Little Rock Several pages of the New York Times, starting at the front, were given to the “Oh, my!” story of billionaire investor William Ackerman and his Pershing Square outfits financing of contributions to various civil rights and nonprofits and an army of lobbyists to drive down the stock price of Herbalife, the direct sales nutritional supplements company, to justify a billion dollar bet he made that the price would tank. Pushing politicians and advocates like chess pieces in order to jack up or down stock prices is hardly a shocking surprise, since this has been standard operating procedure for decades, or, I suspect, as long as there have been stock markets and politicians anyway.
Ackerman is claiming that he is trying to protect lower income and minority consumers who, also not surprisingly, seem to be the target for a lot of the Herbalife hustle. Many studies have questioned the value and even the potential harm of some of these supplements, and Herbalife may well be a pyramid scheme as Ackerman argues, too. I don’t have a horse in this race though, so at one level my view is a “pox on both their houses.”
But, if Ackerman wants to spend some of his billions as some kind of white knight to expose companies that are fleecing lower income families and minorities, then, “Welcome aboard, buddy!” because we need all the help we can get, and there’s a lot of evidence that there are many organizations that will be more than happy to take your money to raise all kinds of hell (see Social Policy “Leadership Development is Not a Deliverable.”).
Here’s a short list to just get “Billion Dollar Bill” started as our new best friend:
· How about the Comcast – Times Warner monopoly merger which will widen the digital divide and jack up prices for internet and cable service?
· Don’t forget the banks that finance all of these predatory payday lending and check cashing outfits, Bill, they deserve not just an investigation but a slap down. Oh, sorry, I guess the mortgage mess already has their stock prices so low, they might not be worth your while, huh?
· Well, then how about all of the tax preparation companies then, H&R Block and its wannabes? Did they really, really truly end all of their Refund Anticipation Loans as they’ve promised and been ordered by the IRS to cease? We both know the answer, Bill, but how about putting some of your lobbyists on that job and stirring it up so we can finally put a stake in the heart of these companies?
· Have the SEC and Congress really done their job in looking at the problems Walmart has in India, China, and Mexico on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? We both know that answer, Bill, but think of the headlines you would get by putting the heat on there?
· And, the scores of companies involved in wage theft, particularly among these big time food companies? And, we both know the next scams will involve the eventual requirements that they provide health insurance. Come on, Bill, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.
· And, don’t forget soft drink companies, liquor and beer sellers, cigarette merchants, shyster construction and real estate companies, and others who make their living preying on the poor. These are all ripe targets!
You can see how easy it is for us to make the case for exposure and investigations of any number of companies that make their big bucks from low-to-moderate income families. The problem we have with Ackerman and other potential Robin Hoods, is that almost always we get less robin, and more hood.