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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"Reaction Paper

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¶ … Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" (2005)

The example of Enron, chronicled in the film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" (2005) seems to be prescient of the kind of corporate arrogance we are seeing in America today, that has precipitated yet another, even worse financial crisis. Like today's real estate and credit crisis, the Enron debacle was based upon a betrayal of trust. The corrupt actions of corporate executives brought down a company and millions of jobs in the process. Their financial shenanigans affected people who did not even work for or invest in Enron, like most of the population of California, and utility workers whose pensions were depleted after the company acquired and then pillaged these firms. Enron, according to the film, was never really a 'company' at all, but a kind of giant Pyramid scheme. The 'victims' were the employees who saw their retirement funds decimated as well as stockholders in the company, some of whom lost everything because the company lied about its profitability through the use of accounting 'tricks.'

The film, through showing in-house documentaries viewed by employees, makes it clear that the in-house, ordinary Enron employees may have been less ignorant than the media coverage of the time may have indicated. The employees seem willfully ignorant, just as the CEOs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were willfully dishonest. No one knew why or how the Enron Corporation was making so much money -- but it was still apparently profitable, despite all expected common wisdom that would indicate the contrary. It took the skillful reporting of Fortune magazine's Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind to finally state that the 'emperor had no clothes,' and to question what should have been obvious from the very beginning.

The documentary does an admirable job in what might initially seem to be impossible -- making accounting manipulation seem exciting. The accounting fraud that was perpetrated was so egregious that the reputation old and respected firm Arthur Anderson was destroyed in the process as well as Enron itself. Enron manipulated its earnings, through schemes such as Hypothetical Future Value accounting, which meant it claimed projected earnings as current income. An in-house video made for employees even illustrated this fact very openly. Another Enron tactic was to create fake off-shore companies to conceal the company's debt. To demonstrate this cinematically, the viewer is treated to a cartoon diagram tracing the movement of the debt to companies with obviously joke names like "M. Yass." The film shows by such examples that the Enron fraud should have been unexpected, given the company's flouting of the law and half-hearted, snide attempts at concealing its illegal activities. It was so confident of its 'smartness' (another one of the dummy companies was even named M. Smart) that it thought it could not be caught.

However, while the documentary demonstrates that Enron employees were not unaware that the company was shady, it does suggest that the techniques deployed were so complicated, it was very difficult for a layperson to fully understand them. Furthermore, the victims of the fraud lay outside of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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