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Tuesday 29 September 2009

Can governments legislate morals into markets?

Today, the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said in a speech to the Labour Party Conference that "Markets need morals". He also went on to say that the the government will introduce a law to intervene on bankers' bonuses. The UK is not alone and there are calls all around the world to legislate on these matters. This makes me a little uneasy.

What if the amount of regulation and legislation was the cause of
the absence of morals?

In my experience, excessive legislation tends to allow individuals (and society as a whole) to abdicate their own responsibility to apply moral judgement. Over time this leads to the attitude that we can do anything we can get away with, within the rules. Professions that were once governed by their members' judgements of right and wrong (and their peers' approval and disapproval), are now regulated in everything they do. Wrong-doers get away with it if they tick the right boxes, whereas innocent mistakes are punished. In this environment, the distinction between right and wrong becomes a technicality. When you take responsibility away, people stop exercising it.

I might be being naive and I doubt we can ever go back, but does anyone else feel the same way?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, either way - examples too. Please comment below.

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  1. Mr. Feechan,

    Good question. Can they or will they are only two sides of that tricky dice. The organizations that we, in the States, primary receive our crediantials through CPA, CMA, AI, etc... all have ethical standards that must be adhered to and is part of the overall certification exam. But yet it is the industry itself that is failing.

    Enron and Worldcom both had one of the "Big 4" for audit yet still proved to be unethical/moral in their business practice.

    I would agrue that government trying to regulate ethics/morals is like the pot calling the kettle black. Look at all the scandels the government has with buying $100.00 hammers or government officails refusing to account for thier spending.

    Still an interesting topic.


  2. Kurtis

    Thanks for the comment.

    UK professional bodies teach ethics too but if the student rarely gets the opportunity to apply judgement, due to every area of their work being heavily regulated, the ethics is literally academic. A child doesn't learn to ride a bike until you remove the stabilisers.