Puzzles, Mysteries and the Vindication of Jeff Skilling

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One of the great talents of Malcolm Gladwell is describing something lots of people have been talking about for a long, long time in a way that makes it seem freshly insightful. The latest New Yorker essay is a perfect example of this form. Gladwell argues that what really made Enron’s financial statements inscrutable was not the failure to disclose financial chicanery but overdisclosure. In Gladwell’s words—Enron was not a "puzzle" (ie, a problem of too little information) but a "mystery" (too much information). That’s something a lot of people have been saying about our current disclosure and governance regime but without Malcolm’s nifty trip through World War II Nazi spies. Reading him makes you realize that this is why he is a best-selling author and highly paid journalist for a medium-brow weekly magazine while, say, we are not. We would have to got straight to the point and told you the problem was cumbersome disclosure.
One other point bears noticing about Malcom’s article. First, he flat-out says the prosecutor’s theory of the Enron case was wrong. And he does this after telling the story of the sentencing in a way that is clearly sympathetic to Jeff Skilling and illustrates the arbitrariness of his sentence. Do we smell a Jeff Skilling comeback in the air?
Open Secrets [New Yorker]

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