Coop's Corner: Coop's dirty little secret

Coop's dirty little secret

Another day, another smarty-pants Internet centimillionaire brought low.

Or so it seems.

Actually, this can't happen fast enough to suit my taste. I know -- hardly the politic thing to say in public. But I bet it's what most of you believe in private.

The last time Fall Internet World rolled around, the media was flush with effulgent paeans to the wisdom of sundry cyber rich guys (and gals). Thanks to a bull market in tech stocks, these folks have had quite a ride, with the newly-minted cyber wealthy elevated to the pantheon of deep thinkers.

The logic here was that the more stock-option wealth you had, the smarter you obviously were. And so it was that a constellation of "visionaries" such as Candice Carpenter of iVillage Inc. and Craig Winn of Value America Inc., made the rounds, invited by prestigious magazines and public forums -- even government forums -- to dispense their insights.

For the record, Value America has since disappeared from the scene while iVillage's share price is down more than 90 percent from its 52-week high. I won't even bring up the conspicuous consumption of proto-yuppies such as Mark Cuban, who spent some $40 million to buy a Gulfstream V and another $280 million to buy a controlling stake in the Dallas Mavericks.

Maybe I've just become used to living in the Bay Area, where you get used to the demarcation between the haves and the have-nots. Jags and Benzes clog the roads and some people regularly pay outlandish prices for cottages they later retrofit to build mini-castles. It's just a fact of life around here.

I'm the first to admit that envy is as American as apple pie. But there's more going on here than simply sour grapes. When I can break away from yuppie-infested parts of San Francisco to chow down with regular types, the table talk reveals deep suspicion about what's happening.

The mindless adulation of the business press has folks wondering whether we're in the midst of a big con game. To be sure, shyster venture capitalists and investment bankers have done one heck of a job pedaling their snake oil. CEOs whose companies don't have a prayer of making a red cent wind up listed in the annual rankings of the world's richest people as they globetrot to dispense their wisdom to the rest of us.

My personal favorite is David Wetherell, who runs CMGI Inc. I wish Wetherell all the best, but he still hasn't proved that CMGI will ever turn a profit. Yet there he was a couple of weeks ago in Prague, delivering a presentation to a high-powered conclave of CEOs at the ETRE conference.

Just what his great accomplishment is escapes me. Perhaps it's his discovery of a sure-fire way to inflate his stock on the strength of repeated quarterly losses, a considerable feat that merits a special chapter all by itself. And he'll be working his shtick later this week when he delivers his keynote at Internet World.

But I'd be just as happy if Wetherell and other leaders of "the new economy" took a time out. If you got it, flaunt it -- or whatever. Just shut your mouth and don't make out as if you were the second coming of Isaiah Berlin.


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