This sentence turns up halfway through Eduardo Porter’s interesting NYT piece, The Spreading Scourge of Corporate Corruption, which breaks down the recent LIBOR scandal to make the case that none of us are very scandalized by any of this stuff any more. As he writes, “it’s not just banks that are frowned upon. Trust in big business overall is declining. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread across corporate America.”
The fact that this sentence turns up, baldly, unadorned, matter-of-fact and entirely accurate blows my small mind. What system have we built in which this could possibly be a reasonable or useful focus? What hell have we wrought? We are reaping what we sowed, alright, and the fact that our careful system rewards profits, not fair, reasonable, longterm decisions leads to a twisted society in which everyone vies to not break the letter of the law only according to the letter of the law. Again, this happens in industries far from banking. This philosophy is rife throughout western culture and business. As Porter continues, “Evidence suggests that [executives] behave as corruptly as they can, within whatever constraints are imposed by law and reputation.” And we all nod our heads and agree, “of course that’s what they must do!” and congratulate ourselves on our clear-headed lack of naivete.
As Porter concludes, it’s difficult to predict the impact of the growing lack of trust in “the institutions that underpin the nation’s liberal market democracy.” My guess: this is unsustainable and more and more will change for systemic change that will be very difficult for many. We may tsk and roll our eyes for now, but don’t you agree that revolution lies ahead?