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Euphoria, Risk and Corporate Scandal: Enron and the Commercial Corruption of Expertise within Financialised Capitalism.

Matthew Watson

CSGR Working Paper 255/08

November 2008

Abstract:

Individual investment decisions are guided by the knowledge that is presented by financial experts about the future prospects of firms. The integrity of the financial system depends on the expert community maintaining its independence in the face of firms’ attempts to impose their own commercial interests as the perspective through which expert assessments of their prospects are undertaken. The dramatic nature of Enron’s collapse in the autumn of 2001 was intensified by the fact that it occurred on the back of a three-year period of exceptional growth in its stock market valuation. With hindsight, this period can now be shown to be evidence of Enron’s successful ‘capture’ of expert opinion, such that a post hoc evaluation of the public pronouncements of financial experts appears to reposition them as ostensible company stakeholders. The paper focuses on: the strategies deployed by Enron’s senior managers to effect this capture of expert opinion; the reasons why the company had become so dependent on good news propelling stock price increases that its managers felt compelled to adopt such a strategy; and the implications of the commercial corruption of expertise for the sustainability of finance-led growth regimes.

Keywords: Enron; risk society; financial expertise; company watchdogs; financialisation; stock market.

Contact Details

Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR)

University of Warwick
CV4 7AL Coventry (UK)

Email: Matthew.G.Watson@Warwick.ac.uk