another publication by IMAGE asia

Blowing Market Bubbles

Avoiding ‘moral disengagement’ and the global/Phuket fraudsters

What do Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), Mark Zuckerberg (Meta), Jeffrey Epstein (J Epstein & Company), Sam Bankman-Fried (FTX) and investors and market commentators forming queues to blow smoke of admiration or bags of money or debt their way, have in common?

‘Moral disengagement’. Most people suffer from this, including myself, in varying degrees. However, making yourself more self-aware, mentally marking clear events of moral disengagement, and learning from the past are parts of our evolutionary tools that we should take some time to sharpen. Moral disengagement is when you know something is wrong or immoral, but you create a mental barrier between your decision to commit a moral wrong and the consequences.

On a macro-level, awareness of this this helps us navigate global waters. In Thailand – and for this article, in Phuket – this will help us navigate the parasitical infested waters of business.

Any decent student, or well-informed ‘University of Life’ student, will be aware of the history of bubbles from the collapse of the South Sea Company formed in 1711 in London, formed with the purpose of supplying slaves to Spanish America. Many speculators bet on overinflated stock prices linked to the ill-fated prediction of enormous profits from slave trading. If this sounds like a familiar story, then the reverberations of market folly since then have continued to resonate in your mind because the themes continue to repeat themselves.

Elizabeth Holmes, an aesthetically pleasing-to-the-eye 38-year-old fraud convict was touted as the gender diverse ‘female founder’ entrepreneur ‘disrupting’ the healthcare market with blood test kits which, in fact, were the source of fraudulent information on their scope and backing. Holmes’ successes were framed around her abilities to connect and secure backing from so-called ‘influential people’ – or perhaps if Darwin had named said group, “Lemmings in expensive clothes flying First Class or by private jet”.

 

Mark Zuckerberg really struck gold when he and his roommates created a college campus selection website which attracted users globally – the rest is reasonably well known history. More recently, however, Zuckerberg took ‘personal responsibility’ for laying off approximately 11,000 jobs from Meta, at a time when Zuckerberg has doggedly pursued the ‘Metaverse’ with losses of approximately 13.7 billion USD. I don’t know about each of my reader’s financial situations, but I can say mine is modest. If I lose 100 baht I feel some pain, especially if it is mine but also if it were someone else’s. Apparently when the numbers get bigger, the moral disengagement kicks in more strongly.

Like Holmes, Zuckerberg is also touted as hugely ‘influential’ – tenth on the Forbes List ‘Most Powerful People’ list. Losing 70% of the value of a business, being involved in a multitude of bad decisions from trying to evict Hawaiians from their land holdings through to massive data breaches are all part and parcel of the daily lives of the ‘untouchables’.

Jeffrey Epstein, debonaire, influential, an investment banker not possessing the credentials but with the right ‘air about him’, and proven pedophile, amassed many followers in the irrational markets so many are willing to portray as “overall good with some exceptions which even out over time”. I think markets could raise their game and not support the likes of Epstein. What do you think? All part of the cut and thrust of business? Until it is your son or daughter caught up in the sex-ring?

And for the finale, to the most current, we have Sam Bankman-Fried or ‘SBF’, once worth 26 billion USD and recently of ‘no material wealth’. He garnered influence by using his market based over-inflated values to fund political parties with donations and lobbying Congress for de-regulation of a market which clearly needs more, not less, constraints. SBF, through FTX, managed to lose nine billion USD in liabilities of investor monies only possessing one billion USD of ‘easily sellable assets’.

And yet, the ordinary man or woman ‘on the street’, as opposed to living in a Bahamian penthouse, will struggle to obtain a 90% to 100% mortgage on their primary home. SBF described himself as “a workaholic with strict self-discipline” spending most nights in the office, never drinking [alcohol I presume] nor going on vacation. Well, I believe he should have tried a steak (or a plant-based substitute steak) on a Friday night and quaffed some grape juice whilst thinking about maybe being less “strict and self-disciplined” and more fiscally responsible without potentially causing global economic catastrophes.

But hey ho, I don’t rub shoulders with the same ‘influential lemmings [ahem, ‘people’]’.

So, back to Phuket and Thailand. Currently, bubbles are blowing in the wind and we must take care not to pollute a market which must be nurtured back to a long-term state of sustainable growth.

How do we do that and how do we ‘clean the plastic bubble bottles’ from the ‘beaches’ of our irrational investment markets wearing our trendy ‘KEEP OUR INVESTMENT BEACHES CLEAN’ black t-shirts

Well, with all the talk of ‘rapidly rising land prices’, oversubscribed international schools who need to expand their campuses to accommodate spiking demands, the welcome rise in tourists/visitors, hotel bookings and use and income for all supporting industry businesses, some caution and recognition of recent and aged history is recommended.

Beware of Esptein-esque real estate agents hanging out at beach clubs with a seemingly never-ending supply of Champagne, relying on their credit card and ‘tick’ accounts, telling you about that perfect 5-bedroom 5-bathroom villa is available “freehold for foreigners”. Beware of the trendy SBF-like vegan sustainable wellness guru snapping back shots of almond milk (I actually like almond milk) telling you that you can invest in 200 square metres of wheatgrass plantations and that you “don’t need lawyers because you can save the expense and buy 400 square metres instead” all purchasable via “safe smart contracts”.

Beware the seemingly refined Holmes-like floating light cotton dress socialites who portray ‘selectiveness’ and ‘let you’ enter their circle of dress-up, mask-wearing, parties infesting social media with fake smiles and pouting as a pre-cursor to tapping you up for a ’10% share guaranteed 15% return on investment’ for a syndicate share in their community based business.

When you meet someone in Phuket, try not to judge them by the stereo-typical ‘they seem nice’  or ‘they are dressed nicely’ criteria. Within the shade of the defunct tin-mine mounds, next to the barnacle encrusted hulls of boats on hardstands wearing beards and with salt matted hair, singlet flip-flop wearing crusties, introverts hanging around the quiet areas and hidden gem coffee shops, shrewdies at the understated natural weekend getaways of Phang Nga and Krabi, local established families sipping tea and eating dim sum in the preserved architecture shophouses of Phuket, are perhaps some of the most successful and smart non-trumpet blowing non-fraudster trustworthy humans you will ever meet. Look for them yourself, don’t follow the madding crowds.

 Contact info:

Hughes Krupica Consulting

PHUKET (HEAD OFFICE)
Hughes Krupica Consulting Co. Ltd
23/123-5 Moo 2 Kohkaew Plaza
The Phuket Boat Lagoon
T. Kohkaew Amphoe Muang
Phuket 83000 Thailand
Tel: (0) 76 608 468

BANGKOK (SERVICED OFFICE)
Hughes Krupica Consulting (Bangkok) Co. Ltd
29/41 Soi Ladprao 22
Ladprao Road
Chankasem, Chatuchak
Bangkok 10900 Thailand
Tel: (0) 20 771 518

[email protected]
www.hugheskrupica.com

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