A Cure for Unethical Behaviour

Author: Herman Brodie
Published: June 13, 2011 at 10:18 am

It is hard to recall a time when the (alleged) unethical behavior of leading individuals has made so many headlines as now: the IMF President Strauss-Kahn has been accused of rape; a bribery scandal has rocked the FIFA; ex-Governor Schwarzenegger is under criminal investigation, former presidential candidate, John Edwards, too; Congressman Weiner has literally been exposed on Twitter; UK soccer hero Ryan Giggs also had a run-in with the micro-blogging network; an ex-team-mate has blown the whistle on cycling legend Lance Armstrong’s doping ; six senior Turkish politicians have had to quit over a sex scandal; the French child protection agency has launched an investigation into a claim that an ex-minister liked ‘have fun’ with young boys in Morocco; and a British MP has been arrested on charges of sexual assault.

A scandal is what results from the discovery that someone’s behavior has deviated widely from a societal norm. The norm is a reference point, in this case the standard of behavior that is widely considered as acceptable. This is not to say that this is the standard that everybody adheres to – one should think of it more as an aspirational level. For example, the use of pornography is considered socially deviant, yet the industry generated worldwide revenues estimated at almost $100bn in 2006 and sex-related websites represent the single largest block of internet traffic. This suggests, at least where sex is concerned, the norm is more puritanical than the median behavior. The same probably applies to money. Fraud on the scale of that perpetrated by our elected leaders is out of reach of most citizens, but undeclared conflicts of interest, false insurance and expenses claims, and tax dodging are widespread. So, to express at least phony outrage when someone else’s behavior falls short of the norm may simply be a way of assuaging a sense of guilt for our own, less extreme deviations.

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Article Author: Herman Brodie

Speaker, author and blogger on practical behavioural finance

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