Fond Reminisces About Enronitis and US Decline

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 8/11/2009 01:51:00 PM
Have I got a treat for you today, dear friends. I was rummaging through my cabinet in search of something else when I came across this priceless piece of disaster memorabilia. As you can see, it is an Arthur Andersen binder for a seminar concerning--I kid you not--a "Business Ethics Program." There is an old saying about being able to tell who a person is by the persons he keeps company with. As an inveterate collector of oddball stuff--I like to think of this blog as postcards from a world gone wrong as its subtitle suggests--my conviction is that I can tell who a person is by the memorabilia s/he keeps.

But wait, it gets even better. Open the binder and you can see what must have been highly informative content on, among other things, "Accounting Minicases" and "Finance Minicases." Rest assured that what I am presenting you is a genuine article as I have neither the time nor the talent to make this stuff up. (Topping things off, it's from Houston, but that's another story.) To prove that I have not grabbed this stuff via image search, I am including two Nintendo characters I purchased recently while having to kill time at a shopping mall. Goomba is thoroughly appalled: "Even Bowser wouldn't commit such villainy!" Yoshi agrees, saying "Where is Mario when you need him to eliminate these evildoers?"

Actually, we all know what happened sometime ago: the world's largest accounting firm was effectively put out of business when criminal convictions were levied against Arthur Andersen. The ironic thing is that the conviction was overturned in 2005--well after the accounting firm ceased to exist and its various offices became affiliated with the other major accounting concerns.

Mind you, America is still the world's leading practitioner of fraudulent accounting. By not recognizing its unfunded health care and old age liabilities--an act guaranteed to land any accountant in jail were he auditing a corporation--it perpetuates the moronic and morally bankrupt process of poor countries subsidizing rich countries we call subprime globalization. As Willem Buiter notes, America's Medicare's unfunded obligations total $85.2 trillion alone--let's see if they can make the Chinese pay for that. Yes, Virginia, there still is a political economy of bookkeeping.

Before I rehash that stuff, I view my Arthur Andersen binder as another piece of evidence in--you guessed it--the overall narrative of American decline. A country that trades real productivity for smoke and mirrors bookkeeping to dupe others into "investing" in its "assets" should be realized for what it is. Simply put: the US dollar is depreciating junk, Treasuries are trash printed in nearly infinite quantities, and American equities that are in the same place now as they were over a decade ago (not even adjusted for inflation) are utter rubbish.

Call it the endowment effect in operation, but I would not sell this magnificent memorabilia even if someone offered me a thousand dollars. Meanwhile, business ethics my sassafras--the entire edifice reeks of corruption, sort of like nationalized Enronitis. Does moral decline accompany financial decline? I need not answer that question.