Thursday, February 2, 2012

Decoding Zuckerberg

By now just about anyone following the story of Facebook preparing to go public knows that Mark Zuckerberg included a letter as part of the IPO filing that reads more like a personal philosophy of life than a mission statement.  I was therefore interested this morning to read how Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology Correspondent for BBC News, chose to undertake a micro-level text analysis of what he calls an “extraordinary document.”  I definitely agree with Cellan-Jones’ choice of words.  This is definitely a radical departure from what potential investors expect to read before a stock is floated.

Because Cellan-Jones has done such an admirable job, I want to come at this from the other end.  First of all I would have to say that someone (I have to wonder whether or not it was Zuckerberg) has done an excellent job of taking what is basically a defiant defense of a personal creed and rendering it in prose that coaxes the reader, rather than taking to him/her with a sledge hammer.  Whoever wrote this could have given some excellent lessons in style to Karl Marx.  Nevertheless, the top-level message is still a defiant one.  If I had to write a headline it might go something like:

Zuckerberg to investors, do it my way or go away!

Regardless of whether or not I accept “Mark’s way,” however, I think he may have overlooked one particular ugly reality about why Wall Street is so different from Main Street.  This amounts to a variation on the punch line of The American Ruling Class, both Lewis Lapham’s book and John Kirby’s documentary:

When we shift Lapham’s perspective on power from political office to the broader question of who calls the shots for what, it is important to recognize that, unless Zuckerberg is extremely vigilant in making sure that he always holds a controlling percentage of Facebook stock (far from an easy matter), he may unhappily discover that, rather than walk away, those who wish to undermine his “way” may well find ways to buy that controlling interest.  If Zuckerberg does not recognize this possibility, then he may well find himself caught up in what I like to call a “comedy of distress,” if not on the scale of Alexander Pushkin’s A Dramatic Tale, The Comedy of the Distress of the Muscovite State, of Tsar Boris, and of Grishka Otrepyev, then perhaps long the lines of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.

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