the CAMP ENRON Report


CAMP ENRON:
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?

Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew's been smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.


For a brief orientation, see this
Welcome to Camp Enron

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Camp Enron Archives
01/01/2002 - 02/01/2002 02/01/2002 - 03/01/2002 03/01/2002 - 04/01/2002 04/01/2002 - 05/01/2002 05/01/2002 - 06/01/2002 06/01/2002 - 07/01/2002 07/01/2002 - 08/01/2002 08/01/2002 - 09/01/2002 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003

NOTE to READERS:
(2) All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


OUR DEPARTMENTS:

the COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading the tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.


For brief orientation, see this
Welcome to CP


CAMP ENRON:
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?

For a brief orientation, see this
Welcome to Camp Enron

OTHER GOOD STUFF:
Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Thursday, January 17, 2002

 
--- To Infinity, and Beyond ... ---

[orninally posted on The Fray, and reprised on Quasipundit.com "Dispatches From Afar"]
Setting aside the "astronomical" thesis of my dispatch from Planet Enron, and picking up Josh Marshall's "meta-scandal" and Richard Cohen's "no category for it", what's the right sized box for the Enron debacle?

If I'm right about how big "big" is, it's big. Bigger than the Titanic, bigger than the Hindenberg, bigger than the Edsel. Conservatively, let's assume no violation of law by any political figure -- no President, regulator, jurist, legislator, fund-raiser, party hack or party flak -- and with a firm grip on Occam's Razor, create not categories beyond necessity. It's still BIG ... can we find a descriptor grandiose enough to do it justice?

One subculture has thrown up a virtual shantytown of hasty minimalist framings, a melange of four distinct architectures:
(1) Andrew Sullivan's "Big Hairy Deal" theory , or as Libertarian Samizdata put it, "yawn".
(2) A premature headline "Enron Investigation Complete, Bush Not Guilty" making the rounds in GOP loyalist circles.
(3) The "Andersen Scandal" treatment favored by Will Vehrs and others. In essence, "Dogbertgate" ... a Marat/Sade remake, with hired suits telling the inmates how to run the asylum.
(4) "Everybody did it", per David Brooks, and especially "Clinton did it".

Versions three and four are more damning than their authors intend. True, Andersen let us down. And indeed, Everybody did it. By my reckoning, these signposts direct us to the trailhead where Marshall and Cohen scrambled up the slopes a couple days back.

On the way to learning how Andersen failed us and why Everybody did it, a web of assumptions will be examined ... beliefs so pervasive our culture has no names for their alternatives, since we never imagined there might be (or must be) alternatives. Where this journey will take us is beyond the capacity of anyone to anticipate -- even yours truly.

For now, let's bang words together, hoping to stumble on a fitting category -- perhaps familiar, perhaps something new under the sun.

The Fall of the House of Enron is a seminal event, of far greater magnitude than the production of one Blue Dress. A cultural bombshell. A watershed. An end to Business as Usual. The End of an Era. A massive failure of intelligence. A massive failure of epistemology. A tipping point. A Bridge Too Far. A collective epiphany. Losing our religion. Nietzsche's Transvaluation of Values. McLuhan's Reversal of the Overheated Medium. A Hegelian Crisis of Cannibalism. The fall of a dynasty of baseless enthusiasms. A Bonfire of Inanities. A compound fracture of the Pillars of Community, where jagged scissile bones of Unjust Enrichment protrude sickeningly through the riven flesh of Shattered Trust. A Hoberman Scandal. Could it even be a Paradigm Shift?
Sorry, that one sounds for all the world like an Andersen pitch for new shelfware, and "shift happens" only when a new paradigm emerges to out-rationalize the old. Do post the earnest solicitation "Paradigm Wanted -- Inquire Within" ... but remember the creaking superstructures of dilapidated paradigms have been known to teeter menacingly over public thoroughfares for generations on end.

Enron does for the mystique of American faux-capitalism just what 9/11 does for the world of Islam. It calls for a review of faith and its application in the modern world. It's the Crash of 1929, with or without the crashing. If the dislodged superstructure merely levitates in plain sight, the nagging question "What holds it up, momma?" subverts the social order more deeply than the outright fall of any grand edifice.

What imbues Enron with such powers of cosmic upheaval? Nothing. It has no power of causation, but of ideal representation and perfect timing. A constellation of contradictions has been converging under our noses. Lanny Davis labels Enron an "emblem" -- the hood ornament on a runaway train-of-thought, now coming off the rails everywhere at once.

Legitimate Capitalism hangs on a chain of premises -- one person's surplus above immediate consumption can be pooled and transferred, and another person can use it to make some flocks increase, and net increase can be counted, and the first person can receive a share of the greater surplus, and the counts can be verified and contracts enforced and disputes settled by competent disinterested third persons, and all can be justly rewarded, and these incentives will lead to surplus everywhere being put to better use. The Enron story attacks every premise. Enron broke all the rules we knew, and more.
[paragraph above revised for clarity]

Enron is not the only make-believe castle in the make-believe sky, but it is big, and centrally located. And almost everyone was in on the make-believe, from trusted eminences to ordinary investors who became convinced they could reap 20% annual returns, compounded, by aimlessly trading tokens of things they didn't understand ... or that somebody somewhere could do this for them, for a miniscule slice of the proceeds.

Enron is an early skirmish -- and a decided upset -- in the battle between what was supposed to come next, and whatever will come next. The early favorite, anarcho-capitalism, blows out a knee in the preliminary heats. Samizdata may have it nailed in their mission statement: "Developing the libertarian meta-context" (and, artfully avoiding any possible confusion) "... for the future". That's exactly what's at work here: creative destruction of the prevailing meta-context ... "for the future".

Or was it just an accounting glitch, and a run of bad luck?