How the Financial Bailout is Teaching Irresponsibility

The stories following the passage of the $700 billion “bailout” bill are stunning. They chronicle the actions of people who knew, or should have known, that what they did in 2004, 2006, and even last year was certain to put the housing market at high risk and has, in fact, led to the economic chaos and worldwide fear that we are now experiencing. The stories tell of multi-million dollar bonuses paid to executives at the center of the storm.

Depending on your political allegiance, you have a different cast of characters to blame. That’s a fool’s game. What’s done is done and the people most culpable refuse to accept responsibility.

The folks who took out loans that they could not (ever have) afford(ed) are not to blame. They believed the experts who told them that they deserved a chance to live the American dream of home ownership and promised that they would be supported in their efforts to realize it.

The sad fact that shakes out from this whole mess is that we are teaching irresponsibility.

I find this perversely ironic because Junior Achievement runs a program each Spring and Fall called “Excellence Through Ethics.” I have been a strong supporter, speaking to high school students about the importance of making ethical judgments in business. Silly me.

MBA programs across the country put a new emphasis on ethics as Sarbanes-Oxley became law in response to corporate accounting abuses. Enron became the poster child for innovative but unethical business dealings.

Innovation is the name of the game. Opportunity for all sounds good. But expediency—the marriage of opportunity and innovation separate from ethics or responsibility—brings the unintended consequences of destruction. It erodes trust.

When we show someone how to game the system today or how to disown things said yesterday because today’s agenda is different, we teach him how to prevaricate. That’s a four-syllable word for lie.

We teach expediency, which is fundamentally an erosion of character because it sidesteps truth. It makes a person comfortable, even happy, in the moment without regard for implications on a longer time horizon. It jeopardizes truth because luck eventually runs out. Worse, habitual lying confuses the mind, sours the spirit, and prevents a person from understanding her true capacity.

As school programs seek to teach ethics, leaders on the public stage demonstrate the economic and social “benefits” of behaving unethically. This makes educators fools—including business people who champion ethics in high school classrooms—and teaches kids that the idealistic views of goodness and decency can mean limited financial futures.

That’s shameful.

Running simultaneously is a disgraceful political season of outright lies, outrageous allegations, and shrill caterwauling. Are our so-called leaders oblivious to the fact that they are teaching future generations how to be adults?

Let’s bring it home. What are you teaching? Do you resist the consequences of your bad choices, preferring instead to blame someone who blocked your success? If so, you are teaching irresponsibility. It’s the popular thing to do. But it destroys the future for someone who might want—and be willing to work for—something far better.w

Categories: General Advice

About Susan Marshall

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Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.