Enron, The 7th Sister 

Authored by David M. Boje, Ph.D. - © 2002

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Enron is Theatre:

Enron, The 7th Sister By David M. Boje, Ph.D.

Characters
Plots
Themes
Dialogs
Rhythms
Frames
Spectacles
The Seven Sisters of Oil are  (1) Exxon (formerly Esso & Standard Oil of NJ), (2) Mobil (formerly Socony), (3) Shell, (4) British Petroleum (has part of Standard Oil of Indiana), (5) Gulf, (6) Texaco (formerly Texas Oil), & (7) Chevron (Sampson, 1975). The paternal parent of the Sisters is Standard Oil of New Jersey (known as 'Jersey') who was split apart after Ida Tarbell (1904). Chevron acquired Gulf in 1984 and Exxon Merged with Mobil. 

Enron is the Seventh Sister (a vacancy created by Sister marriages). There is an intricate Trust system of Big Sister cooperation in the global Society of the Spectacle (Debord, 1967). By spectacle, I mean ways the oil men of the last century learned to masquerade as philanthropists and defenders of free enterprise and champions spreading democracy to the world. The Seven Sisters are such a disguised spectacle, even periodic unmasking, does not alter their global control.

The first trusts of the late 1800s collaborated to fix the prices of salt, whiskey, cattle, iron, and oil. In 1870, John D. Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 - May 23, 1937) organized The Standard Oil Company including his brother William, Andrews, Henry M. Flagler, and S.V. Harkness (Tarbell, 1904; Josephson, 1934; Chandler, 1966). In 1879 Rockefeller reorganized his Trust networking together 77 competing oil companies that entrusting stock control to a managing committee, run by nine Standard Oil men. By cross-holding shares, they controlled 90% of the nation's oil production.
Milestones in Anti Trust
1870: formation of Standard Oil
1890: Sherman Anti Trust Act
1902 Northern Securities case
1911: Standard Oil breakup
1914: Federal Trade Commission set up
1934: Securities and Exchange Commission set up
1985- Enron
1998- : Microsoft:
2001-Nike Case
Ironically, organization studies following Chandler (1966: 200-273) focuses upon the positive aspects of vertical integration and the creation of multidivisional, "decentralized" corporate structures; there is no mention of Standard Oil's trust networks. Olien and Olien (2000) have set out to uplift the image of Standard Oil, by attacking the credibility of Tarbell (1904).

Standard Oil was allegedly by Tarbell (1904), Josephson (1934), and others to have conspired to exact rebates on transportation for their network members, and those outside that trust could neither compete nor survive. Tarbell made Rockefeller the romantic villain and personification of the otherwise impersonal monopolistic trusts.  

The trust networks co-invested in scientific research and actively marketed themselves as public benefactors. In 1882, all its corporations were merged in the Standard Oil Trust. Standard Oil of New Jersey became a Trust (a network of 322 interlocking corporate partnerships) controlled by a few executives. The same pattern of cash-for-political-access of Jersey was replicated in Enron with 3500 subsidiaries and partnerships. For years, like its Older Sisters, Enron, wore "a magic cap of invisibility so that even those who were paying artificially enhanced prices usually did not know just what was being done to them" (Fetter, 1931: 4). California's energy shortage in the 1970s and again in 2001 comes to mind.  Enron created phantom congestion on electricity transmission lines (Enron's Smoking Gun Memos, May 7 2002).

In 1886, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that under the 14th Amendment "...equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations." The meaning is corporations are persons under the law deserving "equal protection" (Kellman, 1999; Adbusters, 2000; Rethinking The Corporation, 1998; City of Point Arena initiative to end Corporation is person). The problem is the 14th Amendment was initiated to abolish slavery, not to make us all slaves to corporate rule. The Supreme Court has confused popular democracy with corporate rule.

The Seven Sisters was never stopped by congressional investigation or anti-trust action (Engler, 1961: 268). We the people are no longer protected from corporate harm.

"In 1994, five energy companies gave $30.4 million to federal candidates and received $34 billion in tax breaks and subsidies!" (source).

"United States  Congressional committee concluded in 1941,  'The principal instrument of the concentration  of economic power and wealth has been the  corporate charter with unlimited power....'" (Source).

Nike and Free Speech
"The Founding Fathers despised corporations, and for years states kept their power in check. But as corporate influence grew, laws were passed giving the entities many of the rights of individuals. A recent California court decision against Nike was an important blow against 'corporate personhood'... [Nike got help from ACLU, alleging Nike is a person and protected by Freed Speech Rights] Thankfully, Nike and its ACLU supporters lost. Commercial speech does not have First Amendment protection, and on May 2, the Court ruled 4-3 that Nike's public relations were commercial speech as much as its advertisements are. The court reinstated Kasky's suit without ruling on the merits of the case, which now will be heard in trial court" (Source). 

