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The Enron Collapse

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Created: February 7, 2002
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Local Narrative: The People Involved

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, February 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This is the first in a series of files based on several articles that struggle with explaining to us who the actual people are who took part in the Enron Collapse. Just as the lawyer interviews clients and comes to know the stories about what happened in order to adequately argue his/her case, the sociologist needs to know these local narratives to adequately study the combination of agency and structural context that led to the ultimate social problem under discussion. There is considerable interdependence between the actions, behaviors, and motivations of the individuals involved and the corporate and social climate in which their interpersonal relations were acted out. Although local stories, such as we look at here, may not provide data that will enter our arguments, they do provide a background that permits us to understand those whose validity claims we must judge.

Congressional Investigations

The discussion topics below are based on Enron Executives Refuse to Testify Before Congressional Panel By David Stout. New York Times. February 7, 2002. backup

  1. What was the reaction of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair, Representative James Greenwood, Republican of Pennsylvania, to the Enron executives who invoked their constitutional right against possible self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment)?

    Consider this excerpt: " 'Sadly, it is increasingly clear that this collapse was not brought about by the isolated acts of rogue employees," Mr. Greenwood said at the outset of the hearing.' " What tone does this censure convey? Does this speak to white collar crime?

  2. Does Representative Deutsch of Florida seem to see the Enron collapse as a crime?

    Consider this excerpt: "I keep reminding myself of the scene in the `Godfather' movie where Tom Hagan, who's the attorney for the Godfather, has a meeting with the Godfather and the Godfather tells him, `Just remember, you can always steal more with a briefcase than with a gun.' " said Representative Peter Deutsch, Democrat of Florida. "And I think what we have here is a case where literally about $4 billion was stolen from people, and it was stolen, unfortunately, from people from real people."

    Consider the metaphor of the Mafia. Is our legal system set to handle the prosecution of debacles such as this in the criminal courts? Think of the Organized Crime Act which makes it easier to prosecute criminal conspiracies by organized groups like the Mafia. Does this suggest that we need a Corporate Crime Act to make it easier to prosecute the organized activities of corporate executive who "steal" millions? Is there a class bias indicated in this existence of an Organized Crime Act and the Justice Department's suggestion that criminal prosecution will be hard to get in the Enron debacle? Can class bias be indicated here as applying to an entire group of people, like corporate executives? and entire groups like the Mafia?

  3. Does public denouncement and humiliation, such as occured in these Congress Hearings, rehabilitate or adequately compensate those harmed?

    Consider this excerpt: "Mr. Deutsch [of Forida] said, "You're going to have to live with yourselves regardless of the consequences of what happens with all these investigations. But I will tell you, on a personal basis, as I look at this, is that I hope you in the dark night of your own souls think about some of the people who, in fact, throughout the country, but particularly in the area of Texas, who literally lost their entire life savings and whose lives are effectively, in many ways, destroyed because of your actions."

    What was the role of The Truth and Reconciliation Committee efforts to bring about public acknowledgement of the harms committed? The South African Committee demanded that the wrongdoers state what they had done publicly. This contributed to making the truth more real, to a public proclamation of lived reality. This provided some measure of solace to those who had been harmed, but forced into silence by official denial of the lived reality.

  4. In our criminal law, we require allocution, or public statement of what the accused actually did. Do you think that allocution would promote healing in instances of poor or criminal decisions that result in loss of life savings and pension funds through fiascos such as that at Enron?

    Notice that some of the Committee statements here raise the issue of forgiveness, healing, and undoing some of the harm to innocent people, "real people," as Representative Deutsch said. And the extent of damage he describes is "lives . . .effectively . . . destroyed." This would also raise the issue of compensation to the victims. And bring us back to compensation in the WTC disaster, in the Oklahoma City bombing, and with respect to the effects of slavery. Notice how the complexity of these threads are interwoven.

  5. How are the Enron executives depicted?

    Consider this excerpt: "The four witnesses who were excused were grim-faced but composed as they appeared before the panel with their lawyers. Mr. Buy coughed during his brief exchange with the committee and begged the members' pardon.

    "I've lost my voice," Mr. Buy said.

    Freudian pun, I guess. This group of executives has lost at this point the power to make themselves heard that will have their validity claims recognized. Compare the voice they still have to that of the employees and investors whose lives were deeply affected. Some of them will find "voice" through lawsuits. But there are not tools available to the justice system to aid in such prosecution. What about the ordinary workers, who were harmed in the same way, but who do not have the power to effectively sue for compensation? Again, consider the privilege of class.