Super-rich guys who work in private equity may be the masters of the universe, but it's remarkably easy to get under their skin. All it takes is some crappy "street theater" mocking them as mean, heartless wealthy elites, and they run back into their corner offices and cry into their monogrammed handkerchiefs. The huge union SEIU has, for the last year, been staging little theatrical protests of the private equity industry's greed, featuring puppets and megaphones and whatnot. Which you would think would be as effective as sitting across the street from the White House with a "No Nukes" sign. But it really gets the rich guys worked up! Now the SEIU is taking their campaign international, with help from grumpy comedian Lewis Black, and it's making the titans of finance so upset they want to run out and buy the Kleenex Corporation. It's not fair!
For all of their ridiculous economic power—which is truly scary to contemplate—PE firms are essentially made up of people who want to have their cake (MONEY) and eat it too (STILL BE POPULAR WITH THE PLEBES). Or, they just want to make their money and retire with it in total anonymity. The SEIU draws attention to them, and as unsophisticated as the protests may seem (although they make some good points), they succeed just by getting people to think about private equity. Which is more than most people do in the first place. No billionaire really wants to explain to the public why he pays to lobby for massive tax loopholes for himself.
"We think the buyout industry and the way it operates are systematic of what's wrong in this economy," said Stephen Lerner, director of the union's private equity project. "We want to make them responsible corporate citizens."
The private equity industry counters that the union is using street theater and overheated rhetoric to bolster its membership rolls.
"They're using a battering ram of increasingly extreme and hysterical attacks," said Douglas Lowenstein, the president of the Private Equity Council, an industry lobbying group. "They've undermined any opportunity for constructive dialogue."
Private equity firms should really figure out how to handle this stuff better. They'll never win when their spokesman is just another white dude in a suit in an office in Washington, and the SEIU's mascot is Lewis Black, who's starring in this propaganda video for the cause: