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  • Eric Hahn

Be good…just not too good


The number one rap song in the country right now, Kendrick Lamar’s Be Humble, was first introduced via a viral clip of LeBron jamming out to it on Instagram. LeBron was amazing in the post-season but in the NBA Finals earlier this month, he was most certainly humbled. The Jordan comparisons – not that he was the one making them – were probably not a great look, karmically speaking.

Be Humble is probably not a bad look right now in the tech world. We’ve been in the celebration phase all year as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Facebook take their place in the pantheon of classic American monopolists. These firms and a few others, it is now widely acknowledged, dominate everything. There is no day-part in which they do not dominate the battle for consumers’ attention. There is no business safe from their ambitions. There are no industries in which their influence and encroachment are not currently being felt.

And for now, users, consumers, technology journalists and shareholders are cheering.

But this mood can change very quickly. Additionally, it’s only a matter of time before government officials begin to hear ever more louder and insistent whispers in their ear to “do something!” from their adversaries and the incumbents they’re disrupting. Lastly, it’s important to remember that the incumbents don’t just lay down. They occasionally play offense instead of defense in the face of an existential threat.

Already we’re seeing essays about the “disinflationary” effects of these companies crossing over from the business section to the op-ed pages of major newspapers. The country has lost 22,000 coal jobs since 2001 but it’s lost half a million department store jobs in the same period of time. Retail workers aren’t predominantly white middle-aged men and they don’t wear hard hats, so Republicans and Trumpists haven’t taken up their cause. Yet.

The pace of this “disinflationary” effect seems to have begun to accelerate. Retail jobs are down 89,000 payrolls since October. It is expected that 8,600 retail stores will close their doors this year. Abandoned mall porn is making the rounds on social media once again this summer as JC Penney and Sears teeter on the brink of reorganization.

This is taking place as Amazon and the cloud computing / ecommerce / software companies that enable the trend add hundreds of billions to their market caps. Fighting to save the coal industry, which is small enough to fit into a thimble, is hilariously anachronistic in an era during which every kind of white collar worker is losing sleep over his or her own replaceability.

Betterment, Wealthfront and the early wave of robo-advice startups came out of the gates to a blitz of media attention and rapid growth in assets under management. They were really good at telling their story, showing off their abilities to scale and scaring the big asset management firms and online brokers.

They were too good.

It wasn’t long before ...click here to keep reading