The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 tried to counteract restraint of trade practices by the new legal person (corporation charter process). And in 1911, Standard Oil Trust was split apart, yet the Network of the Seven Sisters continues to this date. The anti-trust

November 1, 1972 Standard Oil Company of New York became the Exxon corporation date of shareholder approval). Exxon is the biggest sister. Kenneth Lay worked for Exxon before he worked to create Enron. Leaving Exxon, Lay brought about the merger of Houston Natural Gas and InterNorth Pipeline of Omaha (plus the secret Valhalla Rogues of NY partner) in 1985 that is Enron. My thesis is the same patterns of Trust building of Standard Oil, now Exxon, recur in Enron; anti-trust laws are not equipped to deal with the modern forms of Trust. 

In the 2000s we have evolved new trust networks, in for form of strange partnerships, such as those of Enron and Microsoft.  Enron CEO Key Lay's quote to employees at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon suggests how he imitated Microsoft partnership strategy:

"We'd like to look at ourselves as the Microsoft of the energy world." Lay saw that Microsoft was able to make massive off balance sheet speculations using derivatives on its own stock, manipulate earnings and use employee options to completely eliminate their corporate income tax. Like Enron, Microsoft also has a staggering mix of what could be direct conflicts of interest among insiders that make Enron's offenses look minor. Corruption that was tolerated at Enron was enabled by the Microsoft Corporation and their orchestration of a complete breakdown in corporate accounting practices..." (Source US DOJ Comment Number: MTC-00004798 by Bill Parrish).

Enron and Microsoft engaged in many similar tactics:

Microsoft fired its own internal auditor who told them what they were doing constituted securities fraud;

Like Stuart Fastow at Enron, two CFO's at Microsoft boasted over their ability to impact accounting standards

During the 1999-2000 election cycle, Microsoft and its executives accounted for some $2,298,551 in "soft money" contributions, according to FEC records. For context, consider that this was two-thirds more than the $1,546,055 in soft money contributed by Enron and its executives during the same period (Source Civil Action No. 98-1232 & 3 -CKK US vs. Microsoft).

Like Enron, Microsoft was consistently been rated one of the top corporations to work for and one of the most admired companies by Fortune Magazine (Source DOJ Comment Number: MTC-00029465).

New patterns of trust networks are getting around the anti-trust laws of the U.S. that date back to the 1890s.

Enron gave $50,000 to Paul Krugman, from the New York Times, who writes about economic matters, and not too surprisingly, Krugman apparently wrote positive articles in the past about Enron (Source DOJ Comment Number: MTC-00029465).
In 1911 the U.S. government dismembered the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (called Jersey for short).

For a century, anti-trust laws try to regulate and control the excesses of the Seven original Sisters of the Oil business.

Exxon, Enron & Microsoft

In Standard Oil (now Exxon), Enron, and Microsoft, a partnership network of managers, and not the average stockholders were in control.

Like Exxon and Microsoft, Enron had an income greater than most countries.

"In 1910 Mr. Rockefeller's net worth was equal to nearly 2.5% of the whole US economy, the equivalent of nearly $250bn in today's terms, or at least twice as much as Bill Gates" (Source BBC Trustbusters, A History Lesson).

"Oil has sought to establish a privately intimate relationship with the administrative processes of government" (Engler,1961: 270).

Lessons

Enron is theatre run amuck.

Enron is part of a capitalist system in which the wealth of nations is being concentrated into fewer invisible hands. 

Enron enrolls a cast of characters from notable Business Colleges to the White House to enact its trust networks. Enron used its theatre to gain the confidence of the masses. 

Enron is Metatheatre. Enron accomplishes its theatre to persuade and seduce employees, investors, and students into the willing suspension of disbelief through dialogs. We live in what Boje (2002c) calls Theatres of Capitalism, in what Guy Debord (1967) calls the Society of the Spectacle and what our friends A. Fuat Firat and Nikhilesh Dholakia call the Political Economy of Theatres of Consumption (1998). 

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  References on 7 Sisters

Chandler, Alfred D. Jr. (1966). Strategy and Structure: chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Anchor Books).

Engler, Robert C. (1961). The Politics of Oil: A study of private power and democratic direction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Fetter, Frank A. (1931). The Masquerade of Monopoly. NY: Augustus M. Kelley Publishers; 1971 reprint issue.  

Josephson, Matthew (1934). The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists 1861-1901. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc (Harvest Book). 1961 second edition. 

O'Connor, Harvey (1962). The Empire of Oil. NY: Monthly Review Press.

Olien, Roger M. & Diana D. Olien (2000). Oil and Ideology. The University of North Carolina Press. 

Sampson, Anthony (1975). The Seven Sisters: The great oil companies and the world they shaped. NY: The Viking Press.

Tarbell, Ida M. (1904). History of the Standard Oil Company. McClure, Phillips & Company.

 

 
   
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