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Removing losses from the company's books made the main corporation look more attractive. Enron appeared to be operating at a profit; a key factor in the valuation of any company's stock. By virtue of this "success," Enron was able to raise even more money for more investments.
The architects of all this "growth" profited accordingly. Ken Lay and his associates held large amounts of exceedingly valuable and overvalued stock. When Enron's cheating was finally exposed, it became painfully apparent to what extent Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and other Enron executives had been making vast sums of money on the backs of gullible workforce, and a gullible public:
The "Enron Nine" (if we may call them that) are J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Credit Suisse First Boston, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Deutsche Bank and Lehman Brothers. These financial institutions collaborated with the now-bankrupt energy company in its financial sleight of hand -- the deals that enabled Enron to inflate its profits, conceal its burgeoning debts and push its stock price higher and higher. Together and individually, the banks and brokerages raised at least $6 billion for Enron through the debt or stock issues sold to unsuspecting investors from 1996 through 2001, when the Enron illusion finally expired.
The participation of some of the world's leading financial institution in the Enron debacle guaranteed that the Corporation's fall would have global implications. A deluded public would finally look behind the facade.
The willingness of so many large corporations to "rip off" investors came as a shock to many. Investors and consumers had been unaware of the tremendous amount of activity going on behind the scenes at many large corporations:
Market manipulation, discrimination, pressure tactics and collusion all thrive in an environment of unequally distributed information. One can argue that the market will take care of abusive infomediaries by robbing them of public trust and thus their clientele. This presumes that we will have a chance to find out about such abuses.
Enron exposed a fact that had already been known to many Americans albeit in a different field. How attractive is a Hollywood starlet without her makeup? Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling - and a host of other corporate "leaders" - proved that you can dress up anything. All you have to do is prevent people from ever catching sight of the true reality. Unfortunately, trust consist of more than simply the ability to detect whether one has been told the "whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Business is built on trust. The ability to raise funds in the stock market depends on the public's belief in the "good faith" of the corporation that is issuing the stock. If a corporation lies about its finances this quarter, what about last quarter? Or next quarter? If a company lost certain funds, where did they go? The trust of the public, once broken, has a catastrophic effect on a corporation's future prospects. Enron lost something very valuable, but it also gained something even less valuable - corporate notoriety.
The Enron Debacle was, for many, the strongest evidence yet that corporate America did not care. "The misconduct of large U.S. corporations, such as Anderson, Enron, Global Crossing, and Worldcom, hurts more than just their employees, customers, and shareholders -- they hurt globalization."
Enron, more than any other recent corporate disaster, has perpetuated the belief that large multinational corporations have no public conscience, no interest in helping their fellow human beings, or in making life just little bit better. To a great extent than ever before, greed is being seen as the primary - if not the sole - motivating force of big business. The involvement, or apparent involvement, of so many government officials and former officials, in the Enron Affair only served to give the impression that the entire system was rotten from top to bottom.
Theda Skocpol, a Harvard professor of government and sociology, argues in newspaper editorials that we can't have rational public policy because of the existence of an elite that uses expertise, lobbyists, and campaign contributions to get the economic policy it wants.
Men and women who feel as Professor Skocpol does are men and women who do not believe that their voices are being heard. Scandals like Enron convince an ever wider segment of the general public that Washington is ruled by crooked financiers and industrialists. Ordinary citizens believe that the powerful, and the wealthy, can commit crimes with impunity. They, "the little people" would have gone to prison for the acts that these accountants and consultants have committed. Where is the accountability? It is more than three years since Enron, and still Ken Lay is free. The trial has begun, and others beneath him, have been sentenced, yet the fact that the "ringleader" - Enron's former CEO - has not yet paid for his crimes sends the message that those with sufficient funds and connections can cheat and steal with impunity.
Increasingly the United States of America appears to many as a corporate giant that crushes the ordinary American underfoot. Corporations are seen as the ultimate source of public policy. The happiness of millions of people is sacrificed for the happiness of a small elite. Where is the value of an honest day's work? Where are the traditional American values of faith and hard work? If America becomes the land of greed and exploitation, is she still the same America? But possibly, there is hope. Perhaps the Enrons and the WorldComs where force us to reevaluate our values, and to look more closely at what is of real importance to us all. Enron can be a learning experience, or it can be something much worse.
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Jamie Dettmer and John Berlau, "Requiem for Enron: There's Enough Blame to Go around for the Collapse of the Energy Giant From Executives to Auditors to Financial Analysts to Congress," Insight on the News 7…[continue]
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