America is Worse Off Than it Used to Be, Trust Me


The barrage of articles about the “LIBOR” scandal caused me to muse about the total amount of corruption and deception in our society today, and whether it has been increasing during the past half century.

The media has been viciously attacking the financial industry for its misbehavior and role in the current economic crisis during the past four years. Mortgage applicants were duped, even as the same people were falsifying loan applications; underwater mortgages were packaged and sold to (unsophisticated?) investors; and so on.

The latest scandal involving LIBOR — An interest rate bench mark used in London — once again has brought bankers into the spotlight, as they allegedly manipulated LIBOR for their own benefit. The rate is supposed to represent the cost of borrowing for a healthy bank. It impacts the profits and the costs of trillions of dollars of transactions, so the tiniest movement, legitimate or not, can result in titanic gains and losses for interested parties.

Why did the bankers conspire to manipulate the rates? Did they really think they would never be exposed? Why did they idiotically document their illicit behavior on e-mail? And, where were the regulators while all this was happening? Bob Diamond, former CEO of Barclays, testified that the Bank of England was actually involved in this activity.

In any case, my focus is the larger societal phenomenon of inappropriate behavior. Just yesterday, I wrote a piece about high school students cheating on exams using social media devices. Many articles have appeared discussing taxpayer fraud and health care cheating. And, of course, business people defraud clients and cover-up poor operating results every day. Is there no end to scandalous activity in America?

What is the cost of inappropriate behavior? Tax fraud is estimated to be about $400-500 billion annually, representing the loss of tax receipts from $2 trillion of unreported income. Health care fraud is estimated to be at least $80 billion annually. Many other frauds are incalculable (consider the Bernie Madoff debacle). What is the cost of human life and suffering when a drug is introduced prematurely, motivated by the drive for higher profits? This outrageous activity has spawned a multi-billion industry of trial attorneys and “ambulance chasers.”

Our government, which is supposed to conduct oversight on many of the aforementioned activities, might be the biggest offender of all. Clandestine operations overseas and domestically, nonexistent oversight of government expenditures and inappropriate support of rogue regimes in other countries cost taxpayers trillions of dollars.

The very nature of our elections should concern us greatly, as campaign finance is totally out of control. Billions will be spent supporting and attacking candidates. These activities are borderline criminal in my opinion, even though SCOTUS has said they are constitutional. At the least, it is sinful to waste so much money on elections that could be used for more virtuous purposes. But, what about the lies and deceptions perpetrated by politicians? They deceive us, we elect them and they govern with immunity.

Finally, our home lives need to be examined critically. Bad habits, bigotry and moral bankruptcy are passed on from generation to generation. Our children will likely be very much in our own image- the apple does not fall far from the tree. Character, integrity and values are words that are infrequently used in our homes. Encouragement, affection and sage counsel are gifts very few of us have time to bestow on our progeny.

From a personal perspective, I admit my naivety. During my business career, I believed that a very high percentage of my colleagues and competitors were honorable people. Maybe I miscalculated. From time to time, I observed activities that were borderline from an ethical point of view. Yet, nothing that I recall rose to a level of what goes on today.

The stakes and the egos are huge. The drive for success is overwhelming this nation. This may be a result of bad economic times; many people hustle to an extreme when their situations become dire.

America needs to be reset morally. Unfortunately, I am not sure who would lead such a renaissance.