The Witzelsucht Memorandum

-Where Top-Hat, Red-Carpet Service is Practically A Motto-

After the Triangle Shirt-Waist Fire of 1911, Enron Was No Surprise

(March '02)

Who says nothing good has come from the Enron follies -- other than the last spadeful of dirt thudding on the coffin of the everyone-gets-to-be-a-millionaire, Ponzi party of the late 90's? At least now we'll no longer suffer gasbags on TV and in print extolling CEOs as paragons of virtue and exemplars of morality. Prime peddlers of that palaver included Dinesh D'Souza and Robert Bork, who declared racism long vanished from executive suites, ostensibly because it didn't "make sense" to the Rational Men from Economics 101 who run the private sector (then why did it make sense before? Why?). The propagandistic drumbeat hit its stride during Peckergate, following revelation of First Mistress Monica's bit of slurpin' -'n- burpin' with the Horndog from Hope, and during the ensuing impeachment. Bill Bennett, the virtues/values gadfly and former Drug Lord (oops, I mean Drug Czar) was oft heard droning on about how any male CEO who'd been caught carrying on like that with a young female staffer would be fired, bounced out of his job like Dagwood at the boot of Mr. Dithers. CEOs, we were told, would lead us out of the dank moral netherland of the Clinton era. Their gravitas and accomplishment, their boardroom rectitude and tireless entrepreneurial spirit, would be a welcome, bracing antidote to the me-first excesses of the incubus President and his valueless, morally relativist, baby boomer ilk. The steel-jawed, gray-templed go-getters with the seven- and eight- figure salaries could be counted on to roll up their sleeves, hitch up their pants, and trickle down enough liquid assets to float all our boats.

Of course, the moralistic claims were utter bilge: journalists checked records and found that CEOs had long gotten free passes, no or minimal punishment for pawing their female underlings. To the extent managers have entered a place of heightened sensitivity about Keeping Your Hands to Yourself, they've been dragged kicking and screaming. It was allegations of a bank vice president's worktime schtupping and rape prompted the Supreme Court's "hostile environment" decision in Meritor Savings Bank. Mitsubishi had to cough up $44 million because its executives condoned and committed sexual harassment against hundreds of women at its plant in Normal, Illinois. At the Dial soap factory in suburban Chicago, sexual harassment was pervasive in executive suites as well as on the factory floor. ("Dial Facing Sexual Harassment Suit - Women Ready to Testify in Key EEOC Action Against Company," Washington Post, January 25, 2002). By CEO standards, the 42nd President's shagging shenanigans were par for the course.

And as for Bennett, he still doesn't get it. As late as last fall he was slamming a two-year-old movie, American Beauty, for portraying "a businessman" in a sour light, presumably Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham, whose lust for a teen cheerleader precipitates a mid-life crisis that sees him blackmail his boss, smoke pot, and scheme to bed the young sylph. But don't worry, Bill, that made-up fictional character wasn't a CEO or even a businessman -- he worked for a magazine.

So Enron comes as no surprise. This is the same crowd that brought us the Triangle Shirt-Waist fire in 1911, and once again, by the time the hoi polloi on the cutting-room floor found the fire exits chained shut, the guys with the titles had been whisked to safety via the roof. Turns out, greed doesn't work, greed isn't good, or whatever it was that Michael Douglas parroted Ivan Boesky in that fatuously overrated and now mostly forgotten movie. Warhol was wrong: art isn't whatever you can get away with, business is. At a growing rate, the benefits of your labors inure disproportionately to the guys who hire the guys who sign your paychecks. Proof? The steady growth in the productivity of American workers during the end of the last century was outpaced by the growth of the gap between rich and poor, between rich and middle class. In 1980 the CEOs of the biggest U.S. companies got about 40 times as much as their hourly wage employees; now, it's closer to 500 times as much.  The harder you work, the better off are the better-off. American employees boast shorter vacations and longer hours than their European counterparts. It's part of a grand plan to keep our noses to the grindstone so we won't see their fingers in the till. As Celine observed in translated French,"when it comes to extracting the maximum amount of labor out of a two-legged beast, the ancient Pharoahs and Tartar tyrants were preposterous incompetents. Did they ever think of calling their slave 'monsieur,' or giving him his newspaper, or letting him vote now and then?" They've put job titles at the top of obituaries, made us pay for things we used to get for free (like TV; radio is next), and invented the Stressocracy - the legions of office drones who need nearly-intolerable levels of job-related stress to assuage fears of not pulling their weight. They even hoodwinked feminists into believing that personnel fulfillment demands a career (in addition to the already no-piece-of-cake task of raising the sort of kids who won't grow up to cosh WIT MEMO on the head some night outside a Metro station).

The latest ploy was an absurd scientific report to the effect that a decent amount of sleep can actually send you to an early grave. ("Study Links 8 Hours' Sleep to Shorter Life Span," Washington Post, February 15, 2002. The message is clear: relax, and you die.

You don't have to be a Stephen Jay Hawking to figure out that this claim is pure swampwater, right up there with laetrile and pyschic surgery, an incidental artifact of the well-known phenomenon that the elderly need less sleep. Divide a study population into two groups, those who lived to ripe old ages and those who checked out early, and of course the old farts who need less sleep will be disproportionately represented in the former. Do not ever let pass the chance to grab a full eight hour's shut eye. 

The Witzelsucht Memorandum