We had always thought of Warren Buffett as a warm and fuzzy ambassador for capitalism before he and three Brazilian billionaires took Heinz private last year — a deal whose announcement was made in the wake of what was found to be insider trading in call options through a Goldman Sachs brokerage in Switzerland.
The deal divested my wife and me — no pensioners we — of modest inherited holdings in a good company that paid good dividends, and thus was galling enough; further evidence, if any further evidence were needed, that we are but prawns in a game ruled by big fish.
And though the deal itself, we are told, did not come under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the attendant insider trading did. Three cheers, you might say, but a recent study by N.Y.U. and McGill economists has found that when it comes to these mergers and acquisitions, the chances of insider trading not being involved in the run-up to them exceeds the odds of winning the lottery (the lottery that, it seems, we are always on the cusp of winning, and whose anticipated net proceeds we have long ago consigned to the younger generation, in the form of houses mostly).
“Mary, there always have been crooks,” my late stepfather said once to my wife as she inveighed against felons in high places.
Is democracy, then, just another word for 57 varieties of malfeasance? It seems to be so. It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if this country simply were to sink under its own weight, brought low by its own tawdriness rather than by terrorists.
It’s impunity for those who wheel and deal and hard time for those who just deal.
Trillions, it is said, is hidden in safe havens offshore. Beef up the S.E.C. then rather than the Pentagon. Bring the traitors to account, bring the myriad inside traders to account. Upend and squeeze them, just as you would a catsup bottle. Recoup the money that’s been taken private and put it to good public use.
I would relish that, though it’s getting late to step up to the plate.