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TheStreet Open House

Justice in Business Is Often a Slow, Imprecise Process

Stock quotes in this article: BP, RIG, HAL, XOM, MHP

One of my early fascinations as a business reporter was Samuel Insull. Here is his Wikipedia page. Insull, once a clerk to Thomas A. Edison, built a huge Chicago-based utility conglomerate that assured manufacturers of steady input prices early in the last century. When it collapsed in the 1929 crash, he became a wanted man. When he was tried, in 1934, he was basically being blamed for the Great Depression.

Insull was acquitted, but he was broken and died in 1938, a pensioner. Although the movie Citizen Kane is said to be a fictionalized biography of William Randolph Hearst, the back half of the movie, Kane's fall, was mostly Insull.

Justice in business cases isn't like justice in cases involving personal violence. The violence in business cases isn't personal, the criminals aren't people and the resulting disgrace doesn't give you the same feeling of revenge.

The aim of justice, however, is the same: to create enough disgrace so that others will be more careful, and enough reform so that the lines preceding disgrace are clearer and farther from the edge of catastrophe.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in the companies mentioned here.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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