“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them,” declared Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street 20 years ago.
The same response to the charge of asset-stripping can be heard today from private equity firms, and it is only convincing in part.
Submitted by Argentus Maximus, TFMetals Report:
Are you in the mood for puzzling out riddles and mystery? I hope so. I’m not planning to give all the answers to what comes below!
Here is a fun and quick puzzle to set the mood and get started:
How did you do? I got a 13, which surprised me. To tell the truth between you and me, I had a couple of lucky guesses in the double score section that brought me up a bit over what I seemed to be cruising towards!
I seem to have been awarded 5 gram gold ingot status!
Right then, below I give you a longer puzzle, but it reads like a story made up of a couple of disjointed chapters from mythology, alchemy and modern history, and I hope it’s interesting whichever way reader choose to take it. To tell the truth about this one: nobody really has all the answers.
So I open with a description of Slash and Burn agriculture as practised by rainforest tribes in various parts of the world.
Quote: …. the consequences of slash-and-burn techniques for ecosystems are almost always destructive. This happens particularly as population densities increase, and as a result farming becomes more intensively practiced. ….. If adjacent plots are treated in a similar fashion, large-scale erosion will usually ensue, since there are no roots or temporary water storage in nearby canopies to arrest the surface runoff. Thus, any small remaining amounts of nutrients are washed away. The area is an example of desertification, and no further growth of any type may arise for generations.
The ecological ramifications of the above scenario are further magnified, because tropical forests are habitats for extremely biologically diverse ecosystems, typically containing large numbers of endemic and endangered species. Therefore, the role of slash-and-burn is significant in the current Holocene extinction.
Slash-and-burn could be distinctly defined as the large-scale deforestation of acres of forests for agricultural usage. The ashes that come from the trees would also help farmers, for it provides nutrients for farming.
In regions which industrialized, including Europe and North America, the practice was abandoned over the past few centuries as market agriculture was introduced, and land came to be owned. For example, slash-and-burn agriculture was initially practiced by European pioneers in North America like Daniel Boone and his family who cleared land in the Appalachian Mountains in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. However, the land of such slash-and-burn farmers was eventually taken over by modern systems of land tenure which focus on the long-term improvement of farmland, and discourage the older subsistence practices associated with slash-and-burn agriculture. :Unquote (source)
So I think we could say that slash and burn works until too many people try it in a limited area. (Like a bull market is great until everyone is already onboard, in a way I suppose.) But unfortunately the numbers increase and then bad things happen. To take the rainforest case: quote: forests like this have extraordinary biodiversity. Biologists say over half of all plant and animal species live in the rainforest. Also more than 1/4 of all medicines come from here. Covering only 6% of the Earth’s land area they are still an important source of oxygen. :unquote (source)
I personally think of slash and burn in terms of somebody trashing other people’s stuff to get something for themselves – like a thief smashing a 5000 dollar window to snatch an object worth 20 bucks and run off with it.
I have made reference to asset stripping in previous articles like this one, in which I compared the Roman Empire’s business model of militarily conquering whole countries, and then asset stripping them sending gold and silver back to Rome, enslaving their populations either a directly as slaves, or indirectly as working under an onerous taxation system, whereby taxes flowed back to pay Rome for administration and military costs, plus a little percentage on the side for those at the top. That could never happen today, not even for oil or gold, eh!
There is a very interesting paper about asset stripping of privatized businesses, which could describe the career path of many of the present oligarch hierarchy: Asset Stripping, Rule of Law and Firm Survival: The Hoff-Stiglitz Model and Mass Privatization in Montenegro. (Edit: link now fixed) It’s worth a look, even just to read the summary.
Moving on, HERE is a short little article about Private Equity firms, and highlighting their excessive (to the author) management fee structure. It opens with that beautiful reference to the movie “Wall Street” “I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them,” declared Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street 20 years ago. The same response to the charge of asset-stripping can be heard today from private equity firms, and it is only convincing in part.
You know what? I can just imagine Julius Caesar saying something similar two thousand years before!
I read this article from several years ago in New York Times which discussed what the corporate raiders did after their heyday. It’s interesting:
But with the benefit of several years of hindsight which Margaret Isa at NYT did not have at the time of writing, it appears to me that the corporate raiders of the 70s and 80s have morphed into the private equity and wealth funds of today. Or to put it another way, slash & Burn, aka The Roman Empire, aka Genghis Khan’s conquer and tax/be slaughtered, aka the corporate raiders, aka Private Wealth, aka the wealth funds of today – business has not changed all that much!
In this regard Jimmy Goldsmith’s life makes for absolutely fascinating reading, because “Goldenballs” (as Private Eye dubbed him) brings together a very great number of the strands which somehow end up being discussed by those who study the price of gold, and it’s flow from place to place down the ages, or even just with regard to making decisions about investing in gold in the present day.
This is a biographical account of his lawsuit against the satirical magazine “Private Eye”:
A more recent biography would have more, and I suggest reading more than one!
