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the diary thing
01.24.02
.homer

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homerTHE WAGE SLAVE THING is pretty painless, so far. I went out and bought a Homer Simpson "action figure" for my desk. He's sitting on top of the clock radio on my left, a remote control in one kung-fu grip paw, a can of Duff beer in the other. Homer is my totem animal, at least at this stage in my life. I wish someone made a Hank Hill figure; side by side, they'd represent the cartoon poles of my adult self, late-thirties version. I'm sure that's probably a sad thing to say; I like to think that my honesty somehow redeems me.

It's been a long time since I've worked somewhere every day. I'd actually forgotten about the way that time spent at work displaces all the time you spend at home, with friends, alone. Trying to recall who I've talked to or seen in the last week or two, I draw a complete blank. I know I've spent time with my friends; I just can't recall exactly when. My whole social world has shrunk to just Blake and Jodi, Ben, Fermin, Jonathan, Glen, Tanya and P.J. It's a good thing K. works with me, or I'd have a hard time remembering just what I've done with my wife lately. 

It's in situations like this that people end up making friends with people who work at the Starbucks, or in the food court. The other day, K. was invited to a party by one of the Starbucks baristas. "There's, like, probably going to be a lot of drugs and booze and stuff," she said, ensuring that K. wouldn't even entertain the thought of going. How disarmingly candid. Ah, to be twenty again. 


 
"That man is admired above all men, who is not influenced by money."
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- Cicero

 
The workaday world pushes aside all other life. More Enron, and the demise of a hero, of sorts.
 

I WAS IMPRESSED BY Paul Krugman's column on Enron a week or so ago, and linked to it in my last entry. Now it seems that Krugman was in the pay of Enron a couple of years back, and during that time wrote a paean to the newness and rightness of entities like Enron for Fortune. He's being lambasted for it, of course, in the op-ed pages and the ditto-head platoon of the warblogs. A good thing, too, I'm sorry to say.

It only serves to underline the essential problem with economic and business journalism. I'm a fan of Krugman's -- I'll admit it. I tend to agree with him on a lot of things, including the column that's drawn the brickbats. But this should serve (not just me) as a warning about "heroes", every one of whom eventually stumble on their feet of clay and fail us, often tragically. 

His praise of Enron -- technically, he says he was writing in praise of "markets"; whatever -- was "a bit naive", he says today. Fair enough. But it stands, alongside the rest of his work. And I think it's reasonable to expect to be judged by the best and the worst of your work. The Fortune piece reads like a starstruck gush, an almost pollyanna-ish response to the triumphal "new economy" moment. Krugman had just cashed a $50,000 cheque from Enron for what sounds like a single speaking engagement; I think I'd probably be a bit charitable to someone who'd just given me the down payment on a house for a few hours of my time and a few cubic feet of my hot air. 

Now that moment is over, and cooler heads have prevailed. But a cool head isn't an asset in the business press, where the business is basically about making nice with the hot stock picks of the moment. Gloom and caution are reserved for select columnists, senior contrarians or popular academics -- like Krugman -- hired to give the appearance of "balance". In the case of spectacular failures like Enron, the knives and the schadenfreude come out -- it's assumed that the readers expect a nice, cautionary tale of greed and tragedy, and such features are, after all, so much more fun to write than the usual, glowing encomium to the genius of the market and its princes. 

It's hard to argue with success, even if that success is built on some fraudulent press releases and the fervid assurances of senior executives who are dumping their own stock while lying to your face. Enron was able to fly high for as long as it did thanks to PBS documentaries that didn't dig hard enough, and people like Krugman who let a bit of money (okay, a LOT of money) get in the way of their natural skepticism.

The Enron mess (Dare I call it a scandal? Oh I dare.) stinks all to hell, and there's a lot to be said about what went wrong, and how it reminds us that the market isn't notably kind to anyone below executive level. It's not a viewpoint that appeals to true believers, though, and Krugman's unwittingly offered himself up as a convenient scapegoat, a sideshow to distract us from the real issues. He has tenure at Princeton and a gig at the New York Times. I think he'll survive it better than Ken Lay -- perhaps. I know my opinion of him won't.

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