In “Terminator II,” there is a scene in which young John Connor–desperately trying, along with his mother and the android killing machine sent from the future to protect the boy, to prevent the apocalyptic future that waits for him—sees young children gleefully pretending to murder each other with toy guns. “We’re not going to make it, are we?” he asks the Terminator. “People, I mean.” The fact that a bank has chosen the Trashy Kardashian Sisters to promote a credit card aimed at teenagers prompts approximately the same sense of futility. At a time of crisis in which our culture that desperately needs to encourage responsible fiscal conduct led by financial institutions we can trust, this is what we get.
We’re doomed. Continue reading
Sometimes the biggest ethics stories are the easiest. I haven’t written much about Enron, for example. When a company uses deceptive, shell corporations to hide its liabilities so profit reports look artificially rosy and investors keep buying company stock, it is obviously unethical. Even the ethics-challenged management of Enron could figure that out. The Goldman Sachs scandal, once one clears away the static and spin, is almost as straight-forward.
Are the Democrats seizing upon Goldman Sachs as a scapegoat for the financial meltdown they, like the Republicans, were complicit in as well? Obviously. That doesn’t mean that the firm doesn’t deserve all the abuse that is being heaped on it. Did the S.E.C., supposedly an apolitical and independent agency, time the announcement of its suit against Goldman Sachs to help rally public opinion behind the Obama Administration’s proposed Wall Street reforms? It wouldn’t surprise me. We have seen previous Justice Departments, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other supposedly “non-political” entities act blatantly partisan over and over again. The S.E.C. trying to give Obama’s reforms a boost would be one of the least dastardly of these breaches, especially since the public should be informed about the kind of conduct the culture of Wall Street permits. G.O.P. complaints about the timing of the announcement are, to say the least, strange. Would it be better to hide this story from the public? What matters is whether the S.E.C. has a legitimate case. It is clear that it has. It may not turn out to be a winning case, but it is legitimate. [Note: Personally, I think it is more likely that the S.E.C. announced the law suit to counter the embarrassing revelation that so many of its regulators spent endless hours on the job surfing and downloading pornography off the internet.]
The legal issues will probably be settled in court; the topic now is ethics. After watching the testimony of various Goldman Sachs officials before the Senate, I find it hard to see a credible argument that what the firm did—selling what its own employees referred to as “crappy” investment products to firm clients, and then betting its own funds that those products would end up losers—could be called anything but unethical. Continue reading