IPO of Vanguard Achieved Only 5% of Goal

(p. A15) The First Index Investment Trust, which tracks the returns of the S&P 500 and is now known as the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, was founded on December 31, 1975. It was the first “product,” as it were, of a new mutual fund manager, The Vanguard Group, the company I had founded only one year earlier.
The fund’s August 1976 initial public offering may have been the worst underwriting in Wall Street history. Despite the leadership of the Street’s four largest retail brokers, the IPO fell far short of its original $250 million target. The initial assets of 500 Index Fund totaled but $11.3 million–falling a mere 95% short of its goal.
The fund’s struggle for the attention (and dollars) of investors was epic. Known as “Bogle’s folly,” the fund’s novel strategy of simply tracking a broad market index was almost totally rejected by Wall Street. The head of Fidelity, then by far the fund industry’s largest firm, put the kiss of death on his tiny rival: “I can’t believe that the great mass of investors are [sic] going to be satisfied with just receiving average returns. The name of the game is to be the best.”
(p. B4) Almost a decade passed before a second S&P 500 index fund was formed, by Wells Fargo in 1984. During that period, Vanguard’s index fund attracted cash inflow averaging only $16 million per year.
Now let’s advance the clock to 2018. What a difference 42 years makes! Equity index fund assets now total some $4.6 trillion, while total index fund assets have surpassed $6 trillion. Of this total, about 70% is invested in broad market index funds modeled on the original Vanguard fund.

For the full commentary, see:
John C. Bogle. “The Father of the Index Fund Sees a Reckoning Ahead.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018): B1 & B4.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 29, 2018, and has the title “Bogle Sounds a Warning on Index Funds.”)

Bogle’s commentary is based on his book:
Bogle, John C. Stay the Course: The Story of Vanguard and the Index Revolution. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2018.

Future Population Lower Than U.N. Estimates, Perhaps by Billions

(p. A15) Is a dangerous population explosion imminent? For decades we’ve been told so by scientific elites, starting with the Club of Rome reports in the 1970s. But in their compelling book “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline,” Canadian social scientist Darrell Bricker and journalist John Ibbitson lay out the opposite case: “The great defining event of the twenty-first century,” they say, “will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

. . .

So why exactly is everyone still worried about the opposite problem? The authors pin the blame on faulty assumptions by the population establishment, as represented by the U.N. Population Division. They don’t use the United States as an example, but I will: The U.N.’s most recent population forecasts suggest that the average U.S. total fertility rate from 2015 to 2020 should be 1.9 children per woman. In reality, CDC data shows U.S. fertility has averaged about 1.8 children per woman from 2015 to 2018. In 2019, early indications are that fertility will probably be nearer 1.7 children per woman.

. . .

As Messrs. Bricker and Ibbitson point out, U.N. forecasts are substantially out-of-step with existing data from many countries, including China, India and Brazil. As a result of these mistakes, the most widely used population benchmarks in the world are probably wrong. The future will have far fewer people than the U.N. suggests; perhaps billions fewer.

For the full review, see:

Lyman Stone. “BOOKSHELF; A Drop In Numbers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, February 7, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 6, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Empty Planet’ Review: A Drop in Numbers; Governments stoke fears about overpopulation, but the reality is that fertility rates are falling faster than most experts can readily explain.”)

The book under review, is:

Bricker, Darrell, and John Ibbitson. Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline. New York: Crown, 2019.

Efficiency Skills Are “Profoundly Different from” Innovation Skills

(p. A15) How do you deliver performance now while developing the products you’ll need in the future? The skills required to support established franchises, he argues, are profoundly different from those required to develop new ones. Management techniques such as Six Sigma, focused on efficiency and execution, tend to be bad for innovation, which is intrinsically messy and inefficient. Companies need a different approach to nurture the radically original projects, or “loonshots,” that are essential for long-term success.
. . .
In Mr. Bahcall’s view, the principal obstacle to innovation isn’t that there are too few creative ideas–indeed, there are plenty of artists, he says. The problem is that original proposals are both discomfiting and imperfect, hence reflexively rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves in the field.
. . .
Organizations can miss innovation opportunities by accepting the conventional wisdom, Mr. Bahcall observes, a problem he describes as “false fails.” Consider the Facebook predecessor Friendster. Mr. Bahcall explains that while most investors decided that the failure of Friendster was evidence that social-network efforts weren’t sticky enough to retain customers, Peter Thiel’s investment team wasn’t so sure. They dug into the data and were “stunned by how long users stayed with the site,” despite the irritating crashes that dogged the platform. Hence Mr. Thiel’s fund was an early investor in Facebook, confident that, with appropriate attention to the underlying technology, the platform could succeed. Eight years later, he sold most of his Facebook stake and pocketed roughly $1 billion.

For the full review, see:
David A. Shaywitz. “BOOKSHELF; In Praise of Wild Ideas; Innovative proposals can be both imperfect and discomfiting–and are often rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves viable.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 19, 2019): A15.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 18, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Loonshots’ Review: In Praise of Wild Ideas; Innovative proposals can be both imperfect and discomfiting–and are often rejected before they can develop enough to prove themselves viable.”)

