I recently read Andy Kessler’s latest book Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs, and had the pleasure of discussing it with him. Mr. Kessler is a former hedge fund manager who now writes on technology and markets. His other books include Wall Street Meat (2003), Running Money (2004), How We Got Here (2005), The End of Medicine (2006), and Grumby (2010). You can learn more about him and his work at AndyKessler.com. —Daniel Wahl
Daniel Wahl: Thank you for joining me, Andy.
Andy Kessler: Thanks for having me.
DW: I just finished your new book, Eat People, and among other things especially enjoyed your attitude toward technology. Many people today disregard the benefits of technology and long for a world without it—but you think this is nonsense. Why?
AK: I don’t think anyone really longs for a world without technology per se—no antibiotics? no refrigerators? no Xbox 360? But some long for a world without the technology that disrupts what they believe to be their contented lives. It’s change that bothers many, and technology is the vehicle that creates change, often feeling like a runaway freight train.
An economy exists to increase the living standards of its participants; productivity—doing more with less—is the only way to create societal wealth. Wealth is not a fixed pie with some getting bigger slices than others; it’s an ever-increasing sized pie, increasing because technology drives productivity. That can mean displacing old jobs with newer, better-paying jobs. This can be a huge disruption, but it’s inevitable, and my advice is to be on the right side of this change, to create it rather than be run over by it.
DW: One of the points you make in the book is that innovations don’t just happen; people make them happen. Who are some of the people you respect for having made your life easier and happier?
AK: Engineers rule the world. They are the ones creating productivity and innovation. So much of this has been concentrated in software programming, writing clever pieces of code that improve our lives. Today, no one has to drive to the library to look up things in a Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia. Clever code was written enabling people to find the information they need in a great database in the sky. Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the thousands they have hired are great innovators. So are Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs.
But there is a shadow crew that deserves credit too. Doug Engelbart invented the mouse and network operating systems and implemented hypertext way back in 1968. He gets credit. So do all the creators of Internet protocols and the World Wide Web and smartphones, let alone stents to prop open coronary arteries and the creators of many life-saving diagnostics and drugs. The list is endless. Some low-level employee in West China right now is perfecting the process of manufacturing glass for iPhones—something that helps the innovation process—and we don’t even know who that is.
DW: Given the title of your book, people might be surprised at your view that when a businessman such as Steve Jobs gets rich, we all get richer. How did you reach or what substantiates this view?
AK: Steve Jobs has created a platform for others to run their businesses and lives on. My productivity has increased because I have my e-mail and a web browser and a stock ticker in my pocket at all times, which do things that in the past might have required a staff back in a home office to track. This saves time and money and resources. The Google boys have done much to increase all of our living standards. Mark Zuckerberg has lowered the cost of communications within large groups. Bill Gates gets grief as a nasty businessman and monopolist, but the reality is that society has created and enjoyed more wealth with his tools than he has personally. That’s the kind of innovation that should be embraced; when the creator gets wealthy, it’s because society is getting wealthy too.
DW: Someone who would obviously disagree with you is Saul Alinsky—and you slam him repeatedly in your book for his view of wealth, one very different from yours. Can you explain why?
AK: Saul Alinksy was a community organizer who, in the early 1970s, built a movement based on the disparity of the haves and the have-nots. His process was to organize the have-nots, have them elect someone to office who would then take from the haves and give to the have-nots. . . .