The Corner

Thugocracy Whipsaws Capitalism

The notion that the pain of Obamacare would not really be felt for a few years has always been silly. It won’t be fully felt, but he economy is dynamic. Corporations have to plan today for the conditions of tomorrow. More to the point, public corporations with disclosure obligations under the securities laws have to disclose today when developments change their outlook for tomorrow. Hence, AT&T’s announcement that Obamacare will force it to take a $1 billion dollar charge — the most alarming (but entirely predictable) bad news in a parade that, the Wall Street Journal’s editors note, ”includes Deere & Co., $150 million; Caterpillar, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million; 3M, $90 million; and Valero Energy, up to $20 million.”

But here is the most frightful news yet about our new reality: People’s Commissar Henry Waxman is now planning to haul the companies before his committee because their disclosures fail to play along with the our Leftist rulers’ script that Obamacare “will expand coverage and bring down costs.”

As the Journal’s editors observe: 

Black-letter financial accounting rules require that corporations immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. Should these companies have played chicken with the Securities and Exchange Commission to avoid this politically inconvenient reality? Democrats don’t like what their bill is doing in the real world, so they now want to intimidate CEOs into keeping quiet.

Let me echo that. I worked for many years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in whose backyard was Wall Street. If a company like AT&T failed to make a legally mandated restatement of its financial position while continuing to participate in the capital markets, it would be investigated and the responsible management officials would likely find themselves prosecuted while the SEC, concurrently, went after the company and its officials in civil enforcement suits. There are prosecutors and investigators who would salivate at the prospect of doing such a career-making case.

If we are now under a system where disclosure gets you a public whipping and other threats by the Powers That Be while nondisclosure promises the ruinous expenses of defending against criminal investigations and civil enforcement, this is no longer anything but a thugocracy.

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