Lefsetz: Material Signifiers Disappear

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-27-39-amFirst they came for your watch…

Next they’re coming for your car.

Used to be he who died with the most toys won.

Now, ownership is passed  – everything’s on demand.

I first realized this 15 years ago, when I noticed Jimmy Iovine had the same Nokia phone, a tiny blue stub of a device – it was the best available, you couldn’t get one with a longer range or a better sound – functionality was king and decoration was irrelevant, we were equals.

We’re all equals today.

For those of you buying an expensive car as a status symbol, do it now, because in 10 years you won’t even own a car. And that Ferrari? The Tesla outperforms it, at least in straight line acceleration. Turns out gasoline is no match for electricity.

However before long, transportation will be an on demand item.

Not only will the car drive itself, it’ll show up at your doorstep when you need to go somewhere. And the evaporation of a need for parking lots, and parking spaces is hard to wrap one’s head around. Can you imagine a kid asking why a house has a garage 50 years from now? But you’re gonna lose your ability to stand out based on your possessions.

As for those watches, your phone tells more accurate time. They’re just jewelry. And Swiss sales are off, the manufacturers are buying up inventory to maintain prices. The wristwatch is going to be marginalized, at least that which is not computerized. And what we know about computers is they become commodities, like phones. The best is within the reach of almost all of us.

George Carlin did a whole routine on stuff.

Is anybody gonna even own any stuff in the future?

nevahYour record collection, vinyl and CD. You can hold on to it. People still collect stamps – although that’s a dying art with plunging prices – but it’s a hobby, music is something that arrives with the flick of a digital switch, like movies, via Netflix.

The rich will not be that much better than the rest of us.

Sure, they can own bigger homes.

However people are returning to cities for the access, they like the action, the opportunities, the offerings. So sprawling suburban mansions? There’s gonna be a fire sale. As for vacation home ownership? It’s kind of like skis. Most people rent them, sales have declined dramatically, because when you factor in transportation costs, you’re better off hiring the latest and the greatest each time you go.

We’ve all got the same iPhones and Samsungs.

There’s no $2,000 model, never mind $10,000 model. And our lives are centered around our mobile devices, and what is virtually inside is more valuable than what is externally available.

That’s right, your social network means more than anything you own at home. As for food, delivery is making inroads in a world where so many have given up cooking anyway.

So, it all comes down to your virtual world and experiences.

Those who are selling experiences will triumph tomorrow. It’s going to be who you know, where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Probably documented online, but it won’t be about physical trophies.

We won’t be able to tell someone is rich just by looking at them. Maybe they’ll have the best seat in the restaurant; maybe they’ll be able to get a reservation at the restaurant, but they won’t drive up in a Rolls Royce or BMW strutting their stuff.

We’re gonna become more equal.

This is hard to fathom if you’ve got nothing and you’re looking for creature comforts, items to make you feel good.

And this is hard to fathom if you’re rich, trying to feel better about yourself by working endlessly to acquire items that set you apart.

Of course, the rich will still have access to that which the poor do not.

It used to be a goal to own your own plane, most people now just rent ’em. They might call them fractional ownership programs, but the truth is your jet is delivered on demand, and you’ve got no headaches. If you own your own plane today it’s a signifier to show that you’re better than your competitors.

We’re all in it together. We’re collapsing inward, and people don’t like this.

The poor hate the immigrants supposedly stealing their jobs and the rich don’t want the poor elbowing in on their opportunities like access to a first rate education.

So what do you need?

A roof over your head, a screen and someone to love.

That’s about it.

Oh, and a job. So you can partake of experiences. So you have something to do. Work will become about fulfillment more than paying one’s bills.

The times they are a-changin’

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2 Responses to Lefsetz: Material Signifiers Disappear

  1. nice article for a change lefty.
    But I would hate to be you.
    Xanax can solve all your problems.
    You’re freaking out. I can see you crawling the walls thinking about all these
    changes going on and you’re like a meth head with no meth in the house.
    Of course things are changing. I have a $9,000 watch. I drive a Mercedes….
    why do you think the real estate people have given up building houses and are
    now focused on condos and apartments.
    That’s the market. The population wants nothing to do with roofs and gutters
    and lawns and maintenance….and TAXES…..so they’re moving into these
    maintenance free homes.
    Why do you need a watch? I was given mine by a client who I made a millionaire
    many times over.
    We’ve all got cells…we communicate…..according to the “experts” we’re not
    concerned with ownership….we WANT AN EXPERIENCE.
    when we go to the stores the experts say WE WANT AN EXPERIENCE.
    See the new hen house at 119th and roe. Way more than I need in a store…We
    need groceries…not an experience. But the masses want an experience.
    Sheels at 135th put a ferris wheel in their store. And they are packed because
    people get an “experience” when they shop there.
    The brick and mortar Armageddon is coming (according to some real estate
    experts) but what happens to all those huge buildings that were built.
    Amazon proved it…..glaze proved it that even with his expensive car he’s
    not getting the AAA women in kc (he ‘s pictured on kcc with black strippers)….
    no one cares anymore…..it’s changed.
    Don’t know where you grew up but your ideas are so old/outdated and bitter.
    The world passed you by!~
    call your shrink. Get some anti anxiety rx. It ain’t that bad.
    In fact, today’s world, although different, is a hell of a lot of fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Smell the roses.

  2. CFPCowboy says:

    From a financial planner, I have to say that it was never the one with the most toys, but it was the sole who had experienced the most that won. So, from th Dos Equis add, it is more interesting to have our own experiences. Yes, we all have toys, but some of us know how to use them. What is the advantage of the Tesla performance when you are on I-90 in eastern Wyoming without a charge. For that matter, what is the advantage of the Maserati at a speed trap. I feel sorry for the next generation that thinks reality television is appropriately named. Virtual sex is not sex, and a sole practioner is doomed never to enjoy children. It is virtually impossible. So, in exchange for that ride in a Bently, I have repaired two, a 54 and 56, and I have been able two feel their luxury from behind the wheel. I have also contributed to the beauty of a 28 Pierce Arrow and a 38 Swallow Sidecar (Jaguar). Life is what you make of it, not virtually, and whether it was watching a Cuban freighter unload its cargo in Granada or carrying a badge and gun in Denver, I would never have missed a moment. That’s life, so experience what you can for as long as you can.

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