Can it really be a surprise that four out of five Americans have little-to-zero trust in big banks, that 62 percent of us believe corruption is widespread across Corporate America, and that three-fourths of us sense that business corruption has increased in the past three years? We have these views because we keep having their ugliness thrust in our faces.
Even after the scandalous greed that crashed Wall Street five years ago, the epidemic of fraud and finagling continues, with Bank of America, Barclay, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase among the blue-chip names just recently in the news for gross violations of fundamental ethics by their top executives. Yet, not a single one of these felonious profiteers has had to do a perp walk. Add BP, ExxonMobil, the Cayman Island tax dodgers, and the wholesale corporate purchase of our government – and the only wonder is how even 20 percent of the public can retain any trust in these rapacious outfits.
This ethical devolution is not about a few (or even many) rogues, but about a whole corporate culture of entitlement, thinking they’re above both the law and common morality. Check out a recent survey of 500 senior financial executives. A hundred and twenty-five of them – one fourth! – said they thought that engaging in unethical or illegal behavior on the job was sometimes necessary to be successful. Twenty-six percent said they had firsthand knowledge of executive wrongdoing, and 30 percent said the way they get paid creates incentives to violate ethical standards and the law.
The injustice is not just in the crimes, but also in the lack of punishment. If this corporate crime wave consisted of simple street robberies, Washington would declare martial law to deal with it! But, even if caught, these muggers get off with a corporate fine. The scandal will keep spreading – until someone has the guts to start jailing the culprits.