Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

As long as you make money, no one will ask why.Alex Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

You might be tired of hearing the Enron story, as it has been plastered across the front pages of our newspapers for years now. It is, however, a very important story that says much about our capitalist culture. With the recent death of Kenneth Lay and the sentencing of Jeffrey Skilling in September, it is a good time to revisit the story. One of the easiest ways to do so is check out the DVD Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room from your library.

Though the DVD is now slightly dated, it still has the advantaged over the daily newspaper accounts of hindsight. As the story was breaking, no one knew how big the story really was and all the links it had to other stories. Perhaps I was not paying close enough attention (I sometimes get tired of the front pages stories, too), but I did not connected Enron to the power blackouts in California of 2000 and 2001 (maybe I forgot). The film includes audio from recordings kept by a utility company in state of Washington that shows the whole blackout crisis was created by Enron traders to enrich the company. Shut down a power plant on a whim. Sell power to other states and buy it back. Cheer wildfires that threaten power lines. It’s a pretty shocking story.

What the viewer learns in the film is that Enron’s corporate behavior was blatantly abnormal long before the company’s failure. Skilling was forthright in saying that ideas mattered more than product and that the creator of ideas should profit immediately upon having innovative thoughts. As a result, Enron claimed future assumed profits as current profits. The numbers never balanced, but bankers, stock analysts, and government official never asked why.

Do not stop at just seeing the film. There are numerous special features on the DVD that should not be missed. There are several great deleted scenes. The interviews with Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind who wrote the book from which film was adapted are really interesting, too. There is even a skit from Firesign Theatre. Look for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room at your library. It should be particularly available in Texas and California where many of the victims of the corporate crimes live.

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