Ethics, Greed, and Corruption

There is often a significant difference between an ethical action and a legal action. Under current U.S. law, it’s obviously not illegal to raise the price of a drug that a child needs to stay alive from $40 to nearly $40,000, but is it ethical? I’d say it’s not, especially given the record level of profits reaped by the pharmaceutical industry. I’d even claim it’s a form of medical/health blackmail.

Is it legal for police to be stricter in enforcing the law on minorities than on Caucasians? So far, in most cases, it’s been held to be legal, but is it ethical?

Is it legal for a professional basketball team with a losing record not to play as hard near the end of the season… and possibly gain a higher draft pick? Again… so far it appears to be.

Is it legal for members of a given faith to prefer hiring those of the same faith? Or giving preference in promotions or bonuses? While discriminating by race is illegal, discrimination by faith appears to be alive and well, at least in certain parts of the U.S.

The list of such instances in the United States is long, and from what I can see, it’s getting longer. So why do I care?

Because ethics are the foundation of a healthy society. All one has to do is look around to see that. One of the reasons why tens of thousands of immigrants struggle out of certain central and Latin American countries is because of corruption and violence, and that corruption and violence are the result of totally unchecked greed on the part of governments, so-called law enforcement agencies, and even of large corporations and wealthy individuals.

One cannot instill law-abiding behavior through law enforcement. The police should represent and personify ethics through their actions, and I believe the majority do – but far from all of them. Even so, with a few exceptions, the best that law enforcement can do as an institution is to catch and remove law-breakers.

When legality is the rule, rather than ethics, more and more people do what they can, rather than what they should, and this leads to more and more corruption because no code of law can cover everything.

As a side note, this is a particular problem with corporations, because law has essentially held that a corporation’s greatest obligation is to maximize profits for the shareholders, within the confines of the law, regardless of the impact on people, on society, or on the environment. And when corporations use their revenues in support of political actions to whittle away legal protections on health and environment, in order to increase profits that are already at historical all-time highs, isn’t this greed a form of corruption?

When people see that the wealthy and the powerful can get away with anything, why should they be ethical and obey the law? And when the wealthy and powerful get more wealthy and more powerful, and it gets harder and harder for the poorer segments of society to make a living, there’s an ever-growing temptation for the non-wealthy to follow the example of the wealthy. And in countries like Honduras or Guatemala and a score of others, there’s too much violence for underpaid law enforcement to handle, partly if not largely, because the poor don’t have enough money to pay taxes, and the wealthy control the system and ensure that they’re not taxed enough to pay for public services.

Aren’t we already seeing those sorts of trends here?

Equally important… if your standard for ethical behavior is what the law allows you to get away with, you may consider yourself a law-abiding citizen, but are you really an ethical individual?

4 thoughts on “Ethics, Greed, and Corruption”

  1. Daze says:

    You’ve all probably seen this already, but hear’s a little dissection of the difference LEM is talking about:

    1. Daze says:

      d’oh: here is !!

      1. Tom says:

        Thanks for the reference. I am not a fan of the Congresswoman but she did this very well.

        A sort of aside. There is an article in The Guardian about the ethics and guilt by association of wealth accrual in Britain via the slavery trade of the past centuries.

        While the point about ethical behavior is basic, the determination of guilt for past unethical behavior and the associated expectation of transfer of compensatory wealth seems to me to be equivalent to the original unethical act. Perhaps it is not tit for tat to hunt down octogenarians to avenge The Holocaust but coming back to the trough for more compensation for past wrongs seems excessive; particularly as the result does not in fact compensate those who were wronged. Neither Poland’s demands of Germany nor Armenians demands of the Ottomans and certainly not the demands of Oxbridge. Here we seem to forget that the Renaissance and the Enlightenment depended on wealthy patrons, donors and benefactors … I wonder that their servants and slaves and other dependents are not damned by association as well.

        Does this view mean that the demand to disassociate from various traders and government organisations for ethical reasons is also a form of reverse unethical behaviour? Seems to get more and more complicated.

        So the basic lesson is to behave ethically as individuals for our peace of mind and benefit to society.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    “Is it legal for members of a given faith to prefer hiring those of the same faith? Or giving preference in promotions or bonuses?”

    Not sure about the law, but I would find that objectionable if done by government or by a publicly traded company, but not necessarily by a family-owned small business, and I’d expect it to be the norm for a faith-based non-profit, which certainly isn’t going to hire ministers that don’t support their beliefs, and may well hesitate to hire anyone else that doesn’t adhere to them, although they might not worry about the beliefs of an accountant or lawyer, should they need their services.

    In general, I’d feel the same about most other discrimination by family-owned small business and faith-based nonprofits, unless they were providing life essential services such as basic foodstuffs or pharmaceuticals or the like. While one may credibly hold the belief that all discrimination is objectionable and harmful, people do have the right to NOT associate with whoever they please, and I don’t see that that right should only apply to non-business contexts. And basically, I think anti-discrimination laws ( binding anyone other than government, which is what most laws SHOULD be restricting) should at best expire when some condition has been met for some amount of time, and not go on forever. The ultimate demand is for acceptance as equals; and acceptance cannot be mandated no matter how much it’s desired OR deserved. Indeed, the attempt if carried to extremes is likely to produce the opposite result.

    With very narrow exceptions, I DO NOT condone discrimination! But I don’t see that very broad attempts to eradicate it are either effective or advance the cause of liberty.

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