Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

       FEBRUARY 7, 2002
Oneida, NY 
Art and Life Discussion
Links / The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel

Lynette Abel



Enron fallout is appalling

To the Editor: 

      It is appalling to read the daily revelations of the Enron collapse, with their alarming, wide-ranging effects, which include thousands of employees who lost their jobs and their entire life savings, while company executives grabbed an estimated 1.1 billion dollars for themselves. 

      We are saddened by the personal accounts of individuals who are directly affected: a father who doesn't know how he will be able to meet mortgage payments on his home, the husband who suddenly lost all his company health benefits just as his wife became seriously ill, a woman nearing retirement age, whose 401(k) plan is now worthless. 

       How did the Enron bankruptcy happen?  Did it arise only out of corporate misbehavior, which can be remedied through accounting regulations and reforms; or, is there something fundamentally wrong with profit economics itself?  Is the Enron debacle only a dramatic example of business as usual, that is, to gain as much wealth as possible for yourself without thought of what other people and things deserve? 

       We learned from Aesthetic Realism, the education founded by the American historian and economist Eli Siegel, that the basis of our nation’s profit economy—where a person’s being able to work at all depends on whether someone else can make a profit from his or her labor—is unethical, is contempt for people.  Mr. Siegel defined contempt as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."  In a series of lectures he gave on economics in the 1970s, Mr. Siegel showed what he was first to see then but is so clear now with the many industries closing and hundreds of thousands of people losing jobs: that the profit system has failed.  He said, “The much touted mode of American industry doesn’t work.  The conduct of industry on the basis of ill will has been shown to be inefficient.”  This is what happened at Enron.  In issue 1504 of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, titled “Enron—and What Americans Truly Want,” editor Ellen Reiss powerfully explains: 

“If economically your central aim with people, products, the possibilities of earth, is to make profit from them--not see meaning in them, not be just to them--you will want to do that as thoroughly as possible.  Those running Enron simply took the profit motive seriously.  Since the facts and what human beings deserve tend to be interferences with your making profit, to go after your main goal you try to get around or change the facts and make unreal what people deserve.  That is why the profit motive has made for child labor, sweatshops, wages so low that families starved to death.  The large upshot of the Enron happening should be the seeing by Americans: the motive that has impelled economics has been no good; it's been un-American; it's been contempt.  We have to have an economics impelled by somethingelse--something fair to and respectful of human beings.” []
      That economics, we are grateful to have learned, has to be based on ethics: the giving of what is coming to ourselves by being fair to what is not ourselves.  It is urgent that men and women everywhere--in businesses, in homes, in government offices--answer honestly this beautiful, ethical question first asked by Mr. Siegel: "What does a person deserve by being alive?"  When it is, economics will be kind, efficient, and flourish! 

                                                                                                                                Lynette Abel 
                                                                                                                     and Michael Palmer 
                                                                                                                            New York City