TCS Daily

What To Do With Enron Field

By Duane D. Freese - February 7, 2002 12:00 AM

The Argentine government has frozen the bank deposits of Argentines in order to prevent a run on the currency. One big problem is that the freeze comes at the very time most Argentines take their vacation. The summer months south of the Equator come from December to March.

Well, TV news in Argentina is all agog about a Buenos Aires man's solution to this problem. Since he can't take his money from the bank to go on vacation, he goes to the bank where he had deposited his money and takes his vacation there.

He and his wife, children and the wife's sister arrive at the main branch of their bank - almost all in Buenos Aires are large and spacious -- each morning wearing their bathing suits. They then set up their lounge chairs in the lobby, take out their books, the kids' sand buckets and toys and spend the day. They picnic with sandwiches and even sip the traditional high caffeine herbal Argentine brew of mateĀ“ through a bombilla. When the bank closes, they go home, returning the next day.

This is done in protest. But in it, perhaps, lies the germ of an idea for dealing with the Enron crisis.

Enron executives essentially locked out retirees from selling their shares until they were nearly worthless, much as the Argentine government has done with the banks helping make the peso's value plummet.

So, those employees who've since lost their jobs or retirees who've lost their nest eggs maybe should be given dibs on any facilities the executives have left on their hands. Ken Lay, rather than selling his mansion, ought to just open it to all of them to enjoy the pool and the grounds. The box seats at Enron Field in Houston - so named because of the large chunks of cash Enron doled out for naming rights - could be set aside so groups of Enron employees could have outings there. EnronĀ“s own offices, rather than closing down, could become retirement homes.

None of this could make up for people not getting their money back. Just as Argentines who've seen their currency debased by corrupt government leaders would truly prefer to spend their vacations on real beaches, so Enron shareholders who've seen their investments tank due to venal Enron executives would no doubt just like to get their money back.

Nonetheless, if that is not possible, perhaps some wise judge, if given the opportunity, might offer the executives the choice. They can either go to jail or open their homes to those whose life savings they squandered. And like needy but deserving relatives, those folks could stay as long as they liked. Enron's former CEO Ken Lay can stock the potato chips.

Financial Nonsense

Talk about closing the barn door after the horse is out, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., this week told colleagues that "it is imperative that we focus on financial literacy."

The Banking Committee member cited requirements in Wyoming that students demonstrate they have at least the skills to manage their finances before they can graduate. He'd like that to become a national focus, noting a national survey that found 82% of high school seniors failed a personal finance quiz.

One basic, something Tech Central Station Host James Glassman constantly preaches: diversify.

"The Enron situation has raised the profile of financial literacy. With so many employees losing their retirements through 401(k) plans, we need to remind employees and emphasize to them not to put all their eggs in one basket," said Enzi.

President Bush's new 401(k) proposals would help promote such literacy by allowing employers to provide employees more financial information and ease many companies' current strictures on the length employees must hold onto company granted stocks in such plans.

Of course, one might say that, in regards to Enron, its problems had more to do with a lack of common sense and common decency than it did with a lack of financial sophistication. The executives and accountants handling Enron's finances had plenty of the latter, but none of the former. And that suggests that what schools need to teach is not merely how to read financial books but values that warn against cooking them.

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