Evening Ethics Exploration, 12/2/21: It’s Enron Day!

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Yes, December 2 is the day Enron, one of the great corporate scams of all time, declared bankruptcy. On this date in 2001, the saga of the Enron Corporation began to unfold, and what an ugly story it was.

Formed in 1985 as the merger of two gas companies, Enron prospered under chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay to rise as high as number seven on Fortune’s Top 500 U.S. companies. By 2000, the company was employing 21,000 people and claimed revenue of $111 billion. But rumors of shady dealings caused Enron’s stock price to plummet, and by November 30, 2001, it was worth 26 cents a share. Lay sold off his Enron stock, while encouraging Enron employees to buy more shares, ssuring them that the company was on the rebound. Nice. Employees’ retirement savings accounts were wiped out, and by the end of the year, Enron’s collapse had cost investors billions of dollars, put 5,600 out of and rendered almost $2.1 billion in pension plans worthless.

Somewhere in my office I have a copy of an Enron employee ethics handbook with a touching introduction by Ken Lay about the company’s commitment to integrity, honesty, and transparency.

1. Bye! I was just in Shirlington Center in Arlington faced with time to kill as a service station fixed a tire. I was about to wander into a new establishment called “Damn Good Burgers,” but there was a prominent “Black Lives Matter” sticker on the door, so I went elsewhere. I don’t care about the politics of businesses or their owners, as long as they deliver what they advertise at reasonably good quality and prices. But if they require me to tacitly endorse a racist, violent, anti-American movement led by Marxists, they can bite me. If your business is going to engage in cheap virtue signaling, it better be actual virtue.

2.’This is the tragedy of Woke Hysteria. Won’t you help with a tax deductible to help people like this?‘ “The Ethicist” (in the New York Times Magazine) got a tortured inquiry from a young woman called “Name Withheld By Request.”

When my father died, I inherited a large trust fund and sole ownership of a family business. I was young and woefully unprepared, so I put my inheritance on the back burner and lived my life as if I was financially “normal.” However, since the pandemic, my portfolio has hit a new high. I am utterly distraught. I feel that I should have never gotten so wealthy when people are suffering so much.

I’ve been seriously considering giving a large portion away, but the more I talk to people, the more I realize that to give away large sums of money responsibly and ethically turns my life into a job that I never wanted. I don’t want my father’s money to become my life, my career or the most significant thing about me, even though I know that I benefit from it. I have privileges with it, it gives me options and frankly I could not afford to live in a big city without it.

My questions are these: How much money is it ethical to keep, and how much would it be ethical to give away? What is the best way to decide who should receive the money? And how much time and responsibility and rewriting of my life do I owe this gift that often feels like a burden?

As usual, “The Ethicist” (Kwame Anthony Appiah) is diplomatic and measured, saying, in part, “This one bequest…will make a de minimis difference to inequality in the world” and “having this money puts you in a position to do good, and… giving money away just isn’t that hard.” I would add,

  • “Feeling guilty about being lucky demonstrates that you’ve been crippled by progressive indoctrination. Why don’t you hope that you’ll be hit by a bus to even up the score?”
  • How much money is it ethical to keep? “As much or as little as you choose, of course. But based on the critical thinking skills you exhibit in your question, I’d suggest keeping some cash in reserve. You’ll need it.”
  • What is the best way to decide who should receive the money? There is no “best way.” The worst way is to donate to charities with big bureaucracies (like the United Way and Red Cross) politicians, universities, religious organizations and social movements. There is no “should.” Just read the news. If you did nothing but give your money to the men recently released from prison after being wrongfully convicted, you would have done a good job.
  • And how much time and responsibility and rewriting of my life do I owe this gift that often feels like a burden? You owe the money nothing. And stop saying that having discretionary resources is a burden. It’s obnoxious virtue-signaling of the worst kind.

3. Look! A new baseball scandal! A report  from “Business Insider’s” Bradford William Davis revealed that MLB used two different versions of baseballs in various parks throughout all of 2021 without telling anyone. One baseball was lively, and the other kind was deader. Some players suspected that there were inconsistencies that resulted in the same level of contact with bats having very different results. Meredith Wills, member the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and an award-winning astrophysicist,  measured hundreds of different game-used balls from half the league’s ballparks, and sure enough: MLB had introduced a new ball with a lighter center into games but also allowed older model balls to be used as well. An identical scandal forced Japan’s commissioner to resign a few years ago, but this obviously unacceptable breach of the game’s integrity has barely been covered by the U.S. sports media.

4. Somebody warn “Name Withheld…”! As the 2022 mid-terms approach, deceitful and misleading political fundraising is blooming. The idea is to con cash out of gullible Americans, often the older variety. Both political parties are guilty of this.

