By now, you've probably seen a zillion pieces about the leading businesspeople, the biggest deals and the biggest business stories of the 20th century. But hey, writing about the great business stories of the 20th century isn't much of a challenge. Anyone can read old stories and write what we news-magazine types call a "clip job."
The real challenge is to anticipate the major business stories of the 21st century before we enter it. So here goes. Before you dispatch angry letters or e-mails, please note that my tongue is tucked firmly in my cheek. As securities lawyers would say if they had a sense of humor, this article contains certain forward-looking information that may not be reliable.
Buffett Hath a Way
Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of the 20th century (and a director of The Washington Post Co.), announces that he has figured out a way to take his Berkshire Hathaway stock with him when he shuffles off this mortal coil and that he will continue to make investment decisions from the other side. The announcement by Buffett, who was born in 1930, electrifies the market, setting off a boom in Berkshire's stock that makes it the first New York Stock Exchange issue to have a six-digit share price. As the 21st century ends, Berkshire's stock market value, continuing its 30 percent compounded annual growth rate since Buffett took control of the company in 1969, exceeds the gross domestic product of the United States.
Citigroup Buys Japan
Japan's lagging economy, combined with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act restricting the activities of U.S. financial companies, spurs Citigroup to mount a successful takeover of Japan. "Japan's excessive savings rate, combined with our customers' excessive borrowing rate, form a perfectly balanced entity," Citi says. Three years after the acquisition, loan problems put Citi at the brink of collapse. But U.S. regulators orchestrate a bailout, because Citi is too big to fail, especially with Japan on its back. Citi's chairman gets a $10 billion bonus for leading the turnaround.
Airline Squeeze Play
American Airlines, the industry's marketing leader, decides that it's no longer feasible to continue squeezing seats closer and closer together. So it eliminates seats entirely and sets up a new class, "cattle car," that forces fliers to remain on their feet for the entire flight. "No problem," a company spokesman says. "American's fliers are all stand-up guys."
Greenspan Reigns Eternal
Congress, attempting to eliminate the periodic uncertainty caused every four years by the end of Alan Greenspan's term as Federal Reserve Board chairman, declares him chairman for life. Markets celebrate the news by driving down interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds to record lows.
Gates Vows Poverty
In a stunning reversal, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announces, on the eve of Microsoft's appeal of the antitrust ruling breaking up the company, that he has had an epiphany. Gates donates all his Microsoft stock to charity, takes a vow of poverty, resigns from the company's employ and begs forgiveness of all the competitors that Microsoft has trashed. He begins his penance by promising to fix problems with Windows 2023 so that users don't need a doctorate in computer science to make it work properly. Federal government drops antitrust case. Clearly a coincidence.
Tree Grows to the Sky
Disproving the adage that no tree grows to the sky, a 12-mile-high gene-spliced redwood in northern California penetrates the troposphere and reaches the stratosphere. Hundreds of business writers are trampled to death in the stampede to search for new cliches to pooh-pooh the stock market boom, in its 92nd year.
Social Security Invests in Stocks
After decades of debate, the federal government decides to invest the entire Social Security "trust fund" in stocks. "Stocks have risen for more than 90 years--what's the risk?" a government spokesman says. Market peaks two days after the investment switch is completed; stocks fall 50 percent and show no sign of recovery.
Y3K Problem Looms
Experts predict that faulty programming means computers won't be able to deal with the advent of the year 3000 and that the world as we know it will come to an end.
Allan Sloan is Newsweek's Wall Street editor. His e-mail address is email@example.com.