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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Lay & Skilling Convictions

What a thing to feel cheered by: the conviction on all but a handful of charges for Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, former executives of Enron Corporation. These men, who together paid at least $60 million for the defense of these criminal charges, will likely spend the rest of their lives in federal prison.

We can tick off a list of some of the harms wrought by this one episode of greed and lying: thousands unemployed in Houston alone, plus the job losses at other affiliates and at the major accounting firm that went out of business as the scandal unfolded. Pensions lost to the valueless stock. Arts organizations and other charities in Houston, even some who had not been direct beneficiaries of Enron largesse, have struggled with lost funding over the last five years, and a philanthropy publication reported recently that they are only now regaining their former strength.

I wrote in my opening article here that it was just this bad behavior of the Enron people and others that prompted me to seek a way to speak to and within the church about business. Last week, we prayed together for God's blessing on commerce and industry.

Is there a blessing we can find in this mess? Actually, there are two we can name this morning. First, law and order prevailed. Lying and cheating lost and will be punished. Rich heavy-weights, highly influential and politically well-connected, could not stop the expression of truth about what they had done. Stock prices rose in the hours following the announcement of the verdicts, and surely one of the reasons was that the institutions of justice dealt a heavy blow to this wrongdoing. You have to be able to trust "audited" financial reports, and this verdict goes a long way in showing the worth in that.

Secondly, even as some Friday press reports asserted that the Enrons are representative of "mainstream companies across the business landscape", we pause to think instead about the millions of fine, well-managed companies that make this country go. A glance at IRS tax return data shows that in 2003, there were more than 5.4 million business corporations. Many businesses are unincorporated, and another source tells that in 2000, there were some 17 million of these. The "mainstream of the business landscape" is filled with a multitude of owners and managers and employees who produce, deliver, fix, maintain and recycle the goods and services we use every day. But who are the "owners, managers and employees"? Ah, we are. To be sure, we don't do it all perfectly. But we try, and the vast majority of us try to do better all the time. We are American business, and we are blessed. Aren't we?


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