Republicans, which Ethics Alarms has criticized for sending out campaign literature disguised as census documents, are still up tothese tricks. “Your covid test result,” reads the subject line of a fundraising email from the campaign arm of House conservatives. “WARNING: Payment Incomplete” has been topic of more than 15 GOP emails since August. The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, sent an email to potential supporters who had not ordered anything, using “Your Order Confirmation” as the sender and “Order ID: 73G526S” as the subject line.

Democrats like deceit rather than outright lies, apparently. Take this appeal:

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Nothing in the email states that the contributions sought will in fact be used to assist Beto O’Roarke’s candidacy. “This campaign” refers only to the campaign of the Democratic PAC that will receive the money. [Source: NYT]

5. OK, it’s just a student paper editorial. But still… I was about to devote a whole post to fisking an editorial attacking the Rittenhouse verdict until I realized that the thing was by the editorial board of The Pitt News, the daily campus paper of the University of Pittsburgh. That shifted my attention from the utter ignorance of the piece regarding the law and our system to the unethically expensive and miserable education so many of our college students are receiving. True, some major papers have had op-eds that are not much better; still, the arguments presented by “Self-defense laws need to be clearer” are frighteningly incompetent and facile. Such as…

  • “The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse ended with him walking free on essentially a technicality.”

That’s the first sentence, and if I weren’t looking for examples of inept journalism but rather seeking an informed opinion, I wouldn’t read further. There was no “technicality.” The jury followed the law. A technicality is when a guilty individual is freed because of an expired statute of limitations or because the wrong name was written on the indictment. Rittenhouse was found not guilty because the evidence didn’t prove him guilty.

  • “When a 17-year-old can obtain a gun, shoot three people and walk free, there is something deeply flawed. This system must be changed before more lives are lost.”

That’s neither a legitimate argument nor an accurate description of events. The evidence showed that all three of the men who were shot threatened or attacked Rittenhouse. Nor was any “system” responsible for the Rittenhouse being acquitted other than the jury system. A bland assertion that the system should be “changed” must be accompanied by specific proposals. “We don’t like the result, so something must be done” is not a productive position.

Rittenhouse’s case did involved neither “stand your ground” nor castle doctrine laws.

  • “People shouldn’t fear that they will be killed at any time by a gun and that their killer will walk free because of loopholes created to make the NRA money.”

That sentence is too incoherent to parse. Not to be cruel, but anyone who can’t write more clearly than that is in no position to complain about insufficiently exact self-defense laws.

The editorial concludes in a grand flurry of standard anti-NRA rhetoric, unsupported assertions, legal misconceptions, wild generalizations and hyperbole, all awkwardly composed employing habits that should have been eradicated in junior high school English:

  • “By creating federal legislation that makes self-defense laws crystal clear and eliminates loopholes, Rittenhouse and those like him won’t get off without legal consequences in the future. The murkiness of state laws means that anyone can get off on an unfair technicality. By creating a uniformity to these laws, we can ensure that justice will be served to those who have been killed and their families.  Unfortunately, right now it’s extremely difficult to pass federal legislation around gun control as it is a deeply polarizing issue. The NRA funds many GOP politicians who won’t budge around gun legislation as long as their pockets are lined by those who create the loopholes in the first place. Congress needs to put a stop to the NRA and focus instead on keeping its people safe.”

And this was authored by the college paper’s editors.

5 thoughts on “Evening Ethics Exploration, 12/2/21: It’s Enron Day!

  1. It would be refreshing to see a student or faculty member at the University of Pittsburg write a rebuttal piece for the publication. Surely there is at least one who could articulate the facts of the matter. Since all politics are local, the remedy and resistance should grow from there as well. The editorial board members are all likely aspiring journalists getting an early start in their craft,

  2. I think Lay died in prison fairly recently. I say good. Unfortunately, too few robber barons like him get caught.

    1. For all we know, maybe that is just the equivalent of marking the door with the blood of the lamb to make sure the plague doesn’t strike. You never know when another verdict will come down the wrong way and BLM and antifa will be out for blood.

    2. White guilt much? Maybe she can build an apartment for black and brown folks from generational poverty to live in rent free and regularly replace the copper piping when they sell it to buy drugs.

    3. Who cares? Major League sports lost a ton of fans when they went woke and the pandemic showed us we can survive without them.

    4. After last year, I’m just going to say that all’s fair in love, war, and politics.

    5. My first impulse is to say “who cares what a bunch of students who walk past the pride flag carrying their gender studies books and muttering “screw the USA” think?” However, the philosophy of education today is the philosophy of government tomorrow. It’s times like this that make me glad that I am past middle age and hopefully won’t live to see these people take the reins.

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