To fight back against dysfunctional corporate boards, Icahn has started United Shareholders of America, a grassroots effort to empower shareholders. Icahn believes that if enough shareholders join the group on his Web site The Icahn Report, he can be their voice to change state and federal rules that make it difficult to vote out entrenched boards.
"This whole thing could be stopped if the shareholders stood up and went to Washington," Icahn said. "Even the senators and congressmen I talk to want to do something, but they want to know the public's behind it."
Icahn believes the current financial crisis will not be helped if President-elect Barack Obama continues to pump money into the economy when he takes office. "That's not the answer. It's a short-term fix. It's like somebody dying and you give them a little morphine."
"Unless you change the system," Icahn told Stossel, "we will not be able to compete in the future, one, and we're going to keep having the exact headaches we're having today."
Icahn reluctantly acknowledges that the auto industry had to receive a bailout. "We have to get the automobile companies out of the mess, because this economy is so fragile."
"And I don't believe in big government, I believe in laissez faire… The automobile industry didn't have to be in the mess it's in, OK? No question there's a bad economy, no question they might be doing worse, but they haven't done anything in the last four years to really deal with it."
"Some people say, you're the bad guy," said Stossel. "You corporate raiders, you go in, you save money, but you save money by firing workers."
"That's ridiculous, because if you look at the companies that I've taken over, I keep putting money into them," Icahn replied. "We put in hundreds of millions of dollars. Almost every company that I have, I've put in a lot of money, but I don't fritter that money away."
"I could go into a company and I'll tell you I can save 30 percent of costs, not just by firing employees. But just by [eliminating] wasted investments."
"It's not doing the world any good… having five people or four people doing the job that one person should be doing. At the end, that person's going to lose his job anyway."