Published: March 24, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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Just because I’ve been off-line for two weeks doesn’t mean I’ve been off sleeping.

The French philosopher Albert Camus once observed, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” Here’s a snapshot of some of the wild things you may have missed:

A former senior vice president at Lehman Brothers wrote a letter in May 2008 “that he believed ‘senior management’ may have violated Lehman’s internal code of ethics by misleading investors and regulators about the true value of the firm’s assets” (Wall Street Journal, Mar. 20).

Former Fed. Chief Alan “Greenspan Concedes That the Fed Failed to Gauge the Bubble” of credit “that nearly brought down the financial system,” (New York Times Mar. 18).

“Two former computer programmers at Bernard L. Madoff’s firm were indicted… by a federal grand jury” stemming from the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, (NYT Mar. 17).

And in one astounding two-day period (Mar. 3, 4), I came across 14 ethics-related stories reported in the New York Timesand Wall Street Journal:

“A district superintendent who fired all the teachers from one of Rhode Island’s most troubled schools under federal guidelines said Wednesday that she was willing to negotiate with its teachers’ union after it publicly pledged to support changes” in the curriculum to improve student grades (WSJMar. 3).
“House Votes to Protect Pupils Against Abusive Discipline,” (WSJ Mar. 3).

“Book on Spitzer’s Downfall Sets Off Angry Replies,” (WSJMar. 3).

“F.D.A. Cracks Down on Nestle and Others Over Health Claims on Labels,” (WSJ Mar. 3).

“Joint Chiefs Chair. Readjusts Principles on Use of Force,” (WSJ Mar. 3).

New York Governor “Patterson’s Ethics Breach Is Turned Over to Prosecutors,” (WSJ Mar. 3).

U.S. Representative Charles “Rangel Steps Aside From Post During Ethics Inquiry,” (WSJ Mar. 3).

“Earmarks Abuse Feared After Ethics Panel Ruling,” (WSJMar. 4).

“Toyota Sued Over San Diego Accident,” (NYT Mar. 4) concerning a runaway Toyota Prius.

“S.E.C. Charges Couple in Florida Ponzi Case,” (NYT Mar. 4).
In an effort to correct passenger mistreatment on airlines, the Department of Transportation announced new guidelines “Forcing Airlines to Play Nice with Fliers,” (NYT Mar. 4).

Then, there’s the “Visiting 10-Year-Old Allegedly Directed Air Traffic at JFK Airport,” (NYT Mar. 4).

“Rash of Scandals Tests Democrats at Sensitive Time” (NYTMar. 4) summarizes the implications of wrongdoing by Paterson, Rangel and most recently U.S. Representative Eric Massa, whose “groping” admission of a staff member receives “Most Bizarre Admission” of 2010.

Finally, in a Times article aptly titled, “Trust Not Enough for Integrity Bank,” (Mar. 4), the FDIC and FBI are investigating the loan practices of Integrity Bank in Sausalito, California.

A.I.G., Citibank, Goldman Sachs – after the dust settles from the financial meltdown what did we learn?  What was the cause and how can we prevent the same crisis from happening again?

Last June, Newsweek senior editor Fareed Zakaria wrote that what we are facing is not a “crisis of capitalism.  It is a crisis… ultimately of ethics.  Most of what happened over the past decade was legal, but very few people acted responsibly, honorably or nobly.  …no political system – capitalist, socialist or otherwise – can work without a sense of ethics and values at its center.  No matter what reforms we put in place, without common sense, judgment and an ethical standard, they will prove inadequate.”

The only way we can hope to recover from our crisis in ethics is to raise the level of awareness in the choices we make each day, realize that our choices frequently have consequences on others and that ultimately, the choices we make determine the purpose and course of our lives.


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