The rate of technological and social change in the modern world is breathtaking, and this leads, of course, to equally rapid changes in industry and commerce. For the boldest, most ingenious, and best provisioned entrepreneurs, these changes have created unprecedented opportunities, both to grow rich and to reshape the world. The rise of new industries is sudden and meteoric, but for every industry that rises, another falls. As investors, we prefer to focus on rising industries, for obvious reasons, but it is important to keep in mind that when an industry falls, there is a very real price to be paid in damage to the economy, damage to society, and deep, lasting pain for those who are crushed beneath the massive, indifferent wheels of progress.
Consider how many “rock solid” industries have vanished in the last 25 years. One collapse is followed so quickly by another that we have little time to register each one, much less ponder its implications. The shopping mall, the video store, newspaper publishing, CD and DVD manufacture… and the emerging trend, retail. At first, it seemed like retail problems were the domain of particular products, such as clothing and computers, but by the end of 2016, the hammer was falling on department stores and big box chains as well.