustling pretty much everyone in plain daylight.
 
But all the really dramatic inventions driven by the Apollo programme are now long embedded in our daily lives. There's nothing left to squeeze out from that Herculean effort of the will.
 
And lacking new innovations to back or develop today, investors are left instead chasing ideas so dopey they would have been laughed out of hand at the top of the Y2K DotCom Bubble 20 years ago.
 
Take TheRealReal Inc, for instance.
 
A kind of eBay for 'luxury' goods, and launched in 2017, it made a loss of $75m last year on selling $710m of secondhand clothes, handbags and watches from one bunch of customers to another.
 
In the first quarter of 2019 the number of buyers grew to almost half-a-million, up 40% from Q1 2018. The company's own revenue rose 49%.
 
Thing is, losses rose 65%, reaching $23m for the quarter...
 
...and that represented a subsidy, effectively, of $50 to each buyer.
 
Indeed, last year's net loss equated to $182 per buyer...a gift, effectively, from shareholders to customers.
 
No wonder those owners would now like to cash out, using their remarkable retail skills to sell The RealReal Inc. as an investment opportunity on Wall Street.
 
The result? Wall Street bid the thing up 45% on its debut at the end of last month.
 
Since then however, the stock price, laughably traded under the ticker 'REAL', has slowly edged back.
 
This model of capitalism looks almost as weird as America claiming that capitalism beat the Soviets in racing to the Moon. Business owners now effectively pay their customers, subsidizing consumption to win market share with no sign of a profit in sight.
 
Thank you, comrade!
 
Last year saw a record percentage of new US stock listings come from loss-making companies. Somewhere between 81% and 83% of 2018's New York moonshots didn't turn a profit the year before they listed, depending on whose schlock headline you trust.
 
Chart of percentage of US corporations yet to make a profit before floating on the stock market. Source: Topdown Charts
 
Either way, that beat even the year 2000...
 
...when the world was stuck with the fuzziest post-party head in history and the proportion of unprofitable companies going public was 81%.
 
In due course this brave new 21st Century model of Soviet capitalism will no doubt come to look as spent as a burnt-out Saturn V starting its plunge back to Earth, and a record number of investment dollars will tumble into their own lost future.

Adrian Ash is director of research at BullionVault, the physical gold and silver market for private investors online. Formerly head of editorial at London's top publisher of private-investment advice, he was City correspondent for The Daily Reckoning from 2003 to 2008, and is now a regular contributor to many leading analysis sites including Forbes and a regular guest on BBC national and international radio and television news. Adrian's views on the gold market have been sought by the Financial Times and Economist magazine in London; CNBC, Bloomberg and TheStreet.com in New York; Germany's Der Stern; Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore, and many other respected finance publications.

See the full archive of Adrian Ash articles on GoldNews.

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