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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.

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