Robert Weissenstein's Exhilaration

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, November 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

Robert Weissenstein's Exhilaration


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Finding fascination in the quotidian.

Long ago, in 2008, Americans bought 1.4 billion books made of paper and 200 million e-books. By 2014--perhaps sooner--sales of e-books will equal those of the paper kind. This could save 1.5 million tons of paper made from, possibly, 25 million trees, affecting the price of timber. But the books (and other stuff) bought in e-commerce come in cardboard boxes. So some of those trees will not be spared after all. Furthermore, because of e-commerce and e-books, perhaps half the nation's bookstores will be gone in four years, vacating at least 50 million square feet of commercial real estate.

Residential real-estate investment as a percentage of GDP plunged from 6.26 percent at the peak of the housing bubble in the fourth quarter of 2005 to a record low of 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2010, so a bad housing market is not as important as it recently was. Besides, a bad housing market, meaning declining prices, is not entirely bad: Housing had risen out of the reach of many people.

Connecting such disparate dots is how Robert Weissenstein's interesting mind finds fascination in the quotidian. We are, he thinks, in an accelerating process of pervasive global restructuring--regional, industrial, and behavioral. Today, as chief investment officer in Credit Suisse Private Banking, Weissenstein's theme is "the enormous iterative impact of everything we hold and do."

In 2001, the iPod arrived. Less than a decade later, the number of employees of music stores has declined from about 80,000 to 20,000. In 2002, there were about 7,500 music stores; by next year there will two thirds fewer. But now that people shop at 35,000 feet in airplanes offering Internet access, former music-store employees can work for FedEx and UPS, delivering what e-shoppers buy.

Weissenstein thinks we focus on the first, disruptive half of social change without noticing the second, creative half. Fixated on job losses in the Great Recession (from December 2007 to June 2009), we miss germane events that began earlier and continue. New "growth drivers" include "teenage tech companies." Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, and Google, founded in 1994, 1994, 1995, and 1998, respectively, perform functions that did not exist 25 years ago, and employ, cumulatively, 75,000 people. …

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