Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, October 2, 2023
by Neil Senturia
No, not the wooden ones in your house. I am referring to the ones where big shots sit in a semi-circle on the dais with a moderator and a couple of microphones in front of a large, eager and attentive audience of people, who have given their time and paid their money, hoping to glean some insights from the geniuses in the semi-circle.
And I think that often they are getting robbed.
I have attended a large number of panels and presentations. I have even been at the front of the room a few times myself, and I want better. I am no longer willing to sit and listen to half-baked generalities about startup financing or exits or pivots given with incomplete explanations of the real facts.
I give you my time. In exchange, I want the truth, the facts, the real numbers, the twists, the spins, the losses, the mistakes, the failures and finally, yes, also the successes.
If you only give me mumble jumble, with no real numbers — then, to quote Howard Beale from the movie “Network” — “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
In a more modulated tone, my theme is that the moderator has to demand that the panelists “tell the truth” and agree to give real numbers. How much revenue did you have, how much was the raise, what were the terms, etc.? It is not acceptable to merely wave your arms and play it close to your chest.
You are sitting up there, I am sitting in the audience. Give it up or step down, but don’t play me for a sap. And speak loudly enough so that I can hear you sitting in the back of the room (so I can make a fast escape if necessary). As you can see, I don’t have really strong feelings about this.
Now for the feature presentation.
My bride, Ms. Barbara Bry, just came back from the 12th District Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco meeting in Salt Lake City. There were lots of speakers and panels, and upon her return, she dumped a 29-slide PowerPoint and three white papers on my desk and wondered what I was cooking for dinner. So now, Senturia, it is time to put up or shut up. You wanted “the facts, ma’am, just the facts” (with apologies to Joe Friday/Dragnet), and now I have them.
And you know facts are fascinating. I read everything (almost), and according to the various economists, the country is either headed to hell in a handbag or about to enter fat city, e.g. “Our fitted nonlinear Beveridge curve is very steep.” That alone is enough to give me heart palpitations.
There were two wonderful sections in the “U.S. Fiscal Policy and the Macroeconomy” presentation, called Part 1: The Short Run, and the other one (you guessed it) was called Part II: The Long Run. “Federal fiscal policy has a long-run imbalance.” You don’t say. By the way, when can I get a 3 percent home mortgage again?
I love economists. On the one hand, on the other hand. What this country needs (along with a good five-cent cigar) is an alien economist from Mars — with three hands.
There was one totally agreed-upon statement — that the wealth imbalance is going to increase. The 1 percent is going to stay there and get even more. I won’t dwell on the macro impact of this sentence, but the subtext of it is one of the key drivers in the entrepreneurial adventure.
Entrepreneurship allows for the possibility of a mismatched outcome, i.e. control of your own destiny with potential wealth not correlated to a paycheck from someone else.
I know you want to change the world, but at some level, you also want to create a step-function increase in your own little world. I do not pretend to do politics, but I instinctively know the truth of this maxim from American writer James Baldwin — “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”
At some level, entrepreneurship gives everyone a chance to have something to lose — and maybe to win — and that seems like a good thing to me.
Rule No. 778:
R-star is key for monetary policy. So there!