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Friday, May 26, 2006

Rise and Fall of the Enron Boys - by William Greider


Normally, I am a "bleeding heart" when it comes to long prison terms, but an appropriate sentence for the Enron boys might be six trillion years. Kenneth Lay with his million-dollar smile and Jeffrey Skilling with the cold, confident eyes of a viper made their company into the symbol and showpiece for a glorious era. It was the hyper-modern and market-efficient "new economy," in which the concept of wealth falling out of the sky became briefly hip and widely believed in respectable circles.
 
Enron led the way. Lay and Skilling showed us how it's done. And when Enron fell, the great national delusion turned to catastrophe. Unwitting investors lost $6 trillion overall. Millions of innocent bystanders lost much more in terms of their lives. So let Skilling and Lay now serve as symbol for the shame of modern American capitalism. Let these guys do the time for all those others, the corporate titans and financial con men, who got away.
 
Justice sometimes proceeds in strange ways. I am opposed to public hangings and other forms of scapegoating, but perhaps this time we need a spectacular ritual sacrifice to amplify the point made by that swift, sure conviction in Texas. These men in the good suits are criminals--criminals!--who must be made to set an example for all ambitious people who toil in business and finance.
 
These two thugs looted pension funds and destroyed the personal savings of families. They stole money from the rest of us, not to mention from government and other non-glamorous business enterprises. They rigged energy markets to drive up prices and bilk defenseless consumers (an old-fashioned swindle borrowed from nineteenth-century robber barons and newly decriminalized by deregulation). They swallowed viable, productive companies and wrecked them, especially wrecking the livelihoods of their employees. And, worst of all, they were best pals with politicians and political leaders as well as the most prestigious names in banking and finance--connections the Mafia would die for!
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