I wrote some comments on ethics in investing in the Somersoft Forum, and thought I’d post it here as well for posterity.
Justification of unethical behaviour through legality and through an argument that it is “simply too difficult to define ethics clearly enough, so let’s stick to the black and white legalisms only” – this is nothing more than a cop-out.
Yes, trying to work the “ethical” way is difficult, mostly because this becomes a very subjective thing and there are no black and white rules.
However, this does not justify not trying.
Life is not a structured right and wrong environment. There are an infinite number of decisions we make in our lives which are neither perfectly harmless or perfectly legal. Life is full of greys.
What makes us decent human beings is when we “try” and do the right thing. What destroys a society is when people stop trying. The excuse is usually something about my definition of right not matching with your own definition.
None of this discussion about ethics can be rationalised – try to rationalise ethics, values, morals, feelings, love… that way lies madness.
I had one of those “a-ha” moments of understanding when I finally understood that there is no (or at least, not much) right and wrong when it comes to tax law – it is a fluid environment based on opinion, precedent and to a certain extent public opinion.
The sooner you come to terms with the concepts of ethics and right and wrong not being purely black and white, the sooner you will work out that you can actually play in this world and be have some form of ethics without torturing yourself through self deluded hypocracy.
To me, trying to observe some sense of moral balance and ethics while learning to live with the mentally lethal hypocrisy of it all is better than not trying at all.
“It’s just business” are some of the most damning words I’ve ever heard people use. At the same time, there is such as thing as business reality and all the greatest intentions in the world won’t help you when you have to make the tough decisions where not everyone wins. I can come up with many scenarios which are not win-win, more like some-win-some-lose.
Try this one. You run a manufacturing company that employs 500 people. Disaster strikes and you lose one of your factories (flood, fire, meteorite etc). The economy has been struggling lately, and cash is just not flowing the way you need it to. In order to stay afloat, you will need to cut costs dramatically – you need to sack at least half of your workers. If you try and keep all 500 workers on, you will surely go bankrupt, causing all of them to lose their jobs. So either way you cause harm … what do you do ? There is no win-win here and it’s through no fault of your own.
I think [someone else in an earlier post] said it well… we are only human and trying to do the best we can.
It’s the people who don’t try that I have a problem with !