Friday, May 25, 2012

Private or Public?

The news of the last week has been about the President's decision to focus on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. The characterization is that the operation was a rape/pillage/plunder shop which bought up distressed companies, displaced thousands of workers, destroyed what was left and somehow made immense profits from the activity. Disgruntled former workers have been dredged up to look pathetic and rail against evil capitalists.

We've already discussed the economics of the situation. Sometimes you simply can't find a market for buggy whips any more and have to let those specialists go. But  private equity operations don't make big bucks by operating corporate estate sales. They succeed by being successful in reshaping a company and making it profitable again.

To be fair that is also what occurs with corporate bankruptcies quite often. The company has lost focus, the debt has piled up and a time-out to reshape the operation results in an improved and more efficient business model. So far a case can be made that is what is shaking out in the Government Motors dealing. Not all of the story has been written at this point, but GM may survive. Chrysler remains to be seen.

The Washington Post takes the time to aim the mirror back at the administration on the question of equity investments. If it is fair to look with skepticism at Bain Capital and lay job losses at Romney's doorstep, then what about the prominent government involvement with public funds over the last three and a half years?

It would not be fair to resurrect the Solyndra, Volt and Fisker stories here. We all know them already. But we shouldn't be surprised to find a few more skeletons in the Messiah's financial closet:

Public Equity Bamster Busts

When a private equity operation succeeds or fails it is really the business of the investors. When you are given control of the nation's treasury then success or failure is a valid measurement of your stewardship. Piling up lists of bad investments in which public dollars are squandered to allow political cronies to grab the cash and run makes worthy news in a political season.

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