The documentary "Inside Job" is a contemporary reminder that unrestrained self-interest and greed, mixed with hubris, is a recipe for global financial disaster. The question becomes how to prevent cyclical economic bubbles and depressions. Governmental regulation would seem to be the obvious answer, but somehow we always find limitations in political will and the inevitable "loopholes," perhaps more politely called "exclusions," that are exploited by intelligent professional advisors. I propose a radical solution: a return to religious virtues and personal integrity.
The Old Testament words of Micah 2:1-3 are chillingly contemporary:
"Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, and rob them of their inheritance. Therefore, the LORD says: I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves. You will no longer walk proudly, for it will be a time of calamity."
Clearly private actions impact the public good.
Likewise, in the New Testament Matthew 6:24 provides the classic statement of conflicts of interest. "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." The focus of our lives is to be God and not money.
Doubtless many will think a call for personal integrity to be unrealistic and quaint. However, the MBA Oath, developed several years ago, contains as part of its conclusion: "I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity, eliciting trust and esteem from those I serve." There is a secular recognition of the need for integrity.
It is time for both leaders and employees in business and government to take personal accountability seriously. Religious values provide part of the foundation on which social trust is built. Without trust we will break into warring economic and political factions that will indeed be "a time of calamity."
Brad Reid is Professor of Business Law and Managing Director of the Dean
Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity at Lipscomb University.