Saturday, November 3, 2012

Leveraged Buyout: Part VII. I Gather Background Information

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Leveraged Buyout

Part VII: I Gather Background Information

Written 4 November, 2012

With a showdown coming, I needed advice-- and not the kind I would get from Judge Camper. I needed to talk to an old friend. But which one?

As I looked over my friends list, I realized most of my acquaintances are no longer on the grid-- and the few who still come in world weren't logged in. So I did the next best thing. I called the Linden Concierge Line to talk to the Australian guy. He's always there.

If you don't know, concierge service is available to those who own private islands or half a sim or more on the mainland. I'm eligible because I own Whimsy.

I guess that makes me part of the 1%, or one of the landed gentry, as my friend Melissa Yeuxdoux says, but hey, a perk is a perk. I picked up the phone.

When I told the Australian guy what was happening he said gravely, "This has been happening for a long time."

He said, "Do you ever wonder why so many sims have disappeared? Svarga-- although we Lindens rescued that one; it was sort of like Obama saving Detroit. The Hanging Gardens of Apollo. Privateer Space. So many more. Do you ever wonder why a sim disappears?"

"Erm, the owners decide it's more important to use the money for a car payment than for tier?" I said. "Or they lose their jobs or get divorced or have to send their kids to college?"

"Sometimes that happens," he said, "but more often sim owners lose their property to takeover specialists-- corporate vultures. Leveraged buyouts. Hostile takeovers."

"Oh!' I said. "They get busted out!"

"Yeah," he said. "They get busted out."

"I saw that episodes of the Sopranos," I said. "The owner of a sporting goods store gets in debt because of his gambling and goes to Tony for a loan. Tony puts Paulie Walnuts in charge and Paulie starts ordering all sorts of merchandise and moving it out the back door. Eventually the business owes a huge amount of money for merchandise that has fallen off the back of a truck. The creditors are screaming and as a final touch Tony's crew torches the place for the insurance money. Tony and his crew acquire a healthy business and gut it."

"Exactly," said the Australian guy. "That's what happened to all those sims."

"I knew the mob was in Second Life!" I said.

"No, no," he said. "Well, there is a mob here, but they just get off on wearing pimp suits and and acting tough. I'm talking about Wall Street types. These blokes look for companies they can exploit and then use every trick in the book to transfer the wealth from the company to their own pockets?"

"Like Bain Capital," I said.

"Exactly like Bain Capital," he said.

"Here's how it works. These people find a company and then borrow money from speculators to buy stocks or bonds. With even a small percentage they can attend board meetings and influence stockholders. By blustering, lying, and conniving, they get themselves put in charge, giving themselves big salaries and invoicing millions of dollars for their management "expertise." The fees, of course, go in their pockets and in the pockets of the speculators who funded them.

"Now they're calling all the shots. They borrow heavily against the company's assets, making sure to come up with fees that ensure most of the money goes to them. They sell off company assets, strip workers of their pensions and health insurance, cut their salaries, and more often than not lay most of the workforce off. The jobs are shipped overseas to China or India or done away with entirely. All the savings goes into their pockets.

"Then they declare bankruptcy and exit stage left, leaving the stockholders with staggering debts and a hollow shell of a company that has been stripped of its assets."

"And then, of course," I said, "they look for another target."

"Exactly," he said. "What these guys do isn't illegal-- they donate lots of money to politicians who make sure what they do isn't a crime-- but it should be. It's certainly corrupt and immoral. It destroys companies, reduces the gross national product, and ruins the lives of thousands of workers. It drives entire towns to ruin by destroying their financial base. The plant that had a thousand workers now has none, and those thousand people have no money to spend for food, clothing, gasoline, new cars..."

"That's horrible!" I said.

"And to think one of your presidential candidates is one of that lot!"

"Obama! I said. "Damn him!"

"No, no," he said. "The other one."

"Oh, the one who lies about everything? The one with the plastic hair?"

"Yeah, that one," he said.

"Well damn him, then," I said.

"Second Life is much smaller than it used to be," the Australian guy said, "and now you know why."

"Because of the vultures," I said. "But what can I do to save Whimsy?"

"We're not allowed to provide legal advice on the concierge line," he said, "but maybe you should get a lawyer."

"Unfortunately, I already have one," I said.

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