2010 brought the best and worst of times. We witnessed a president grasping at straws to defend his choices and maintain his constituency, a midterm election largely won by a party named after a beverage, a tumultuous economy even after the recession was declared “over,” and a deficit that was pointed in only one direction — up. Yet through it all, an historic (and expensive) health care bill was passed, the financial markets soared and unexpected people triumphed. In the end, some emerged victorious, and others clearly sank to the bottom. Below, TFT’s annual list of fiscal winners and losers:
1. LeBron James - Hoop Dreams Award
Rising NBA stars can only dream of being LeBron James. After James became a free agent last summer, a number of cities overreacted to the possibility of nabbing the star. They pleaded, sang songs and performed embarrassing publicity stunts, hoping to grab him and increase much-needed revenue from basketball fans. (Though as TFT found out, sports stars actually bring little revenue to cities.) James ultimately chose the Miami Heat, agreeing to a six-year, $110 million contract. Not bad, but not the biggest. Baseball pitcher Cliff Lee recently signed a 5-year, $120 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
2. General Motors - Comeback of the Year Award
Bailed out by Uncle Sam last year and thought to be on its way out, GM took everyone by surprise this year by having three consecutive profitable quarters, and made headlines in November when it sold $15.8 billion of common stock in an initial public offering, the largest of the year and one of the biggest in history. Experts credit the incredible turnaround to its “reinvention” ad campaign and successful electric car, the Chevy Volt. Not too shabby for a company on the verge of bankruptcy a mere 17 months ago.
3. John Boehner - Top Tear Jerker Award
An Ohio-born congressman from a working class family of twelve brothers and sisters, Boehner was reelected to the House by a landside in the November midterm elections and will become the next speaker of the House. A staunch critic of Obama and running on a platform of balancing the federal budget without raising taxes, Boehner’s win was partly credited to the Tea Party frenzy. But he’s also known for his impassioned speeches — and the tears that go with them — about job creation and the middle class.
4. Facebook - Supersized Social Register Award
Facebook reached a milestone of 500 million users this summer, and added another 50 million by the fall. Founder Mark Zuckerberg, now 26, is the youngest billionaire in history with a personal fortune estimated at $6.9 billion. His story, warts and all, is captured in the movie The Social Network, which took home numerous accolades and is now a possible contender for a Best Picture Oscar. He was recently named TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year,” which wrote that we have officially entered “the Facebook age.” With half a billion people spending more than 700 billion minutes on Facebook collectively every month, and growing at a rate of 700,000 new members a day, it certainly seems that way.
5. The Tea Party - Rebels with a Cause Award
Starting as a tiny grassroots movement in 2009, the Tea Party helped the Republicans win a majority in the House in the midterm elections. Largely motivated by the government bailouts, opposition to the health care bill and higher taxes, the party paid homage to the Boston Tea Party and used the same slogan, “no taxation without representation.” Their rhetoric struck a chord with frustrated Americans who showed their approval at the voting booths. But the Tea Party’s intractable positions may push their party too far to the right to win in 2012.
6. The Wealthy - Estate Capital Award
Not that the wealthy really ever lose, but 2010 was particularly flush for the rich. The Bush-era tax cuts were generously extended to the wealthiest 2 percent of U.S. households in December, and the elimination of the estate tax made some even richer, including the heir to George Steinbrenner’s $1.1 billion estate. Income inequality in the U.S. is at an all-time high: From World War II until 1976, the top 10 percent of the population made less than a third of national income. Today, the top 1 percent rakes in 24 percent of income. Yet supporters of tax breaks for the wealthy claim that helping the rich get richer will stimulate a stagnant economy and trickle down to everyone.