Must So Many of Us Have Such a Low Price?

Here’s a question for you: are there degrees of dishonesty?

If no one saw you miss a golf swing in the rough, and you didn’t add it to your score, is that dishonest?

If bad traffic made you late for work, should you lie and say you were on time, so to let your employer bear the cost of your missed time instead of you?

If you serve in the Legislature, and a certain political contribution from a trade association made it much simpler for you to agree with their reasoning, have you sold your vote?

Surely more readers would find less fault with the first rather than the last question. Cheating at golf, where the only stakes are the pride within the foursome doesn’t seem nearly as sinister as selling out one’s constituents for the lobbying efforts of some industry or special interest.

But we all know that all three examples are wrong, which takes us back to the opening question: are there degrees of dishonesty?

Last week my blog poses the question as to whether there could be too much profit, based on the premise that some profits are obtained less than honestly. In our polarized political discourse these days it seems as though the dissecting question of that argument comes down to this question: where are is the dividing line between freedom and responsibility?

Those holding freedom to the lowest denomination might insist on a purely “buyer beware” world. In other words, “if you will buy it, it’s your responsibility to know what it is.” So put a fresh coat of paint on a distressed vehicle with many hidden problems becomes your problem when you trust the person selling it to you however it’s represented otherwise.

Think about a blurrier situation where a fast food restaurant offers to double your French fry order for a very low price. Those extra fries may satisfy your guilty pleasure while doubling the profit to fast food joint. To me the freedom/responsibility question arises when they knowingly sell you products with artificial aroma at a seemingly cheap price that is known to be outside your best interests. While they soak up a few extra cents of profit, you are left with clogged arteries and heartburn.

Politicians have an even murkier reality when accepting campaign contributions from organizations with a vested interest in how they vote on certain legislation. The New York Times had an interesting article on Saturday describing how Jefferson County, Alabama is facing bankruptcy primarily due to interest rate swaps (a financial derivative) they purchased on bonds used to finance their infrastructure.

Their Congressman, Rep. Spencer Bacchus, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, is strongly opposed to any regulations of financial derivatives. Not only is that curious due to the effects of these unregulated financial trades on the finances of his home county, but as Chair of the committee that regulates the U.S. financial industry, he should know better than most how the abuses of derivatives contributed to the financial crisis in 2008.

Is his price too low? Should his intellectual curiosity be stronger than mere ideology, since he is leading the committee with responsibility of protecting the country from predator financiers?

And, should his responsibility to his constituents be better demonstrated with ensuring that investment bankers don’t pillage other Alabama cities or those around the nation?

Or should at least he avoid accepting political contributions from financial services companies who are affected by these regulations to demonstrate that his philosophy and work is not unduly influenced by such monetary gifts?

Back to the question of freedom/responsibility, how do you think Rep. Bacchus fares?

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