(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
“We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true. But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube. You eat like the tube. You raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness — you maniacs! In God’s name you people are the real thing, WE are the illusion.”
– Howard Beale from the movie Network
When the movie Network was released 35 years ago it was considered a satire. No one at the time could imagine how far the standards of television, and society in general, would decay.
Today it is considered prophesy.
While the character Howard Beale touched on the merging of fiction and reality, I doubt that creators of the movie could have dreamed where it would lead us today.
Consider if you will Exhibit A:
The politically-connected Carlyle Group lost $105 million recently investing in a company called China Forestry.
China Forestry had a business model which consisted of fast-growth forestry to extract greenhouse gas credits – a business model that barely made sense to some analyst guys that looked at it. However it was a business model that made sense if the company had enough Guanxi – enough connections to extract a really bad (ie nonsensical) deal from the Chinese government.
There’s already a few obvious problems with this business model. For starters, the idea of greenhouse gas credits is just that – an idea. Nothing more. Trading of shares of the company have been suspended for “accounting irregularities”. That should bad enough, but it doesn’t end there.
Analyst gossip: the bulk of the forests do not exist.
So what are we talking about here?
We are talking about is a forestry company without forests, who never intended to log the fictional forests anyway because they were going to trade them for carbon tax credits that also don’t exist.
It seems that the only thing that isn’t fiction about this whole affair is the money that the Carlyle Group lost.
And it doesn’t end there.
I am short China Agritech – a company listed on the NASDAQ with operations in China. At least the operations are meant to be in China but after considerable looking (only part of which has been detailed on this blog) we cannot find any convincing evidence that the bulk of the operations exist. In this case Carlyle is the biggest investor and has exercised its right to appoint a board member.
Fictional forestry companies. Fictional agriculture companies. Real money. Real BIG money.
Now you might be tempted to laugh at the Carlyle Group’s misfortune, but before you do consider Exhibit B: Farmville.
Second Life is one of several massively multiplayer online role-playing games that are, literally, their own worlds. Julian Dibbell, author of “Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot,” estimates the market for virtual items across games such as Second Life and Ultima Online has hit the $1 billion mark.
$1 Billion is an interesting figure, because it equals the amount of money that the Carlyle Group invested in fictional resources companies in China, and it also equals the selling price of the world’s biggest farm.
People in Second Life and Zygna pay real money for trees, streams, and land that don’t exist. In fact, there is so much money chasing imaginary property that people have become full-time virtual real estate speculators. Even real-estate giant Coldwell Banker has gotten into the act.
In March, the company put up for sale more than 500 homes in Second Life, at about $20 each including the land — and they’ll toss in home furnishings as a closing gift. “My understanding — and it’s just my understanding — is the average land baron would sell the average plot of land for $60 U.S.,” says Charlie Young, senior vice president for marketing.
Coldwell Banker also opened a virtual real-estate office that’s staffed with a few agents.
Picture, if you will, that you are a space alien and you just landed on Earth. Let’s make it the United States, just to keep things simple.
You looked around and see:
* That the housing market is continuing to collapse, and real people are losing their homes in near record numbers…
but the real estate market in the virtual world is going gangbusters. Hundreds of millions of real dollars are being paid for houses that don’t exist.
In a planet where countless are homeless, China built whole towns made for hundreds of thousands of people that sit empty.
* That 900 million people on this planet are in danger of starving right now, that 44 million people in America depend on food stamps to eat, that sky-high food prices are driving the revolutions and violence in the Arab world, and that we can except more food riots in Africa, Asia, and Latin America…
but hundreds of millions of real dollars are being used to “farm” virtual plots in cyberspace, and that billions more are being invested in agriculture companies that are nearly as fictional. China is mass producing fake rice made out of plastic and expect the poor to eat it (a la Milo Minderbinder). All the while the largest farm in the world struggles for investors.
It’s as if the case of the South Korean couple who raised a virtual child while letting their own child starve is now being used as the global model to be followed.
If you were that space alien wouldn’t you think that this planet was an insane asylum? If you were Howard Beale wouldn’t you think that your nightmare had come to pass?