Nuts To You!
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I don't like reading the business news that much these days. A lot of the time it's just the same old thing dressed up for the new millennium. Mergers driving mass consolidation. Unfriendly acquisitions setting the market atwitter. Bloated overvaluation of new media rampaging on as if the Internet never didn't happen. Disgusting displays of drunken excess I wasn't invited to. Boneheads on perp walks, but not the right boneheads.

Ho-hum. Wake me when they perfect the digital mousetrap, will ya?

And then something comes along with such profound implications that it almost makes you want to know what's going on again--something so pure and true that you sit up and take a deep breath, convinced once more that there is some coherence and meaning in this crazy world.

Such a beacon of hope comes in a New York Times article entitled TAX PROTESTER TELLS FEDERAL COURT THAT HE IS DELUSIONAL. I like people who admit that kind of thing.

Turns out that in Las Vegas, professional tax-avoidance guru goofball Irwin Schiff, who has already spent quality time in lockup over this issue, is once again fighting the Justice Department, which would like him to pay his taxes. The feds, believing that citizens have an obligation to do so, want $2.5 million from Irwin. For his part, Irwin believes that no law requires the payment of any income taxes whatsoever. Armed with this convenient belief, he now pleads that he is suffering from delusions, including, as the Times notes, "a fantasy that he alone can properly interpret the tax laws."

This is something new and beautiful, I think, and I wish him luck with it, not because I don't believe that people should pay their taxes. I do. The real breakthrough here is the lovely proposition that a person maintaining an insane, irresponsible business position can get off the hook because they are deluded and have nutty fantasies. That's good news for all of us in management. But the real benefits, of course, would be reaped by ultra-senior management.

Think about it. Ken Lay could stroll into court and testify that he was delusional when he told employees to invest in Enron while he was bailing on the stock. His lieutenants, Skilling and Fastow, and all the cringing homunculi who called them master could say, Hey, we were deluded when we believed that moron Ken Lay.

The President himself, now on the hot seat for marginally factual things he might have said to the public about the situation in Iraq, could state that he was suffering from delusions that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction, and that he was also entertaining a compelling fantasy in which he settled old scores accumulated by his beloved Dad. Who doesn't have daydreams about pleasing their parents? And who isn't delusional about the forces aligned against them now and then?

Bill Clinton could have told the American people that he was deluded into the fantasy that what he was doing with an intern was not sex per se. No, wait. I think he said that already, and it didn't work. Perhaps if he tried it again in this post-Schiff era, it would fly.

The possibilities are almost endless. In the middle 1980s, my corporation's management sold one of our best cash-flow engines for a fraction of its worth, for reasons that are still discussed when the single-malt scotch is flowing at our infrequent reunions. Now, instead of claiming it made business sense, our sclerotic chairman could simply say, "I was deluded by greed and fantasizing about the value of my stock options."

The Times quotes Irwin Schiff's private psychiatrist as saying his "distorted beliefs...appear to have grown out of his business failures." Aha! Failure leads to delusions and thence to self-justifying fantasies, producing behavior that might be inexplicable in any other setting. Doesn't that sound familiar to you?

For those who need proof, such is in that same paper, on that same day, on the very same page. The Times, citing an academic survey, writes, "The pressure to meet short-term earnings targets is causing many publicly traded companies to make business decisions that could hurt them in the long run." No kidding.

The story reports that companies do things to help themselves in the short term that make no long-term sense. Why? To meet quarterly targets set by Wall Street. A Duke University professor who helped conduct the survey tells the newspaper of record that "he was surprised that the executives were so open about their willingness to manage their businesses to meet Wall Street's expectations."

Surprised? Why? Whatever other delusions one may entertain, one thing is for sure. You've got to satisfy the Street.

Anything else would be crazy.

Stanley Bing is an executive at a FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name. He is the author of two new books: The Big Bing, a collection of essays, and You Look Nice Today, a novel. He can be reached at