The book under review, is:
Bahcall, Safi. Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Vernon Smith Offers More Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Adam Smith said that we seek security–more cautious than enterprising–because we suffer more in falling from a better to a worse situation than we ever enjoy in rising from a worse to better. Yet Smith provided opportunity for James Watt, an upstart 22 year-old mechanical genius that was denied him by the local corporations; thus launching a spectacular career of innovation. Others, from Tom Edison to Steve Jobs, followed. Diamond’s book is about our need to nourish and reduce the obstacles to that creative engine; to give freedom to the flower of innovation that we all be enriched.

Vernon Smith, Nobel Prize in Economics, received in 2002.

Vernon Smith’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Mycologists Cure Ailing Bees

(p. 4) Sometime in the 1980s, microscopic mites that had been afflicting honeybees outside the United States found their way to Florida and Wisconsin and began wreaking havoc across the country.
. . .
This mite, Varroa destructor, injects a slew of viruses into bees, including one that causes shriveled wings, a primary factor in widespread colony collapse. Worse, these parasites have rapidly developed resistance to synthetic pesticides.
Beekeepers in the United States lost an estimated 40 percent of their colonies between April 2017 and April 2018. But we might be able to save honeybees at least from this parasitic scourge without chemical intervention. I along with scientists at Washington State University and the United States Department of Agriculture recently published in Scientific Reports, a journal from the publishers of Nature, a study that could inspire a paradigm shift in protecting bees.
Our research shows that extracts from the living mycelial tissue of common wood conk mushrooms known to have antiviral properties significantly reduced these viruses in honeybee colonies, in one field test by 45,000 times, compared to control colonies.
. . .
Nature can repair itself with a little help from mycologists.

For the full commentary, see:
Paul Stamets. “Saving Bees With Mushrooms.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018): 4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 28, 2018, and has the title “Will Mushrooms Be Magic for Threatened Bees?”)

The commentary is related to the author’s book:
Stamets, Paul. Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2005.

Peter Boettke Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Prometheus didn’t ask permission for Zeus to bring fire to the humans. It cost him dearly, as Zeus punished him in a rather vicious manner. But human beings were made infinitely better off with fire. Art Diamond relays this story to us precisely because he wants us to understand the great benefits that entrepreneurial innovation deliver for mankind, and yet how the true innovator is often despised and disrespected by the prevailing orthodox establishment. If Prometheus had to get permission before giving fire to man, then man would have never gotten the benefits of fire. Similarly, if our entrepreneurial innovators had to get permission prior to introducing their innovation, we would still be walking around or perhaps at best riding on the backs of beasts but I doubt we would have seen the benefits of automobiles, let alone planes, and we would very well not have modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing, let alone air travel, cell phones, and the world wide web.

Peter Boettke, Professor of Economics & Philosophy, George Mason University; Director F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center.

Boettke’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Chinese “Entrepreneurs Were Like Famished Goats Set Free from a Pen and Allowed to Flourish”

(p. 11) YULIN, China — For months, Zhao Faqi was a folk hero for entrepreneurs in China — an investor who fought the government in court and online, and against the odds, seemed poised to win. He accused officials of stealing his rights to coal-rich land, and ignited a furor by accusing China’s most powerful judge of corruption.
Now, Mr. Zhao has dropped out of sight — and the authorities want to erase his story.
. . .
The state news media has painted him as a cunning schemer. A judge who supported his case was paraded on television. A crusading former talk show host who helped bring the case to light has fallen silent.
Mr. Zhao’s arc from self-declared victim to officially designated villain has been dramatic even for China, where the party controls the courts and businesspeople can abruptly fall from grace. Mr. Zhao’s descent — and possible disappearance — is a demonstration of the hazards that entrepreneurs face in taking on powerful Chinese officials.
“I’ve faced a lot of risks and pressure because of this lawsuit,” Mr. Zhao said in an interview in Beijing a few weeks before he disappeared. Chinese entrepreneurs, he said, yearned for the rule of law to replace arbitrary power. “You can’t say someone is protected one day, and take away protection the next day.”
Mr. Zhao drew support from liberal economists and lawyers who have been unsettled by Mr. Xi’s reverence for communist tradition and support for state-owned companies, which he has urged to grow “stronger, better and bigger.”
. . .
Mr. Zhao, 52, was among the entrepreneurs who plunged into business after Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, unleashed market overhauls. At the time, Mr. Zhao said, entrepreneurs were like famished goats set free from a pen and allowed to flourish.
“But we’re seeing this vitality steadily shrink,” he said.
. . .
. . . , Mr. Zhao’s phone has been turned off, and he appears to have gone into hiding or official custody.

For the full story, see:
Chris Buckley. “Chinese Entrepreneur Takes On the System, and Drops Out of Sight.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, March 10, 2019): 11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2019.)