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Daniel Souleles

Dec 2, 2021

Daniel Souleles on Private Equity (JP, EF)

Recall this Buck 4

New Books Network 2021

In this installment of our Recall this Buck series (check out our earlier conversations with Thomas Piketty, Peter Brown and Christine Desan), John and Elizabeth talk with Daniel Souleles, anthropologist at the Copenhagen Business School and author of Songs of Profit, Songs of Loss: Private Equity, Wealth, and Inequality (Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press 2019). Dan's work explores the world of private equity "guys" (who are indeed mostly guys) and the ways they are "suspended in webs of significance [they themselves have] spun" as Clifford Geertz puts it.

Further, he explores the ways we are all suspended in these webs through the immense buying and managing power of private equity firms. Private equity investors buy out publicly traded companies, often through enormous debt (which is why these deals used to be called "leveraged buyouts" or LBOs), manage the companies and then sell them. They argue they are creating value by cutting fat in management; typically workers bear the brunt of the debt while executives--and the private equity firm and lawyers and others servicing the deal--receive hefty payments.

Dan pulls off a tough feat in his book, helping us see the concerns and motivations of people he's working with as understandable and the people themselves as reasonable and even likeable, while also maintaining his own view of private equity as, generally speaking, a noxious force in society.

We end with a discussion of the Occupy movement and how it helped to change public conversations about inequality and the power of finance (another angle on the themes we tackled in our earlier "Brahmin Left" conversations).

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Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Elizabeth Ferry is Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University. Email: ferry@brandeis.edu. John Plotz is Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative. Email: plotz@brandeis.edu.

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