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Enron's Skilling as business philosopher
by Petros Haritatos
27 February 2002 12:29 UTC
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The BBC carries a fascinating story on
in which Enron's former chief executive Jeffrey Skilling insists that he
had not done nothing wrong and that Enron's collapse was caused by a
"classic run on the bank".

According to this Harvard MBA, two parties are to blame:

a) those who lost their belief in Enron's integrity (i.e. investors),
because of
b) those who spoke of "accounting fraud" (i.e. critics of Enron's

This is a "self-evident truth" for a lot of people. In the way that
flags are tokens of national sentiment, stocks are tokens of monetary
value. Such tokens are held up by shared belief. Levitation of stock
prices is also an act of belief, cultivated by a priesthood, Skilling's
peers and mentors. Those who doubt it, are the new Enlightenment
challengers of the new Western absolutism.

A key process is at work here, of need and want, demand and supply. For
good reasons, people need to believe in natural orders. Articulate
minorities have always catered to this need. They succeed for a period,
and achieve a close "fit" between what they offer and what most of
society wants. For example, the widespread devotion to Christianity
among ordinary people in the West, the gigantic expectations from
Socialism, the optimistic hopes of equal opportunity in market
capitalism. But at some point the fit starts to loosen and society (or
segments of it) seeks another fit, e.g. from Catholicism to
Protestantism and to secularism. Thus, to talk about "decline of
religion" is to adopt the viewpoint of a waning priesthood, when what we
are really seeing is the displacement of belief from one belief system
to another.

 So what can one expect regarding the currently dominant belief system
which Skilling expresses so clearly? Are the investors who lost faith in
Enron stock apostates, or do they simply move to another shrine of the
same religion? Are we seeing any differenciations within the priesthood,
any stirrings of a new Reformation?

Petros Haritatos, Athens

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