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The Most Rotten Apple: Review of "Fat Cats and Running Dogs"

By: 
Rick Belliveau
Date Published: 
February 14, 2003

Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism
By Vijay Prashad
Common Courage, 2002

Many people cheered when the energy trading giant Enron imploded in a wave of accounting scandals, yet few were able to fully grasp the complex nature of Enron itself. Vijay Prashad’s new book Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism is a valuable contribution, helping to demystify the complex nature of Enron and revealing its significance in the context of the global neoliberal agenda.

Prashad wants us to understand that Enron was not just another accounting scandal to be lumped in with World Com, Adelphia or Tyco. The author points out three ways in which Enron was distinguished from the club of corporate crime.

I. The Revolving Door of Crony Capitalism – Enron was unrivaled in its deep political connections. Indeed the connections ran deep, with people moving seamlessly between business to politics and back again, a process the author calls “the revolving door”.

Prashad backs this statement with some astonishing facts: George W. Bush was one of the top beneficiaries of Enron’s generosity, receiving close to 2 million as he moved from governor to president. Enron also rushed $10,500 into the Bush-Cheney Recount Fund.

Enron got a quick return on their investment as Bush stacked his administration with Enron cronies. (The White House economic advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, is a former Enron consultant, and the Secretary of the Army, Thomas White, was an Enron executive for a decade.)

II. Finance Imperialism – A few years ago it could be said that the sun never set on the Enron Empire. Prashad details Enron’s operation in India as a prime example of how they served as a battering ram for the forces of neoliberalism.

In the Indian state of Maharashtra, Enron, along with Bechtel and General Electric collaborated to build a massive LNG (liquefied natural gas) Dabhol power plant. When opposition to the plant got heated, Enron bankrolled the Indian police while they were brutalizing protesters. This episode earned Enron the dubious distinction of being the first corporation to have a report written about it by Human Rights Watch.

Special features

III. Free Market Ideologues – Enron was the self-conscious vanguard of a movement Prashad calls the “Second Enclosure Movement”, or the relentless push to privatize and commodify those resources which had until recently remained largely outside of the realm of capitalism, such as water, energy, health, education.

If there is any doubt about the intentions of the company, Prashad dispels it when he quotes Enron’s Linda Powers: “…private parties are to achieve the things which US foreign assistance efforts have been trying (without much success) to achieve: the projects are serving as action forcing events that are getting the host countries to finally implement the legal and policy changes long urged upon them…”

Although Prashad puts Enron and its cronies through the shredder with well-researched facts and insightful analysis, his writing is often digressive, and has the feel of being several articles pasted together (which the author admits is the case in the introduction).

Prashad’s digressions (such as the history of the Bandung dynamic and non-aligned movement, the Colombian drug war/guerrilla insurgency and also a polemic against Negri and Hardt’s book Empire, to name just a few) show that he has an impressive sense of the bigger picture. However, more often they just seem like distracting tangents that take away from the focus of the book.

If this book were a DVD, I would put these interesting but tangential issues in the “special features” section where you could get more background after finishing the feature presentation. But do not let this prevent you from reading the book. If you are serious about being anti-capitalist, then you must know what you are up against.

Fat Cats and Running Dogs sheds light on the contradictions Karl Marx said capitalism was built on. Prashad then takes the necessary next step and challenges the reader to “move on the contradictions,” that is, build the resistance to capitalism and foster alternatives to it.