A little teaser to whet the readers’ appetite:
Quote: Sir James Michael “Jimmy” Goldsmith (26 February 1933 – 18 July 1997) was an Anglo-French billionaire financier and tycoon.Towards the end of his life, he became a magazine publisher and a politician. In 1994, he was elected to represent France as a Member of the European Parliament and he subsequently founded the short-lived eurosceptic Referendum Party in the United Kingdom.
….. Goldsmith’s father Frank changed the family name from the German Goldschmidt to the English Goldsmith. The Goldschmidts, neighbors and rivals to the Rothschild family, were a wealthy, Frankfurt-based, Jewish family, who had been influential figures in international merchant banking since the 16th century.
…. He was a greenmail corporate raider and asset stripper. With the financial backing of Sir Isaac Wolfson, he acquired diverse food companies quoted on the London Stock Exchange as Cavenham Foods. This included Bovril – the acquisition of which he financed by selling its assets in South America and elsewhere
… Goldsmith retired to Mexico in 1987, having anticipated the market crash that year and liquidated his assets. However he continued corporate raiding, including an attempt on British-American Tobacco in 1989 (for which he joined Kerry Packer and Jacob Rothschild). He also swapped his American timber assets for a 49.9 percent stake in Newmont Mining and remained on the board of Newmont until he liquidated his stake through open-market trades in 1993. He was precluded by the original purchase of Newmont from trying to take over the company. In 1990, Goldsmith also began a lower-profile, but also profitable, global “private equity style” investment operation.
I would add that one of his sons, Ben, married Kate Rothschild, for those who are interested in that family’s history.
So that was Sir James Goldsmith, corporate raider, professional gambler, many wives and families, and he owned several media outlets, magazines as well as taking on others through the courts. He was years ahead of the UKIP Party, with his UK Referendum Party. UKIP is now becoming so popular that Mr Cameron the Conservative (is that a Happy Family card game name?) is pretending to stand up to the EU from time to time. I understand that when he was on his deathbed with hours remaining to live in Paris, he got himself put onto an airplane and flown out of France into Spain where he died. The French government lost out on their “take”, millions in death and estate taxes, and were incandescent!
Jimmy was quite a character, an amazing man, and I wholeheartedly recommend to readers the benefits of a thorough study of interviews and biographical material about his larger than life story. His book about the proposed Euro currency called something akin to The Trap (not precisely remembering, either that or similar) would make an interesting comparison with subsequent events for EU peripheral countries.
I would like to mention an article called “Civilization consumes itself out of resentment“. This anarchic article opens thus … quote: “Day after day, we see our elected leaders making stupid and terrible decisions — with the consent and often encouragement of the populace. Most seem to at best treat it as an amusing sideshow, and at worst, attempt to sabotage it by choosing nonsense answers and ideology. …”
and the author talks about the rise and fall of empire, cognitive dissonance, and I suppose the decay of overall social values and the result of that. He ends in a depressing tone with :
quote: It’s amazing how the truth is staring us in the face. Why do people sabotage and rage at others? Shame. Shame for being caught in this mess, for not having a way out, and for having their lives’ future course determined by it.
These people are better than the usual person, who compensates for a failing society by being as absolutely selfish as possible. Those are the true Nietzsche-described “last men.” They have traded their souls for trivial pleasures, like being the 400,000th person to climb Everest.
All of the suit and tie guy, grey world of city misery, ugly buildings and ugly jobs, boring meetings and dishonest people, interpersonal drama, passive aggression, etc. has a huge penalty. It’s the death of a thousand cuts. No act by itself is big, but together, they make civilization a hateful place.
And thus the last people who have the brains to notice this are conspiring day-by-day to destroy it.
Quite depressing indeed! But his sentiments fit in well with a line of thought I want to get across today at this stage of my little chat.
I need to go back in time for my next source of original ideas. Back to the year 1617. That was when Michael Maier (1568-1622) wrote his emblematic (illustrated) work “Atalanta Fugiens” – which he published a year later. This is a most interesting book about the middle ages. It shows many of the alchemical emblems. Emblems are illustrations or ideograms, like an illuminated stained glass church window, they tell a story, or convey a message and if the looker is illiterate they still accomplish communication of the message. The text of Atalanta Fugiens is here in English translation. Unfortunately the illustrations do not seem to show up from that webpage, so you can go here to see them, as without them the translation is pretty meaningless. There is much there for the reader who has time on their hands and is willing to look carefully, but for today I focus upon Emblem # 14.
That particular emblem turns up many different times and places through history. It is on family crests, in Masonic Degree rituals, and was used in Egyptian texts. In most sources this is called an Ouroboros. Try that link to Wikipedia and see for yourself some of the many interesting places this emblem may be seen, as well as the meanings ascribed to it. It’s another good starting place.
I’ll stick with one interpretation of the Ouroboros in particular for today, and that is “ending as beginning” but do look into the other roots of this circular diagram if you can.
The particular root meaning I’m using today refers to a cyclical renewal from the old, what was before ends and renews afresh.
Phoenix from the ashes kind of stuff… It’s overdue, but I believe will only come at the right time. Waiting sucks!
And all of this is not in the slightest bit depressing as that author wrote. I find it quite uplifting actually!
So there you are.