As we turn the pages of the daily Times we see so many examples of how pillage is just business.
Hedge funds, private equity firms, takeovers, mergers — any one of them could share a page in history with the ravages of the Vikings, Huns or Mongol raiders of yore. The ugly truth is that you see it more in the coverage of government these days than you do on the police log or the business pages.
It’s just business. How many times have I heard that come out of the mouths of someone in a $2,000 suit while justifying the ruination of lives?
Want to make a killing in the market? Just appoint a former lobbyist or executive for some special interest as acting head of a government agency that oversees and protects the American public from the rape of natural resources or unfair trade or safety in health and medical practices. And make it “acting” because they can act with impunity for a couple of years without having to pass Congressional approval for permanent head of an agency.
It’s just business.
The first time it slapped me in the face was I shared an elevator in Baltimore with two young-turks who were gloating about scoring a deal to buy a warehouse full of sugar during one of the nation’s worst shortages of a critical element in baby formula.
They virtually giggled as they congratulated themselves on how they were going to make a killing by sitting on it to drive up the prices.
How many they killed no one can say, but hey, it’s just business.
In just one issue of the Times last week we had stories about a woman whose life was ruined because Wells Fargo bankers made a mistake that led to the foreclosure of the mortgage on her house. They took the house and with it her life’s savings. It was years ago. She has not recovered, and no one had apologized or corrected the error. It was just business.
On another page was a story about the long slow death of a mid-Western chain of stores — Marsh Supermarkets. After it fell on tough times, it was taken over by a private equity firm, which managed its assets until the assets were gone.
Just business. As explained by an economist, Eileen Applebaum of the Center for Economics and Policy Research, “These private equity firms buy a company, plunder it of any assets, and then send it into bankruptcy without paying employees.” Pensions earned by workers loyal for decades dry up and often eventually go away entirely. Not only do employees who hang on to the end lose salaries and pensions they are owed, but creditors get caught holding the bag while the “equity firm” principles congratulate themselves on another successful business transaction.
“To anybody but a bankruptcy court, this looks like a swindle,” added Applebaum.
It probably looks just like business as usual to the business executive holding forth in the office traditionally reserved for the president of the United States. Donald J. Trump has appointed a revolving door full of businessmen who have exhibited the ethics of pirates.
Like their boss, most have a history of achievement reliant on the use of other people’s money or assets, with a minimum risk to themselves as long as no one blows the whistle on them.
Virtually all have left or are leaving, some to escape criminal charges that might follow inquiries, or the ethics inquiries brought up in the press or in congressional committees, and others, perhaps, to be able to look at themselves in the mirror every morning.
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But that’s business.