The authoritative exposé of private equity: what it is, how it kills businesses and jobs, how the government helps, and how we stop it
Private equity surrounds us. Firms like Blackstone, Carlyle, and KKR are among the largest employers in America and hold assets that rival those of small countries. Yet few understand what these firms are or how they work.
In Plunder, Brendan Ballou explains how private equity has reshaped American business by raising prices, reducing quality, cutting jobs, and shifting resources from productive to unproductive parts of the economy. Ballou vividly illustrates how many private equity firms buy up retailers, medical practices, prison services, nursing-home chains, and mobile-home parks, among other businesses, using little of their own money to do it and avoiding debt and liability for their actions. Forced to take on huge debts and pay extractive fees, companies purchased by private equity firms are often left bankrupt, or shells of their former selves, with consequences to communities that long depended on them.
Perhaps most startling is Ballou’s insight into how this is happening with the active support of various arms of the government. But, as Ballou reveals in an agenda for reining in the industry, private equity can be stopped from wreaking further havoc.
About the Author
Brendan Ballou is a federal prosecutor and served as Special Counsel for Private Equity in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division. Previously, he worked in private practice, and before that, in the National Security Division of the Justice Department, where he advised the White House on counterterrorism and other policies. He graduated from Columbia University and Stanford Law School.
“As shorthand for the crazy unfairness of financialized modern capitalism, more accurate than Wall Street or hedge fund is private equity—the state-of-the-art corporate-takeover mode that has brought predatory greed and ruthlessness to new levels, wrecking companies and workers’ lives as a matter of course. Plunder is the right word, as Brendan Ballou lucidly explains in his infuriating, illuminating, essential book. And his practical plan for reining in this monstrous new centerpiece of our system makes total sense.”—Kurt Andersen, author of Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America
“As private equity has risen to seize everything from nursing homes to clothing retailers to private prisons to our retirement savings, Ballou has written a cogent and indispensable book on this strange financial world. Ballou shows how these modern-day robber barons not only target the poor and serve themselves, but also bore into the foundations of our economy and society, weakening it for everyone. He ends with a stirring roadmap for reform.” —Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica, author of The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives
“Private equity might be the biggest economic story of the century, and yet, so few people understand what it is or how it’s crippling our economy and our democracy. In Plunder, Ballou tells a complicated story clearly and explains how private equity shapes your life and importantly, how it can be stopped. For anyone who wants to understand why our economy has become so broken and so unjust—and for anyone who wants to fix it—Plunder is required reading.”—Zephyr Teachout, professor of law, Fordham Law School, and author of Break 'em Up: Recovering our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money
“Plunder offers a clear and critical analysis of the private-equity industry. Ballou shows how some private-equity firms have ruined retail businesses, made housing more expensive, reduced the quality of health care and nursing homes, and wreaked havoc on families. If you’re interested in understanding the hidden sources of our economic problems—and in fixing them—read this book.”—Ganesh Sitaraman, professor of law, Vanderbilt University, and author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution
“Private-equity firms don’t just transform our economy: they co-opt and compromise our government and our democracy. As few other people can, Ballou has shown how private equity has been so phenomenally successful in advancing its agenda at every level of government, and how government has been so tremendously solicitous of private equity. For anyone who wants to understand what’s happening in our economy and our democracy, Plunder is required reading.” —Russ Feingold, former senator, president of the American Constitution Society, and author of The Constitution in Jeopardy: An Unprecedented Effort to Rewrite Our Fundamental Law and What We Can Do About It
“Despite owning companies with tens of millions of workers and impacting the lives of tens of millions more by buying up hospitals, nursing homes, housing, and other services we depend on, giant private-equity firms still largely operate in the shadows—and prefer it that way. Ballou’s Plunder shines an important light on these finance giants that have reshaped the global economy to their advantage, connecting private-equity firms’ actions directly to the lives of people who are impacted, from workers, to patients, to students, and many more. Ballou reminds us that in nearly all these cases, private-equity firms have not acted alone—instead they have been aided and abetted by, and profit massively from, the willing assistance of government. Perhaps most importantly, Plunder points us toward solutions—the concrete actions we can take to halt the doom loop of private-equity-driven inequality and press for a more just economy.”—Jim Baker, executive director, Private Equity Stakeholder Project
“The mysterious private-equity industry is one of the most destructive forces in American society—and one that too-few people truly understand. Ballou’s Plunder promises to change that. At a time when private equity has never been more powerful, his book shines a floodlight on the corporate raiders ravaging our economy and lays out a comprehensive roadmap for policymakers willing to take them on. For people who want to understand why America suffers from enormous disparities in wealth and power—and what we can do to change it—Plunder is essential reading.” —Sarah Miller, executive director, American Economic Liberties Project
“Crisp prosecutorial delivery…Ballou also does an admirably clear job detailing how private equity firms use legal wrangling to their advantage.”—The New York Times
“Private equity firms must be reined in, argues federal prosecutor Ballou in his fiery debut . . . . This must-read exposé shocks and unsettles.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A powerful, maddening account of some of the chief drivers of inequality and immiseration in the world's richest economy.” —Kirkus