The scale and scope of ruses and abuses at Enron may be exceptional. Yet, there is widespread evidence, dramatically demonstrated by exposure of the conduct of financial institutions in 2008, that the values and techniques prized within Enron’s corporate culture, and exemplified in the use of SPEs, are symptomatic of contemporary, financialized capitalism, as are the (in)effectiveness of regulation and the collusion of politicians, regulators, accountants, lawyers, and bankers in facilitating its design and legitimation.76,77 Accounts of Enron have tended to dramatize the role of a few personalities – the key executives (Lay, Skilling, and Fastow) and also the whistleblower (Watkins). In focusing on their ‘greed’ or heroic interventions, sight of the bigger picture tends to become lost or blurred. A wider-angled examin
ation of the conditions of Enron’s rise and the circumstances of its fall reveals the involvement of banks, regulators, and professional accountants in facilitating, orchestrating, and covering up a culture in which the (mis)use of corporate authority for purposes of personal gain, both symbolic and material, are normalized. Enron has been portrayed as the ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ but it is more credibly represented as an extreme manifestation of neoliberal corporate normality. In other companies, executives may act less recklessly than at Enron as they recognize how growth and profitability, which rely upon excessive risk-taking, financial engineering, and/or abuse of staff, are difficult to sustain. In other companies, responsiveness to pressures to deliver shareholder value – by engaging in forms of creative accounting and financial engineering – may be tempered by limited opportunities to become asset-lite.78 Elsewhere, responses to pressures of financialization have taken the form of outsourcing, offshoring, and pumping value from intangibles, such as brand names – sometimes with unanticipated and disastrous consequences, as in the case of companies’ reliance upon contractors to undertake their drilling operations. In other corporations, the normalized oppression associated with institutionalized secrecy, rivalry, and fear is grudgingly accommodated where it is not positively relished. Enron’s spectacular collapse has presented a window into this world but, as the financial crisis of 2008 makes clear, the lessons of Enron and Long Term Capital Management (LTCM) before it, were not learned. Perhaps if Enron employees had been less fearful of bringing evidence of the dubious and wilfully misleading accounting practices to the attention of the board or its Audit Committee, remedial actions would have been taken in time to avoid the most damaging and illegal of Enron’s multiple financial manipulations