It's a Rich Man's World
I'm tracking a new phenomenon called "scandal fatigue." It sets in when the corporate crime rate gets too high and the numbers being bandied about become too boggling to get your mind around.
For instance, I was plenty angry when WorldCom announced that it had misstated its earnings by $3.7 billion. I couldn't really get a handle on what a figure like that meant–but I knew it was a pantload. Then they looked through the books again and realized that, oops, the amount was actually $7 billion. Was I supposed to be twice as ticked off? Or were there just too many zeros to grasp?
The reason our eyes start to glaze over at a certain point is that we lack what T.S. Eliot called "an objective correlative"–a way of relating to something as abstract and conceptual as a seven followed by nine zeros.
With that in mind, I've done a little research in an effort to offer up some perspective on the magnitude of these crimes. My hope is that when you see a number like $100 million–the amount Jeff Skilling pocketed from Enron before abandoning the sinking ship–expressed not in dollars but in terms we can all identify with, your outrage meter will be set to the proper scale.
The total amount of sweetheart insider loans doled out to John Rigas (Adelphia), Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom), Stephen Hilbert (Conseco), Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco), and Ken Lay (Enron) was $3.9 billion.
With $3.9 billion, you could:
- Fund Habitat for Humanity to build 83,691 homes at a cost of $46,600 each for America's homeless.
- Send 35,583 poor but deserving students to Harvard Business School.
- Buy 390 million tickets to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Or one medium popcorn and soda.
- Rent Mariah Carey's mega-bomb Glitter 977 million times from Blockbuster. Although there are quicker ways to drive yourself insane. For instance, watch just five minutes of American Idol 2.
- Buy the estimated one million homeless American children the Denny's world-famous Grand Slam Breakfast ($2.99) every day for three and a half years.
- Pay Dick Cheney's vice-presidential salary of $174,475 a year for 22,000 years. Or his hefty Halliburton retirement package twice over.
- Loan United Airlines the $1.8 billion it says it needs to avoid bankruptcy – twice. Or you could just flush the money down the toilet. The results will be the same.
- Foot the bill for you and the 195 members of your high school class you really liked to ride a Russian rocket into space.
- Finance 39 equally priced sequels to Eddie Murphy's $100 million flop, Pluto Nash. You could . . . but please don't.
- Buy every WorldCom shareholder a Xerox copier, some aspirin from Rite Aid, a year of long-distance service from Qwest, and a share of Enron stock (suitable for framing).
- Build 97 identical buildings to the Empire State Building, whose original cost was just $40 million. That assumes, of course, that you'd have a time machine set for 1930. And that it actually works.
- Buy 195,000 Vietnamese mail-order brides at $20,000 each. While it includes the cost of visa and airfare, it does not include the wedding invitations or cake.
- Have a cable TV box installed in every room in your house, assuming your house had 156 million rooms and your cable company offered no discount on the $25 dollars per installation.
- Fund the SEC's new, increased, annual budget for five years.
Still having a little trouble with the figures? Well, consider this: According to Fortune magazine, the total amount of money raked in by corporate executives selling company stock even while their companies crashed and burned was roughly $66 billion.
With $66 billion, you could:
- Fund the annual budget of the FBI, corporate crime-fighting included, for 16 years.
- Give 74 times what America currently gives in foreign aid to all of sub–Saharan Africa.
- Cover the entire $25 billion America has spent fighting the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. And still have enough left over to give all Afghans more than two times their average yearly income.
- Spend 132 million nights with Julia Roberts at the nightly rate she charged as the hooker in Pretty Woman.
- Buy 355 brand new 747s from the Boeing Corporation. And even then, during beverage service, the stewardess would only give you half a can of Coke.
- Buy 3.3 billion copies of Who Moved My Cheese? But even if you read each and every one, you still couldn't explain why it's been a best-seller for over two years.
- Pay President Bush's $400,000 salary for 165,000 years. Although, if he's anything like his dad, you'll only be on the hook until 2004.
- Pay the $1.08 million sales tax on Dennis Kozlowski's artwork and still have $65.99 billion left to buy every masterpiece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Impressionist collection at its assessed value.
I hope your blood is really boiling now. But perhaps still not enough to take action. Then try these numbers on for size:
The total loss in market value of WorldCom, Tyco, Qwest, Enron, and Global Crossing was $427 billion.
With $427 billion, you could:
- Fund the United Nations for the next 263 years and still have $164 billion left over for unforeseen famine relief and peacekeeping missions.
- Get Argentina back on its feet by paying off its external debt three times over.
- Give $356 to every man, woman, and child on the planet living in poverty.
- Build and deploy 2,702 comet-hunting Contour satellites. The cost to track them down is extra.
- Buy 61 billion packs of cigarettes, now $7 each in New York City. Or you could transplant the lungs of 1.7 million patients–at $250,000 each–suffering from irreversible emphysema.
- Order 34 billion prime cut filet mignons from Omaha Steaks. Baked potato not included.
- Pay the combined salaries of every player in baseball for the next 237 years. Although I don't know why you would.
- Build an underground tunnel connecting Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The best part? It would only take 145 years to complete, and you'd have $160,870,968,150 left over to spend at the Half Moon Club.
- Pay Texas Ranger Alex Rodriguez's $25 million a year salary for more than 17,000 consecutive years.