George Gilder, deconstructed


George Gilder, preacher man to the con-men and the very face of the telecom bubble is making news once again. The New York Times has a rather lengthy article on the man, and his life after the crash. While the article is good, it pales in comparison with Gary Rivlin’s piece, The Madness of King George, that was published in Wired Magazine.

But still there are a couple of things in the Times article which are new about the most colorful and enigmatic of all Broadbandits.

bq. George Gilder once had 110,000 subscribers to his technology-oriented newsletters. Now, after the bubble, he has 8,500. When his subscribers fled so suddenly, Mr. Gilder’s tax bill skyrocketed. As long as the number of subscriptions is rising, taxable income is nullified by new subscriptions. But when subscribers are lost, each expired subscription means the income has been earned and taxes must be paid.

However that is not the true measure of the man’s fall from grace. He perhaps more than anyone else involved with the telecom bubble has had to take such a huge personal hit.

I find it ironic that not only optical congregation lost its shirt, but so did his real congregation.

bq. His church, the Christian evangelical congregation he has belonged to since his childhood and to which he had donated a generous amount of Global Crossing and Avanex stock, took a big hit.

However it seems he, his followers and others have not learned from the debacle and are seriously plowing money in the telecom sector, which by all estimates is at least three years from recovery, if that.

bq. Today, as the telecom sectors rebounds, Mr. Gilder appears to be re-emerging as an influential thinker who can once again move markets. Over the last 52 weeks, the Gilder Technology Index has risen 221 percent, while the Nasdaq was up 71 percent and the S&P was up 29 percent. A little bit of excitement is beginning to creep back into the Telecosm Lounge.

It seems this dead cat bounce can save Gilder from personal disaster – and that may not be such a bad thing. He is good man, slightly misguided. Of all the people I met/interviewed for Broadbandits,he and Sycamore’s Desh Deshpande were the most honest and forthright about the bubble and everything around it.

bq. Mr. Gilder is also optimistic about his personal situation. Most of the stocks he now holds are on the rise. He is still waiting for the I.R.S. to make a final determination on the taxes he owes from the newsletter debacle. But he is hopeful that he will not lose his home, as long as he is able to continue making $10,000 monthly payments to his former partner for the next 17 years.

While not trying to downplay his role in the whole Bubble, I still like George. He has brilliant ideas, and zeal of a preacher man. He makes you think different. But George, whatever you do, stay away from stocks please. That is beneath you – you chronicle history before it is made, and that is a noble task.

I am looking forward to reading Gilder’s forthcoming books. They will be fun and provocative.

bq. The book closest to completion and scheduled for publication next year is titled “The Cat and the Camera.” It is the story of the invention of a radical new camera from a university effort to create a silicon retina. The second, “Crossroads,” a collaboration with Bret Swanson, who is executive editor of the Gilder newsletter, is a treatise on the challenge of capitalist China. A third, titled “Analogy,” is what Mr. Gilder describes as a defense of the “cumulative authority of science” as told through a relationship between the microelectronics pioneer Carver Mead and the physicist Richard Feynman.

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