Tuesday, November 21, 2006

GOPR, Kinsley, and the Capitalist Hidden Toy Game

I invented GOPR (good old populist rage) yesterday, and revisit it today, inspired by Michael Kinsley's tirade today in the Post against capitalism. Kinsley takes off from the recent craze for leveraged buyouts to argue the capital markets don't work--witness the fact that companies have 3 different prices/values--one today's value as expressed in stock price; one the (slightly higher) price that people are willing to pay to take the company private through a buyout; and the final the much higher price asked when the company returns to public markets. It's good, Kinsley is always good, and seems convincing.

But I'm not convinced.

What Kinsley misses is the capitalist hidden toy game. For example, back in time (maybe late 60's) the craze was for conglomerates--assembling companies under one roof added value. That lasted for a while, then the conventional wisdom decided that more conglomerates were failures and they needed to be split up. That's just an example of the constant churn of capitalist deals. Remember GM used to own EDS? Sears owned a stock brokerage? GE owned many things, until Jack Welch decided he only wanted to be 1 or 2 in a field? Even today, Altria (i.e. Phillip Morris) is preparing to spin off Kraft Foods. But that's just one side. On the other you have the whole merger and acquisitions area of finance; so popular that it's known as M&A and doesn't have to be defined in stories.

It's the old story of boys and their toys. You hide a boy's toy for a while, then bring it back out and it seems new and different and worth more. There's nothing more attractive than a "deal", whether it's taking a company private, doing an IPO, doing a merger, or doing a spin off. Each is a "deal", a deal to publicized, exploited, envied, finagled, conned. It's all a part of "finance", which good old populists love to rage against.

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