December 14, 2008
By Bill Kraus
We have always had variable expectations about the moral footings of the people and organizations we deal with. About how trustworthy they would be, how long a leash they deserved, what level of risk we were taking when we dealt with them.
Used car dealers always seemed to be on the bottom of the list.
Legislators were a mixed bag. They went from sleazy on up to above reproach, but the category was approached with caution.
Investment advisors, business people and lawyers also got a thorough once-over before earning our trust.
The higher up the ladder, the more likely we were to put them in a category of respect and all that went with it.
Legislative leaders, governors, presidents, top executives of major companies, the judiciary, got pretty much a free pass. Their words were good.
The slippage recently has been pretty precipitous and dramatic. Who is going to take any CEO or legislative leader or even governor at face value in the wake of Enron, pay-for-play representatives, footsie players in airports, money-in-cold-storage members of Congress, and the like?
Even the holier-than-thou judiciary has suffered a kind of free-for-all partisan campaigning that gives off an odor not associated with those who wear the robe until recently.
As bad as all this is, the worst of it is that we are not getting what we expected and routinely got from the people and organizations who we look to to keep others, including ourselves, in line.
We look to the press, the accounting profession, the clergy, rating agencies, bankers, and boards of directors to make certain those whose activities and lives they oversee are turning square corners.
The press has an excuse. There aren’t enough reporters anymore to blow all the whistles that need blowing.
When Arthur Anderson gave Enron a pass, the whole accounting profession suffered.
We expected religious leaders to advise not abuse their parishioners.
Rating agencies are supposed to set and enforce standards not take their fees and look aside.
Bankers are entrusted with knowing whether the money they are lending has any chance of being repaid.
And boards of directors of enterprises are not supposed to run the place but to make sure the people who they have chosen to run the place are running it well and right, in every sense of that word.
Have those charged with making sure that their charges are turning square corners developed round heels themselves? Seems so.
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Once we decided that life was all about us and our comfort and entertainments, we were finished. Now it's all about the money, and once you get to that point, there's no limit to what people will do to maintain and advance their status.
People kill over money all the time - I can't imagine why anybody would be shocked that people would plan, scheme, misdirect and abuse whatever power they have to those ends.
The fix is not regulation or Robin Hood taxation - the fix is Americans everywhere independently coming to understand that he who dies with the most toys still dies and loses much along the way. The comforts and entertainments of our material paradise are not worth the loss of our honor, dignity and humanity.
We need to understand that it has been a national ethos of unrestrained ego which has doomed us. Only a reduction of our towering narcissism can save us. Modesty will be the watchword of the 21st century - we can choose it or have it forced upon us, but I think it is an unavoidable consequnce of the last 40 years or so.
-Jeff | La Crosse, WI | December 15, 2008