DAVOS, SWITZERLAND, FEB. 2 -- Corporate raider Asher Edelman delivered a slashing attack today on what he labeled the greed and lack of ethics of American corporate managers, and was roundly booed by an audience of international business leaders.

Edelman, managing general partner of Plaza Securities Co., blamed the decline of American competitiveness on corporate bosses "who are not only unethical but immoral." He said their ineptitude "threatens to turn America into a banana republic."

Later, Edelman said that "the booing was really a great compliment. It means that people were listening.

"But I really am not the enemy. We have a problem endemic to business, and if it is not cured, it will signal the end of corporate democracy as we know it today, and mark the beginning of corporate socialism that none of us can enjoy or live under."

Last October Edelman, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, caused a flap there by offering students $100,000 for suggesting to him a company that he could successfully take over. The offer was canceled by the school's dean after other faculty members objected that it threatened "academic integrity."

Edelman's fellow panelists at today's featured plenary session of the World Economic Forum -- Rand Araskog, chief executive of ITT Corp.; Sony Chairman Akio Morita, and Katharine Graham, chairman of The Washington Post Co. -- did not directly confront Edelman.

But another ITT official, at a later seminar with Edelman, accused him of having made an excessively broad accusation in saying that "all of corporate management is rotten." Edelman responded that he had not meant his criticism to be quite that all-encompassing.

Araskog and Morita agreed that in the 1980s, American business had become excessively profit-oriented, with inexcusable benefits given to corporate raiders and to some managers through "greenmail" and golden parachutes -- premiums paid to raiders and to managers displaced by takeovers, respectively.

But Araskog said that one result of the Oct. 19 stock market collapse was a change in attitude, back toward a focus on productive investments and quality products. "American companies lost touch with customers and shareholders, but we have learned our lesson," Araskog said.

Graham addressed the question of ethics in journalism, noting that many critics of the media insist there is too little attention paid to ethics by either print or electronic journalism.

She said one ethical issue that has been raised is the seeming conflict between "our duties to inform the public and our existence as a profit-making organization."

But Graham argued that these two obligations are not incompatible: "Our company has operated on the principle that profitability and quality go hand in hand." She acknowledged that in some sectors of the media, "there is always the temptation to have a little more profit and a little less quality."

The panel was asked to address the question: "Is the Business World Disconnected from Ethical Values?" Edelman began by saying "my answer to the question is an unequivocal 'Yes!' ", and at the end of his presentation a considerable number of the 700 business leaders joined in what appeared to be spontaneous booing.

Edelman said his views were not a reflection on the insider trading scandals in the United States, but a concern that the scandals "are being used as a device to further unethical business behavior."

He singled put the Business Roundtable for using the Ivan Boesky affair in lobbying "for their own permanent entrenchment." He charged that the Roundtable had successfully persuaded the public that Boesky, "a convicted felon," is representative of others who challenge "the power and the behavior of the corporate manager."

Araskog, a member of the Roundtable, suggested that the organization would be surprised to find it had the power Edelman ascribed to it.

Edelman said that the problem in American industry is that many owner-founders "exited" in the 1950s and left their business management to "caretakers" preoccupied with protecting their "financial sinecures" rather than paying attention "to the running of the businesses or the benefits to the shareholders."

Edelman contended, as he has before, that some corporate managers behave in an unethical manner by maintaining private apartments or private aircraft "and other perks" that stockholders pay for. In other ways, he said, managers misuse or ignore corporate assets, which justifies the corporate "raider" process.

He later told a reporter: "I contend that we are not really the raiders, but they {the managers}" are.