Say what you will about Ken Lay, but he always had great timing. Like walking away with more than $180 million in exercised Enron stock before it plunged to be worth only pennies. And now dying from a heart attack on vacation just before his jail sentence was delivered.
Ken Lay may have died this morning, but what he stood for, unfortunately, is alive and thriving. Lay's core belief was that everything should be treated like a commodity. Electricity, natural gas, water, everything on earth -- and the spoils go to the trader who can rig the highest price. Lay's notion that even the most fundamental necessities of life should be bought and sold is an operating principle today from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.
Lay was one of the first to trade Internet bandwith. Last week the U.S Senate Commerce Comittee followed the House in voting to turn the Internet from the freeway it's been into a private toll way, where AT&T and Verizon can charge "congestion fees" to create faster access on the Internet. (Those congestion fees sound a little like what Enron extorted from Californians by way of black outs?)
Then there's Lay's pet project of privatizing public water sources worldwide, which has become a growth international business.
AT&T told customers recently their private info was now its proprietary data. If Enron were still in biz, you can bet Kenny Boy would have beat them to that punch.
And of course there's Enron's purchase of our federal government and its energy policies. A boom business if ever there was.
It's not that the free market really allocates these public resources better. It's that in the free market the likes of Lay and Enron are free to rake in hundreds of billions from an unsuspecting public.
Ken Lay's not really gone. His ideas will continue to impoverish American taxpayers and consumers for years to come.