Sunday, May 21, 2006

quickie review

Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room
Saw this at the Odeon Swiss Cottage last night. Pretty decent documentary. I'd forgotten that it came out much earlier in the US, and that I'd seen a bit of it before leaving for London last June. In particular, the bits about Lou Pei I think I'd seen on cable TV last Spring. But it was good to see the whole thing.

What are the take-home lessons here?
  • Wide-scale lying and deceit really doesn't get overseen by the "marketplace" very efficiently.
  • A LOT of people who must have known what was going on with Enron were quite happy to play along for the short run, collecting profits while the stock prices were high. I would wager that some of the people involved in the banks would even argue that their "fiduciary duty" required them to take advantage of an evident scam, as long as it was having a positive impact on their on firm's short-term profits.
  • A lot of the Enron people involved seemed quite a bit insecure about their role in the debacle. There's a lot of "go-along-to-get-along" in corporate America.
  • It's appalling to see the evil at the roots of the energy "crisis" in California. It's the kind of thing that made me think that, one of these days, one of these hot-shot energy traders is liable to get himself shot. Quite seriously, the idea of creating rolling blackouts to increase one own's profits is horribly selfish, and a blatant violation of the public trust under which all corporations are governed.
  • To put this more bluntly: if corporations want to be treated as "persons", which they evidently do in some manners, they need to develop a bit more in terms of social responsibility. As an entity, Enron was behaving like a sociopath. When that happens, the people who are driving the train to hell need to face some kind of personal backlash commensurate with the crimes they are committing.
  • I'm truly amazed that Enron was not only getting away with their bogus financing for so many years, but that the entire business culture was willing to not only not hold Enron up to scrutiny before the Fortune article by Bethany McLean, but were willing to declare Enron a model corporation.
  • This latter fact has to make one very dubious about the merits of widespread deregulation as an approach to corporate law. History is clear that people without oversight or regulation who have the power to rip off the public will do so. In the case of the energy industry in particular, that is essentially a monopolistic utility. The possibility for market manipulation is just too evident if there is no regulation.

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