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Thursday, Mar 14, 2002

profusion cuisine

"It was Adam Smith who identified what turned out to be the central ethical fault line in Enron. The corporation, he wrote in The Wealth of Nations, was an inherently corrupting business form. The problem was the separation of ownership from control. In partnerships and sole proprietorships, the forms he preferred, the owners ran the business. In contrast, managers hired by the owner-stockholders ran the corporation. And the owners were too busy to monitor how their money was spent by the managers. So managers were institutionally liable to what Smith called "negligence" and "profusion." Negligence, because the business was not the consuming dedication of their lives, as it is for partners and sole proprietors; it was merely a job. Profusion, because they could reward themselves by lavishing other people's money, which spends so much easier than our own, on fine dinners, handsome equipages, and all manner of other frippery—and disguise their profusion as business expenses. Smith's distrust of the corporation had empirical backing in the disgraceful behavior of the East India Company, the Enron of his day, a monument to negligence and profusion."