Technically the best business idea ever is the gift card. You take advantage of (or should I say, “leverage”) social stigma to get people to give you money. You don’t even have to deliver any products, you just get money. Maybe you will have to give up some inventory later; maybe the gift card just gets lost. Often you make even more money, if you price your cards at $20 and your merchandise at $22.99. (“You” here must generally be an incumbent brand.)

But, like, where’s the beef? That invention’s not really making the world a better or more interesting place — it’s just tweaking the vector field so that money flows toward you.

It might even make the world a worse place: think of those soul-less malls, filled with incumbent retail outlets offering pappy crap — but you’ve gotta get something and you don’t really know the receiver that well, and it’s going to be awkward if you have nothing…. Geez. Just make presents for the people you love and get everybody else chocolate or champagne.

NYT or Geico?

I have a question for every aspiring capitalist. Would you rather own a share of GEICO or the New York Times? I would rather own the Times. It doesn’t make money but it makes a difference.

I’m not saying that to put up the literary word. I would also love a share of Kentucky Fried Chicken. That sh*t is delicious. My point is that if I had tons of money, I would want to invest it in a business with a cool product. In fact, that would be probably the most fulfilling way to spend tens of millions of dollars. (Maybe this is the reason people invest in web start-ups.)

By contrast, insurance companies are practically demonic. They fight their customers. They’re propped up by statute (yes, who would buy insurance if it wasn’t required by law?). Then they try to get out of . And they suck the life out of their salespeople and claims adjusters — contrast that to journalists, who go into journalism on purpose.

Yeah, a well-run insurance company ought to make money, and serve an economic purpose to boot. A greedily run company ought to make money faster than they stuff it into their pockets. But — do you really want all that tar on your soul?

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