Before the New York Times starts running "Portraits in Grief" of former Enron employees, it's worth remembering that even after the collapse, Enron stock is still worth more than the entire Social Security "trust fund."
Liberals have suspended their typical class envy paradigm long enough to weep huge crocodile tears for the almost-rich. Weren't these the precise people we were trained to hate in the '90s as they high-fived one other amid extravagant claims of retirement by age 40?
Schadenfreude has turned pretty quickly to lachrymose liberal pity. Poor ghetto blacks must be transfixed by the turn of events that supplanted them with erstwhile "yuppie scum" as the new class war victims.
When this much bathos is expended on middle-class white people with stock portfolios, liberals are up to no good. The only coherence to the Times' contradictory crusades is that they want to scare people from investing.
The Times is openly rooting for a prolonged recession, if not a depression. They are desperately trying to destroy people's faith in the market, in 401(k)s – in capitalism. When President Bush merely acknowledged that the economy was in a recession, liberals screamed that he was "talking down the economy." But now liberals want to wreck the country to help the Democratic Party.
A continuing weak stock market would serve the Democrats' short-term interest of bashing Bush and their long-term interest of keeping Americans dependent on the government.
Thus, the Times cites Enron in order to sneer about the "view" that investing in the market would provide Americans with robust retirement funds. It refers to the "now dormant" idea of privatizing Social Security. Even the Times' pet cause of campaign-finance reform is somehow more urgently needed in the wake of Enron's collapse. (But Enron's demise raises no questions about its support for Kyoto.)
The morality play being touted in the Times concerns "the plight of loyal workers who lost retirement savings while company officials cashed in $1.1 billion in stock." This puts a human face on the Times' vicious attack on "the integrity of markets."
Not so fast.
Even if Enron executives had sold no stock whatsoever in 2001, Enron shares would still be worthless. Enron executives may well be guilty of criminal misconduct: That is a separate, discrete matter to be determined by the justice system. But contrary to hyperventilating media stories, there is no causal relationship between the boss selling his stock and the employees' losses.
The ineluctable fact is: Enron was a faulty business model and the company went bankrupt. Whenever a company collapses, the people who own it (stockholders) lose money. That's why people always tell you not to put all your money in a single company's stock. Enron employees had 18 investment options, but many agreed to invest heavily in the high-flying company stock.
The only beef Enron employees have with top management is that management did not inform employees of the collapse in time to allow them to get in on the swindle. If Enron executives had shouted, "Head for the hills!" the employees might have had time to sucker other Americans into buying wildly overinflated Enron stock. Just because your boss is a criminal doesn't make you a hero.
The billions of dollars Enron employees "lost" in paper profits they had gained only in the last few years. Between 1997 and 2000, Enron stock quadrupled in price, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up only a few percentage points. In 2000, Enron stock was trading at an astronomical 66 times recent earnings.
Until 10 minutes ago, people who made a quick buck in the stock market were dot-com millionaire yuppie scum. Now when the market collapses before they can cash out, they are "the tale's most sympathetic characters, its victims."
Compared to what the stock was worth in 1997, Enron employees lost an average of about $20,000 per employee in the largest company failure in U.S. history. I've lost more money on Social Security in that time, and no one's weeping for me.
Liberals have leapt on Enron's collapse to try to persuade Americans to avoid the market altogether. They would prefer that the middle class put all its money in a sock. The stock market, the Times instructs, is not for the little people because – as the headline on the cover of the Week in Review proclaimed – "The Rich Are Different. They Know When to Get Out."
Manifestly, the rich do not know when to get out. Otherwise, we wouldn't be hearing about the ripple effect of Enron's collapse hitting the likes of Citicorp – despite the lobbying efforts of billionaire Democrat Robert Rubin.
The rich do, however, have more money, a point the Times tortures endlessly. The lesson the Times wants the middle class to glean from this is: Do not invest in the market! End hope! Trust Big Brother.