Its been amusing and frightening watching leaders of both parties compete on ethics 'reforms' the past few weeks.
Don't you just love the way our leaders wait till they're all caught to bring up the issue? I love how shamelessly they all pander.
Now they're all competing to 'out' each other on every dirty trick. Who ever heard of 'pocketing' before and that it costs us $27 billion annually? And what a great idea to force the member proposing a special interest pocket to publicly attach their name as author?
We can only hope that these guys keep competing to discredit each other. Why they almost seem to be replacing the media as their own watch dog which is lucky since the media stopped ever reporting any of this stuff just after watergate.
This reminds me of the scandal that ocurred while I was attending harvard business school. that venerable institution was full of its own ethically challenged - namely investment bankers.
The school had this bullshit 3 week class called 'ethics' which we all took together at the outset of the program - guess it was to make sure we all had at least heard the term a few times and might feel more comfortable even using it.
I knew I was in for an interesting two yrs with my 800 new 'best friend for life' when we dove into our very first ethics case study.
This one dealt with the 'tough' decision faced by a morgan stanley banker when he was trekking in the himalayas and came upon a sick indian sardu. His 'dilemma' was whether to leave this man to die (there was another group that could have helped too) or give up his lifelong goal of climbing some mountain to save the sardu. Of course he chose to leave the man but then write a case study to help the next gen of bankers. The case was never clear whether he later regretted his actions or simply found it an interesting dilemma. See at harvard we were supposed to answer these tough questions for ourselves. After all, they were training the next gen of america's ceo's and we've all seen how ethical they are (can anyone say enron?).
Having been to the himalayas and spent a decent amount of time back country I was confused where the dilemma was. Isn't it illegal to knowingly leave someone to die? Either way, you take it 100 times more seriously in the wilderness and very few humans would even consider such a decision.
I sat for 90 minutes listening to my classmates actually 'debate' this. It was touching to see the i-bankers show loyalty for one of their own and defend his actions with points like 'its harder to think clearly at high altitudes', 'it was his lifelong goal' and 'maybe the korean group saved him'.
In the end I couldn't stop myself from accusing them all of being as morally bankrupt as the banker which cemented my position for the next two years as a wacky outsider.
Anyway back to the bigger scandal story. It wasn't many more months before we had a real life ethics question to deal with in our newly formed community.
See this kid murry gunty was actually caught 'stuffing the ballot box' for head of the finance club. At HBS this was a highly coveted position as you were guaranteed a job at goldman sachs, meaning you'd one day be really fucking rich.
I first met murry when he interviewed for a job at lazard freres (yes I was a self-hating i-banker. What's that saying about having to do evil to know evil).
Murry was one of those annoying kids that was hated by his peers and loved by his bosses, also called suckups. We did our best to stop the firm from making him an offer but the partners just loved him. In the end, he came in to interview us and after telling the partners how ready he was to work 24x7 had the nerve to tell me we were now 'in a beauty contest' to win him. I've never tried harder to sell someone on not joining a company, telling him he would be brutalized (not far from the truth). Murry chose to go to trammel crow which soon after went bankrupt.
It was sinful how much joy I found in murry's downfall. The guy had managed to be generally disliked at HBS too, driving around in a flashy BMW convertible (chick car:). The only question on his case once he plead guilty was whether he'd be expelled for life or get off with a year absence (which HBS was known to do for its worst offenders).
What happened next was shocking and strangely parallel to what was happening to white collar criminals like milken on the outside - pretty close to nothing. Murry wrote a tearful letter in the school paper, saying his only regret was embarassing his parents. the administration decided his emabarassment was bad enough and even asked him to write a case study to guest teach to the next year's incoming students!
The only solice was seeing the WSJ pick up the story and accuse HBS of being lax on ethics.
I'd soo love to know where that kid's career went and what he's doing today. He must be a major leader as he soo gets our system.
Mo says I need to tie this all back to my original point so here goes...I guess we've never had any real commitment as a country to acting ethically in business or politics.
I am an optimist and believe that's changing. we are moving from a 'corporate culture' where the individual has never had to be responsible for his actions to a 'community culture'.
The culture around 'corporate capitalism' and 'corporate politics' was about the buck never stopping. The actions of the individual, whether manger or owner, were always protected by the 'corporate veil'. The alumni of the former Drexel Burnham especially milken went on to even greater success. Enron traders are amongst the most sought after today.
Is community capitalism coming? Well I'm encouraged that this century's newest success stories are about authentic people taking responsibility and serving all stakeholders equally often to the short term detriment of shareholders.
Google is obviously the best example with their corny but effective 'do no evil' slogan. It may seem like a toss up today as to whether google or walmart will be more valuable but not which we'd rather work for and even buy from.
Beyond google there's ebay and soon we'll see craigslist too. All of these companies are nearly synonmous with their founders who have across the board devoted their newfound wealth to helping their communities.
Pierre omidyar of ebay has a stated goal of investing 150m this year alone in community. Google has created a foundation seeded with $1 billion. Bill gates has given away 58 % of his wealth.
Meanwhile the walton family has donated less than 1 % to charity and recently it was reported that they contributed a mere $5k to a multi million dollar fund established by their employees to help fellow walmarters displaced by katrina.
Will this community beats the corporation theme ever enter politics? We saw it in the last election with the campaigns of dean and gonzalez (for sf mayor) and I'm sure it will only get bigger.
What will happen to the murry guntys, jack abramoffs and tom delays in this new world? They're all about winning so they'll play by the new rules. I'm sure they'll soon trump me in their outrage against walmart and corporate corruption everywhere and thatll be great because they're all a lot better at selling than I am:) Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.