The last public company

After all those years, it happened. An army of analysts, at least half of the M&A lawyers in the market, probably 10% of the lobbyists. The last two public companies are now one.

What we used to call the stock market isn’t about stocks any more. It hasn’t been for 50 years. Once the number of publicly traded companies dropped into the 100s, there wasn’t much point any more. Who trades in a market with 100 companies?

There were once tens of thousands of publicly traded companies on the market. I can’t imagine that, like stories of extinct animals. It makes sense, but it’s impossible to really understand. The reality today is so different.

Public markets are complete abstractions of value now. All kinds of digital assets, hedges, floats and instruments are bundled, unbundled, tweaked and packaged in millions of different ways.

Everything a company “is” can be a traded asset.

Scams float among legitimate assets. Different services offer insurance and verification (at a price). Brokers take on different mixes and try to convince their customers that they have a better idea of what is legitimate and what is junk. No matter how carefully you play the markets, the assumption is at least 20% of what you buy or sell is vapor.

The poor gamble on these markets however they can. Yet it serves to lock them further into poverty. Gamble a dollar and win 100. Yet the rich can safely play a few trillion and achieve steady growth. Safe haven assets rarely crash.

Or the rich simply make markets. Put enough money behind any scam and it starts to look legitimate. The best vids, the best marketing flash, paid media placement makes any market. And the rich always pass the automated “AI” fraud checks.

When the announcement came, the board celebrated. The last public board. All of them, already the wealthiest, will become slightly more so and have the prestige of presiding over the last remaining publicly listed company. I wonder if someone will finally shutdown the stock market. Not much point when it’s just one public company.

The company itself isn’t really what you would think of as a company. More like a massive holding group of thousands of different companies that decided to join up for their own self interest and to pad the pockets of shareholders. All making self-interested decisions in isolation, yet leading them all to the same place.

The old mantra of “create shareholder value” never seems to have worked out to include society, employee or customer value. Maybe that’s why so many companies went into alternative markets. If your company value is focused on your employees, listing on the stock market was the worst possible idea.

At first it was a slow trickle of companies selling different kinds of asset classes, abstractions of ownership, value and fundraising. Over time, it became the default choice. The prestige of listing on the “stock market” came to represent outdated preconceptions.

For hundreds of years companies didn’t have other choices. With the Internet and different types of encryption, markets in all kinds of things appeared. Digital assets, ownership rights, voting rights, fractional oversight, hedges on future returns, over time pretty much anything that a company could do, represent or forecast was turned into some kind of traded asset.

Encrypted assets are ubiquitous. And on the internet anything is for sale.

Eventually the regulators simply stepped back. All markets and assets had to fulfill certain verification, liability and validation requirements. Almost as soon as the regulatory ink was dry there were at least ten companies offering fully automated, fully compliant validation services.

No one could control markets which can be created on anyone’s computer, routed through multiple masks and sold direct to anyone who is willing to buy.

The new market created opportunities for the rich who could afford to make markets. The massive diversity in available assets created opportunities for all kinds of supporting industries. Some people say the biggest winners were organised crime and fraudsters.

The claimed egalitarian society that decentralized markets would create never materialized. After the blockchain coins were largely replaced by more flexible encryption purpose built for each asset class, people stopped talking about that idealist future.

Decentralized, largely unregulated markets achieved what those in power always wanted. A near perfect way to secure, create and maintain their wealth without external interference or accountability.

For the rest of us, we wake up every morning asking ourselves “I wonder what I should trade today?”