Bloomberg Toys ‘R’ Us Article Wrongly Blames Private Equity, Ignores Systemic Favoritism of E-Commerce

by Mike Wendy on August 17, 2018

The media is nothing if not a basher of private property owners and anything corporate that somehow affect “their” Internet. A prime example of this can been in a recent, shamelessly misinformed article on Toys ‘R’ Us workers’ efforts to claim severance pay from the remnants of the toy seller. Bloomberg mystifyingly laid the blame at the feet of the same private equity companies that did everything they could to keep Toys ‘R’ Us running.

Amazon, and the policies, laws and regulations which helped it and its Hoover-like e-commerce brethren become the monsters they are, well, that’s simply AWOL in the article’s coverage.

Shuttered Toys ‘R’ Us store, Florence, SC.

Of course, creating boogiemen out of Wall Street types is an age-old tradition in the press. But no matter how much the media loves to feed their audience tales of private equity greed, rushing into these narratives is often grossly misleading. That’s exactly what’s happened in the aftermath of Toys ‘R’ Us’ bankruptcy.

This might have made for gripping copy, but the actual circumstances surrounding this tragic situation were largely neglected. The truth, per usual, is much more nuanced: Toys ‘R’ Us was systematically pulled apart by Amazon, stringent regulations that favor e-commerce and punish business in general, and inflexible and opportunistic creditors.

Bloomberg’s article quoted Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) saying, “When an outside group with a lot of money can come into a place like Toys ‘R’ Us and vacuum up all the value and leave the employees, leave the pensioners, leave the small-trade, the folks who help supply the business…and take all the value and leave nothing for anyone else, then capitalism doesn’t work. Markets don’t work.”

I sort of agree—except that the “outside groups” she speaks of are not the investors who worked to save Toy ‘R’ Us; they are the increasingly aggressive e-commerce giants, such as Amazon, who’ve created an unlevel playing field for traditional American businesses, not to mention the legislators and regulators who enable them.

The Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy should serve as a wakeup call—especially in light of the demise of more than 300 brick-and-mortar retailers who declared bankruptcy last year. Crippling federal, state, and local regulations, combined with Amazon’s (and others’) dubious e-commerce business practices and the rapaciousness of the company’s creditors led to the fall of this iconic brand—not the supposed avarice of private equity firms.

No private equity firms go into business to go bankrupt. They had a vested interest in keeping Toys ‘R’ Us viable. And by working with these private equity investors, Toys ‘R’ Us reportedly was close to a deal to save itself. But the company’s creditors opted for liquefying the company’s assets to settle its debt instead. That’s why tens of thousands of former Toys ‘R’ Us employees are out of a job.

As I see it, the pro-Silicon Valley, anti-Main Street policy environment – such as communications, tax, labor, environmental and zoning laws, among others – played a huge, aggravating role in the downfall of Toys ‘R’ Us. But, you wouldn’t know that from this Bloomberg story. The news outlet simply ignored the systemic favoritism of Silicon Valley over Main Street, disserving their readers and the issue.

Business publications, such as Bloomberg, have a responsibility to recognize the complex underlying factors that determine whether a company files for bankruptcy or not—regardless of the narrative that the organization thinks will garner the most clicks.

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