The film Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, the story of one of the
world’s biggest and most notorious bankruptcies, opens in cinemas
today. I saw it at a preview screening last week, and it’s a
hair-raising story very effectively told.
Maybe because I was reading The Latham Diaries at the time, it
got me thinking about the similarities between Enron and a modern
political party. Enron did awful things to its investors and
stakeholders, not because it was run by evil people, but because its
internal culture was fundamentally disconnected from the ordinary world
Enron’s executives looked to the internal group for vindication,
not to any usual standards of right and wrong. They functioned in a
dog-eat-dog environment where people prospered by doing things that in
their private lives they would regard as unthinkable – just the sort of
poisonous, psychopathic culture that Latham describes in the ALP.
Enron’s people talked about money while politicians talk about power,
but in practice the two are inextricably linked.
But there’s one important difference. With Enron, the market
ultimately worked. The company went bankrupt, its methods were
discredited, its executives were led away in handcuffs (the president
and CEO go on trial early next year). Retribution was tardy and
imperfect, but it did happen. Our political parties seem to have no
such check on their behaviour – indeed, they’re the ones that set the
rules the market has to play by. It’s not a comforting thought.