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Can an honest man make a living?

by rdf Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 03:01:32 PM EST

I got three pieces of mail yesterday each of which contained a deceptive offer. At the risk of boring the reader with the details:

  1. An offer by a local law firm calling itself "The Tax Adjustment Agency" to file an appeal on my behalf over the amount of my property assessment. In return for filling out a bit of paper which contains little more than my name, address and lot number (which I can do myself for free) they will take 50% of any reduction in taxes I might get in the first year.

  2. An offer by the local phone company for a combined rate for phone and internet use, but only for six months and with no indication of what the rate becomes afterwards.

  3. A note from my credit card company stating that as they have been taken over by a new bank in the future any standard payment arrangements I may half to pay off an outstanding balance will be replaced by one in which they just deduct the minimum. Furthermore the order of which loans will be paid will be to their benefit, namely lowest interest loans first.

Being clever all of these offers are strictly legal, but still deceptive. They don't inform me of how little they are doing for the money, or my other options, don't state the full details of a contract I'm entering into and depend up the average consumer not to notice the payment changes.

Just one more example. A TV show had a segment about "payday" loans which used to be only offered by loan sharks, but are now a big business. They will lend you $300 for two weeks and they you pay back $345. If you can't pay then they will extend the loan for another $45 etc. It turns out that about 85% of the people who use such loans are repeaters and are "trapped". The attractive young woman from the industries trade association (called "The Community Financial Services Association of America") explained with a perfectly straight face that this service was only intended for those who had a rare, sudden need for some extra cash, in spite of the evidence to the contrary.

I wonder how she lives with herself? Did she plan on becoming a spokesperson for loan sharks when she was growing up?

I'm going to propose a Gresham's Law of work: Bad jobs drive out good ones.

Firms which want to behave ethically are put at a disadvantage compared to those who don't. Of course we understand that outright fraud has an advantage, one only has to look at the success of Enron or Bernie Madoff's Ponzi Scheme, but no one can compete with crime. A man sticking a gun in your face has a very high return on his investment.

A bank which didn't boost its fees by deceptive means, or charge the maximum interest it could get away with wouldn't earn as much as its rivals. Investors would complain about its lack of financial "innovation" and demand a management team that was more like the others. And they would get it too.

Alan Greenspan finally stated that he was mistaken when he thought that firms would remain ethical and prudent enough not to damage their own enterprises, but as a promoter of unbridled competition and lax enforcement what did he expect would happen.

As has been explained many times, one needs a balance of forces. On one side is the force of acquisitiveness which leads people to start up and run enterprises. Then there is the desire for fairness demanded by the public and provided by government acting on their behalf. Finally there is the demands of the workers to fair compensation and working conditions as expressed by collective associations that they establish.

Take away or shorten one leg of the stool and it tips over.

Is there any way to restore a sense of ethics to the business world and to make people fee shame when they cheat for a living? You tell me.

The fact that politicians go before us everyday and lie to our faces about the reasons for the positions they take helps set the tone for what is acceptable in a society, but that's a topic for another day.

I feel your pain.

Is there any way to restore a sense of ethics to the business world and to make people fee shame when they cheat for a living?

Why, yes, government ought to undertake the "unpopular" and expensive task of prosecuting the laws proscribing fraud, such as they are, rather than organize truth and reconciliation with fraud hearings on C-SPAN. For what is not punished is permitted.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 10:13:16 PM EST
of mankind and deriving the periodical cycles we go through plus paranormal channeling of entities and such a massive crash and burn Apocalyptic war event is currently called for.  The survivors then get to relearn and re-establish everything from scratch.
by Lasthorseman on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 08:29:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My heart is full of dread that in fact, the Anglo-American economies have imposed too much moral corruption on their societies. What particularly troubles me is how so many so-called Christian denominations in the United States have turned a blind eye to usury and economic injustice, and have willingly become supporting props for a Republican Party that would make even the Pharisees blush in embarrassment.

But, on the other hand, the corrosive influence of bad economics is not a new problem - the founding texts of the Abrahamic religions resonate with powerful condemnations of usury and unjust economics. I have been pondering how the many so-called Christian denominations in the US that have strayed from Biblical teachings on economics can be brought to abandon their nearly single-minded focus on abortion, and re-oriented to battling usury instead.  

If this is a line of inquiry you are interested in pursuing, I recommend going to Michael Howard's web site and going near the bottom of the page, clicking on his 1990s study "The Lost Tradition of Biblical Debt Cancellations."

by NBBooks on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 11:36:53 PM EST
I guess, the core wisdom of religions (and other traditional systems of ethics) is the knowledge that certain unrestricted actions (like killing, stealing, usury...) destroy societies, even civilizations. Soon we may rediscover all of that. But the message of that wisdom is not transmitted effectively enough - we probably had gotten into the same traps of credit games, greed approval or innovation through cheating.

The difficulty is, of course, that those collapsing conditions are extremely rare in the scale of human life-time. The traditional moral codes did actually quite a good job in restraining whole societies for centuries, even if with a lot of brainwash. Only now, after a series of intellectual and technological revolutions, we have concluded with increasing confidence, that human greed is natural, unavoidable, unchanging, optimal individually and most beneficial to everyone. Nothing else matters but your share of satisfaction or sperm, or so we loudly agree.

Or is there any chance that our tightly rationalized confidence in the power of self-interest will turn out to be the greatest delusion of all, more catastrophic than all those "naive" fables of mutual aid? What if our cycles of greed and fear resonates beyond critical levels? The West may praise itself with the invention of the rule of law, but ancient societies were probably doing fine for long periods without relying on obedience by enforcement only. Formal rules may not help the disintegrating world order much, especially when the most powerful see no reason to restrain.

One aspect of morality is restraining yourself. All moral imperatives have one thing in common: they urge not to do something in your power. We won't solve anything until we'll see necessity of that restraint. The growing norm of bullshit economic proposals may not be countered by formal law rules effectively enough. We'll probably have to learn (again) how to keep ethical norms by common effort of social control - however infeasible that may look for our post-Darwinian minds.

by das monde on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 03:55:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
excellent comment, dm.

2+2=4. when we collectively realise the social price of individual greed, especially when institutionalised to the level it is now, we will severely screen applicants to great power, and severely sanction those who abuse public trust.

until then, it's sheer mayhem.

with a thick layer of fork-tongued hypocrisy, emulsified with denial, spread over the mess.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 05:16:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hitting a bit close to home - I am currently in conflict with my property manager. The company, which manages hundred of thousands of rental appartments, along with many condos, has a bad - a deserved - reputation. The problem I have with it currently is that they made me pay illegaly some money for doing the inventory, and a monthly sum for sending me the quittance. The sums involved are rather small - about 150 € - so that they hope most renters will either be unaware of the law or won't bother. There's no class action in France to fight against this - this means a quite a loss of time, and probably some money.

The large property managing company, meanwhile, is growing very fast. I'm happy to know the money they swindled away from me is used to finance a ship sailing fast around the world...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Jan 26th, 2009 at 12:04:03 PM EST

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