Private vs Public Greed: two different standards

Greedy for hearing “the other side” I read the NY Times Business section daily, e.g. Saturday July 14th has a story on rate-rigging, Barclays (too big to indict), JP Morgan pay givebacks, and the ethics of advice when “genetic counselors work for test companies”. I also browse through the weekly Bloomberg Business Week, e.g. cover on May 13th, screams “Lies, Lies Lies” while the inside stories reveal the non-secrets of capitalism including “China’s culture of greed, violence and deceit”–with the subhead: “Is this any place to do business?” A big yawn. Who will be going to jail? Probably no one, with rare exceptions here and there. e.g. Madoff–who actually was mostly playing with the money of very rich people.

I used to be told that after all the one only hurt when private business cheats is the investing/ownership class–it was their own money (and folks have a right to throw away their own money) –while the latter was fooling with your and my public taxpayer dollars.

The concept is interesting. It was the reason given to me by an investigator looking into the practice at my old public school (CPESS) in New York of having open supply closets. “But if we had to hire someone to open and close it, monitor it, etc it would cost more than if someone stole everything in our closet” I protested. The reply: “It’s public money and you are obliged to safeguard it from any potential misuse–regardless of the cost.” Cheating was cheating and students, staff, etc must pay the price, he reminded me.

This may be a pretty irrelevant complaint. But I read about an occasional teacher or principal whose job and all future pensions were wiped out by being caught cheating, ditto for students and realize I’m secretly feeling sympathy for them! What practical or moral messages are we passing on–explicitly or implicitly–to our young? I’m truly not sure. Maybe: if you’re going to do wrong, do it on a big scale and ideally stick to the private sector where fudging the books is part of smart practice?

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