What's Going On?
By Richard G. Johnstone, Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

This has been an uneasy summer: drought here, there and everywhere, sparking wildfires out west and up north, with a daily deluge of nightmarish news from abroad, talking of turmoil and violence stretching from Cairo to Kashmir. Against such a backdrop, we hardly need any more distressing news to read or hear about. And yet … this summer of our discontent has offered up yet another type of trouble, this time within the business community, with headlines such as the following:

“Enron Hid $1.5 Billion” (Associated Press, June 24)

“Massive Fraud Is Uncovered at WorldCom” (The Wall Street Journal, June 26)

“U.S. House Panel Intensifies Global Crossing Probe” (Reuters, June 24)

“Another Blow to Andersen — $3.8 billion ‘is a lot of money to miss’ ” (Associated Press, June 28)

Were the late, great soul singer Marvin Gaye alive today, he might well ask of the corporate community what he asked of our political leaders during the turmoil of the late ’60s: What’s going on?

It’s a question among many other questions each of us should be asking as well, regarding the crisis in confidence over corporate America that has surfaced this year. Is it a lack of leadership? Or of ethics? A problem of loose laws? Or lax oversight? Who’s in charge: The board? The CEO? The accountants? Have we gone down Alice’s rabbit hole into a land where up is down, inside is outside, wrong is right?

In a word, no. Shading, coloring, twisting or twirling the truth is still called lying by most Americans, including this one. While things are not always black and white, it’s pretty obvious when black is being called white, and vice versa. And somewhere between “some” and “a lot” of that seems to have gone on in some huge companies in recent years.

Is it an indictment of free enterprise or capitalism? Hardly. If anything, it proves again that the system works, perhaps slowly at times, but ultimately consumers tend to reward the companies that are excellent and ethical. And those that do things sloppily or slovenly, unethically or illegally, almost always fall by the wayside. Some in this recent crop of scandal already have.

And in the midst of this crisis of confidence in American business, it’s nice to know that there are successful businesses operating in communities across this country, driven by the business principle of

providing the best possible service at the lowest possible cost. These businesses, of course, are electric cooperatives, such as the 13 across Virginia that serve about

10 percent of the Commonwealth’s citizens.

We’re not perfect, and we don’t profess or pretend to be. But we are owned and operated by and for our member-consumers, with a not-for-profit structure that allows us to provide electricity to you at cost, in as reliable a way as possible.

Your electric cooperative has been a member of your community for over 60 years. We intend to be a part of this community 60 years hence. Our bottom line is your satisfaction. Our board is made up of members of the community, elected by you. Our employees are your neighbors.

None of this may be very exciting, but we hope it’s at least somewhat comforting during this time when all of us could do with a lot less “excitement” both in the world at large and in the American business community.