May 25, 2013
Thursday, 02 April 2009 14:44
Is there anyone honest left in America?
Anyone who isn’t so driven by greed and ambition he’d take advantage of everyone else just to get ahead and make a few bucks, not to mention a few million bucks in bonus money?
A lot of people in Fairfield County were sneering and jeering at the AIG employees who got bonuses, and a tour bus of activists recently roamed suburban streets past their homes as sort of a taxpayer catharsis.
And yet I have to believe if executives at the financial institutions involved in our economic collapse found a wallet on the train platform, they’d turn it over to the police without a second thought.
That’s frightening in a way because it suggests the problem is systemic and that this crisis occurred because the system permitted unethical behavior. Or worse, the system required it.
A recent poll conducted by the Knights of Columbus and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion showed that 76 percent of Americans and 58 percent of high-level executives believe the moral compass of corporate America is pointing the wrong way.
In addition, 52 percent of those polled gave corporate America a grade of D or F for honesty and ethical conduct while most people said personal and corporate gain motivate business decisions. Only a few thought that concern for employees and the public good are factors in corporate decisions.
So many people who were part of this economic debacle were just doing what they did best — make money. That could be any of us, caught up in a vortex of circumstances, business competition, corporate pressure, love of money, convenient deniability, and self-righteousness. There’s a little Bernie Madoff in us all.
Of course, these problems aren’t exclusive to corporations or financial institutions. In New York, high-ranking advisers to the former state comptroller were recently charged with turning the state pension fund into a honey pot with millions in kickbacks.
Stories like that have become an almost weekly phenomenon, leading everyone — including young people — to accept the notion that dishonesty and greed are as American as the Super Bowl and that unethical performance gets rewarded.
Year after year, the Josephson Institute’s annual ethics poll of America’s youth has discouraging results, with troubling headlines like “Survey of teens reveals entrenched habits of dishonesty — stealing, lying and cheating rates climb to alarming rates.”
If most of the kids in the class are cheating when the teacher leaves the room, it’s hard to be the kid who resists. Have we reached that point where every kid in the class and every executive is willing to cheat? Where all of us are prone to dishonesty because it’s acceptable or an unspoken condition of employment?
In ancient Greece, Diogenes the cynic lived in a barrel on the streets of Athens and walked through the city carrying a lamp while looking for an honest man. What would he find if he walked across America or down Wall Street or through Fairfield County?
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