Every few years, almost as regularly as the nation goes into and out of recession, some massive scandal is unearthed that makes us wonder about the substance of our system and institutions. We wring our hands and insist that things must change; reforms must be potent, and justice for the perpetrators must be swift.

In most scandals, bad behavior is confined to a few; in the case of political and business scamdals, a powerful few. All scandals, no matter how inconsequential, reflect flaws in the system and ultimately weaken the system. When Bill Clinton dallied with Monica Lewinsky, no constitutional crisis was threatened by the initial transgression at least, despite some of the fumings on Capitol Hill, and no American institution–except perhaps the institution of marriage–was fundamentally undermined. But hearing of such hubris and infidelity makes us all a bit more cynical and less trusting. And in an open and free society, trust is one of the main presumptions that allows us to function with any peace of mind.

That is why the current scandals engulfing the U.S. business community are so particularly disquieting. It was revelations about Enron Corp. that made us look more closely at how businesses keep their books. But those disclosures have quickly led to a rash of similar confessions by other companies that they too may not be in as excellent financial health as their quarterly reporting and balance sheets suggest. Only a few are facing possible collapse as bankrupt Enron is. But all are admitting that they have not been entirely honest. While they may be on relatively safe legal ground, they are not living up to the spirit of the laws they fall just short of breaking.

Continue Reading for Free

Register and gain access to:

  • Thought leadership on regulatory changes, economic trends, corporate success stories, and tactical solutions for treasurers, CFOs, risk managers, controllers, and other finance professionals
  • Informative weekly newsletter featuring news, analysis, real-world cas studies, and other critical content
  • Educational webcasts, white papers, and ebooks from industry thought leaders
  • Critical coverage of the employee benefits and financial advisory markets on our other ALM sites, PropertyCasualty360 and ThinkAdvisor

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.