Ethical Lapses

The news out of Illinois was to say the least stunning. That a sitting governor could be charged with trying to sell a seat in the United States Senate is breathtaking in its audacity. As a piece of the revelations about ethical, excuse me criminal, behavior among all elements of the Republic it is troubling indeed.

Governor Rod Blagojevichof Illinois stands accused, Ted Stevens, Republican Senator from Alaska has been convicted of bribery, Charlie Rangel appears to have directed substantial funds to his relatives and avoided income taxes, corporate executives line their pockets while their companies flounder, bankers and bond rating firms conspire to fleece investors of hundreds of billions of dollars, mortgage and real estate professionals perpetrate wide ranging frauds and consumers willingly falsify critical data all in the pursuit of illegitimate gains. From a distance it appears as if we have not just an economy but a society that may well be spinning out of control. Is it? I doubt so but all is not well.

A democracy and a capitalist system demand certain things from their constituents that are not found in other systems. Democracy demands a certain amount of subjugation of individual desires and wants to the common good. Compromise is an absolute requisite for its survival. Capitalism demands a certain amount of fair dealing among its participants. Absent either attribute, neither can survive.

At this point, democracy is threatened by a winner take all mentality. Adherents of differing points of view consider anything less than total victory to be a defeat and compromise as something no more than a way station on the way to total victory. Capitalism has become captive to the concept of total victory as well. The idea that fair dealing, that leaving a little for the next guy has seemingly vanished. Maximization of profit, disdain for the concept of contracts and a general attitude of “Sue Me” has replaced the ethic honest commerce.

Probably this dysfunction is limited to a minority of the populace. In fact, I suspect it is a small minority. The tragedy is that it only takes a small majority to corrupt the entire system. Serially corrupt politicians simply reinforce the idea that the entire political system is on the take. Small time mortgage brokers and corrupt consumers reinforce the idea that no one gets punished and only a fool doesn’t play the game. It doesn’t take much to rot the apple.

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