But it's true!
See #OWS cheerleader and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, at the Nation, "Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age":
The election of 2012 raises two perplexing questions. The first is how the GOP could put up someone for president who so brazenly epitomizes the excesses of casino capitalism that have nearly destroyed the economy and overwhelmed our democracy. The second is why the Democrats have failed to point this out.I expect we'll be hearing a lot more of this "Gilded Age" bullshit.
he White House has criticized Mitt Romney for his years at the helm of Bain Capital, pointing to a deal that led to the bankruptcy of GS Technologies, a Bain investment in Kansas City that went belly up in 2001 at the cost of 750 jobs. But the White House hasn’t connected Romney’s Bain to the larger scourge of casino capitalism. Not surprisingly, its criticism has quickly degenerated into a “he said, she said” feud over what proportion of the companies that Bain bought and loaded up with debt subsequently went broke (it’s about 20 percent), and how many people lost their jobs relative to how many jobs were added because of Bain’s financial maneuvers (that depends on when you start and stop the clock). And it has invited a Republican countercharge that the administration gambled away taxpayer money on its own bad bet, the Solyndra solar panel company.
But the real issue here isn’t Bain’s betting record. It’s that Romney’s Bain is part of the same system as Jamie Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase, Jon Corzine’s MF Global and Lloyd Blankfein’s Goldman Sachs—a system that has turned much of the economy into a betting parlor that nearly imploded in 2008, destroying millions of jobs and devastating household incomes. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us. The system is largely responsible for the greatest concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together. And these multimillionaires and billionaires are now actively buying the 2012 election—and with it, American democracy.
The biggest players in this system have, like Romney, made their profits placing big bets with other people’s money. If the bets go well, the players make out like bandits. If they go badly, the burden lands on average workers and taxpayers. The 750 peo- ple at GS Technologies who lost their jobs thanks to a bad deal engineered by Romney’s Bain were a small foreshadowing of the 15 million who lost jobs after the cumulative dealmaking of the entire financial sector pushed the whole economy off a cliff. And relative to the cost to taxpayers of bailing out Wall Street, Solyndra is a rounding error.
Connect the dots of casino capitalism, and you get Mitt Romney. The fortunes raked in by financial dealmakers depend on special goodies baked into the tax code such as “carried interest,” which allows Romney and other partners in private-equity firms (as well as in many venture-capital and hedge funds) to treat their incomes as capital gains taxed at a maximum of 15 percent. This is how Romney managed to pay an average of 14 percent on more than $42 million of combined income in 2010 and 2011. But the carried-interest loophole makes no economic sense. Conservatives try to justify the tax code’s generous preference for capital gains as a reward to risk-takers—but Romney and other private-equity partners risk little, if any, of their personal wealth. They mostly bet with other investors’ money, including the pension savings of average working people.
Another goodie allows private-equity partners to sock away almost any amount of their earnings into a tax-deferred IRA, while the rest of us are limited to a few thousand dollars a year. The partners can merely low-ball the value of whatever portion of their investment partnership they put away—even valuing it at zero—because the tax code considers a partnership interest to have value only in the future. This explains how Romney’s IRA is worth as much as $101 million. The tax code further subsidizes private equity and much of the rest of the financial sector by making interest on debt tax-deductible, while taxing profits and dividends. This creates huge incentives for financiers to find ways of substituting debt for equity and is a major reason America’s biggest banks have leveraged America to the hilt. It’s also why Romney’s Bain and other private-equity partnerships have done the same to the companies they buy.
These maneuvers shift all the economic risk to debtors, who sometimes can’t repay what they owe. That’s rarely a problem for the financiers who engineer the deals; they’re sufficiently diversified to withstand some losses, or they’ve already taken their profits and moved on. But piles of debt play havoc with the lives of real people in the real economy when the companies they work for can’t meet their payments, or the banks they rely on stop lending money, or the contractors they depend on go broke—often with the result that they can’t meet their own debt payments and lose their homes, cars and savings.
It took more than a decade for America to recover from the Great Crash of 1929 after the financial sector had gorged itself on debt, and it’s taking years to recover from the more limited but still terrible crash of 2008. The same kinds of convulsions have occurred on a smaller scale at a host of companies since the go-go years of the 1980s, when private-equity firms like Bain began doing leveraged buyouts—taking over a target company, loading it up with debt, using the tax deduction that comes with the debt to boost the target company’s profits, cutting payrolls and then reselling the company at a higher price.
Sometimes these maneuvers work, sometimes they end in disaster; but they always generate giant rewards for the dealmakers while shifting the risk to workers and taxpayers. In 1988 drugstore chain Revco went under when it couldn’t meet its debt payments on a $1.6 billion leveraged buyout engineered by Salomon Brothers. In 1989 the private-equity firm of Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts completed the notorious and ultimately disastrous buyout of RJR Nabisco for $31 billion, much of it in high-yield (“junk”) bonds. In 1993 Bain Capital became a majority shareholder in GS Technologies and loaded it with debt. In 2001 it went down when it couldn’t meet payments on that debt load. But even as these firms sank, Bain and the other dealmakers continued to collect lucrative fees—transaction fees, advisory fees, management fees—sucking the companies dry until the bitter end. According to a review by the New York Times of firms that went bankrupt on Romney’s watch, Bain structured the deals so that its executives would always win, even if employees, creditors and Bain’s own investors lost out. That’s been Big Finance’s MO.
By the time Romney co-founded Bain Capital in 1984, financial wheeling and dealing was the most lucrative part of the economy, sucking into its Gordon Gekko–like maw the brightest and most ambitious MBAs, who wanted nothing more than to make huge amounts of money as quickly as possible. Between the mid-1980s and 2007, financial-sector earnings made up two-thirds of all the growth in incomes. At the same time, wages for most Americans stagnated as employers, under mounting pressure from Wall Street and private-equity firms like Bain, slashed payrolls and shipped jobs overseas.
The 2008 crash only briefly interrupted the bonanza. Last year, according to a recent Bloomberg Markets analysis, America’s top fifty financial CEOs got a 20.4 percent pay hike, even as the wages of most Americans continued to drop. Topping the Bloomberg list were two of the same private-equity barons who did the RJR Nabisco deal a quarter-century ago—Henry Kravis and George Roberts, who took home $30 million each. According to the 2011 tax records he released, Romney was not far behind.
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We’ve entered a new Gilded Age, of which Mitt Romney is the perfect reflection...