Review of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Directed by Alex Gibney
By KENDRICK KUO
Growing up, I heard about the story of Enron, but having lived overseas when the scandal broke out and only being a middle schooler at the time, it didn’t make a big impression on me. But after watching the film, I can better understand the ongoing conversation about regulation on Wall Street. Not in the specifics, but the broad milieu of strong resentment toward risky loans and misallocation of funds, to the harm of the little guy.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Enron, or don’t know it in detail, the documentary does a good job with mini-biopics of the key players and exposing the horrendous abuse of power and the depth of deception involved in the fiasco. The culprits: Kenneth Lay (CEO), Jeffrey Skilling (President), and Andrew Fastow (CFO).
Enron went through several initiatives that ended as massive failures. Enron got into the energy delivery business by purchasing power plants and penned a contract in India to build a large power station. Unfortunately, the plant was too expensive and the demand to support such a venture was nowhere to be found. Enron also entered the broadband business in order to deliver movies on demand to households, right before the dot-com bubble burst. Another failure. To the very end, Enron continued to try new tricks, such as trading weather like a commodity, which as kooky as it sounds, naturally ended poorly.
In spite of these insurmountable problems, Enron continued to look healthy to the outside world. Through strong PR during the dot-com bubble, Enron’s stocks continued to climb and its executives cashed out on options worth millions of dollars. Enron lied to investors by using a type of accounting method called “mark-to-market accounting,” Enron continued to show profit based on projected income, as opposed to the actual numbers, which were not encouraging. Other schemes included creating fake businesses used to send Enron funds and stow away debt.
In order to secure funds to offset failed ventures, they explored even darker fields. They purposefully initiated rolling blackouts in California, taking advantage of deregulation legislation in force on California’s energy market. With the lower supply, Enron tried to pull itself out of the red.
The audience cannot help but get angry about how the executives at Enron lied to the public and ended up hurting the little guys while they cashed in stock options for millions of dollars. This outrage is a proper response to such injustice.
Recently, our pastor preached on a similar topic: how do Christians react to injustice? And more specifically, how can we trust God in the midst of persistent suffering?
Our pastor encouraged us to pray for justice, both externally and internally. That is, both in the public sphere, but also among our own churches, for by tolerating sin we end up creating obstacles for others to come to Christ. To fear God means to hate sin. We must also wait for God’ justice. We can wait because we know the ending—Christ will return as the Righteous Judge. And by waiting, we are holding onto God’s promises.
So even though the Enron executives ended up in front of Congressional investigatory committees and were tarred and feathered on the national stage, true justice is still to come. These temporal judges are but shadows of the coming judgment. And it is fitting that Christians should eagerly await that coming day, while also praying that sinner might yet turn from their ways and trust in Christ.
Come, Lord Jesus.