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Posted by on Nov 15, 2011 in Economy, Politics, Society | 4 comments

Leadership Failure? Try Decency

The time for euphemisms is running out. What we are seeing is more like a social meltdown.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning economic journalist writes about “The epic global leadership fail,” but the symptoms he cites, along with so many others, add up to a loss of the moral responsibility that used to be taken for granted as common decency:

“The global financial system teeters on the edge of collapse because European politicians refused to tell citizens of their crumbling economies that they could no longer guarantee them ‘la dolce vita’– the sweet life–they had come to expect.

“Top executives at Olympus, one of Japan’s leading companies, resign in shame after acknowledging that for nearly 20 years they used a complex accounting scheme to hide billions of dollars in speculative trading losses.

“A revered coach and a respected president at Penn State are fired because they were more concerned about protecting their own reputations, and that of their school, than protecting young boys from an alleged sexual predator.

“And a former governor, senator and head of Goldman Sachs resigns as chief executive of MF Global after bankrupting the broker-dealer with overleveraged bets on European sovereign bonds.”

Yet this is only the tip of a moral iceberg as traditional values sink below what the late sociologist turned Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed two decades ago:

“We are getting used to a lot of behavior that is not good for us,” he wrote in 1993 in his now-famous American Scholar article, “Defining Deviancy Down,” arguing that society keeps adjusting for the amount of unacceptable conduct it can tolerate.


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  • JSpencer

    “society keeps adjusting for the amount of unacceptable conduct it can tolerate”

    Exactly. This is what has been happening for quite some time now, although it’s been a gradual enough process that some folks can’t see it. Eventually the you know what will hit the fan.

  • If you’ll note in all of those cases, someone is/was protecting the perpetrator(s) from the consequences of their actions. Decency doesn’t just die on its own.

  • SteveK

    I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, “Please — a little less love, and a little more common decency.” – Kurt Vonnegut – “Slapstick, or Lonesome No More” 1976

    Ah, yes… “Common Decency”… A rare virtue if ever there was one.

  • Allen

    -[society keeps adjusting for the amount of unacceptable conduct it can tolerate]-

    Been going down since Queen Victoria died. At least before then we had disciplined moral ethos.

    The only people on the planet that seem to be going up rather than down are the Chinese and they march together and exercise together at work. Like a team. Like a battalion. Like the whole country is getting ready for what is coming while the rest of us pick our un-collective butts. Our rich laughably think they can buy their way past the apocalypse and our rednecks think they can hide in the woods. The rest of us are just dumb founded at the state of affairs that can only get worse on it’s present course.

    I suspect we are going to have to change our social structure drastically if we are to survive anywhere close to an intact nation. Freedoms may just have to take back seat for a few decades. How good are you at marching in step America? Never mind, dumb question. We are rugged individuals about to be dumped upon the ash-heap of history.

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