Regulation and Ethical Values in the Market Economy

One must admit that in a crassly materialistic world, where integrity and personal honor are in short supply, the matter of appropriate regulation poses a huge challenge. This is because clever but unethical people are often one step (at least) ahead of regulations, compelling well-meaning governments into making more and more regulations. Over time, the regulatory system becomes overburdened and largely unworkable. It is for a similar reason that the tax code of the United States and of many other countries are so complex that many people require the services of specially trained people to file their taxes. Rich corporations which can hire the best tax lawyers pay less relative to their income than poorer businesses that cannot afford such services. Some business leaders may even be powerful enough to get legislations passed, which while serving their own interests, are antithetical to the public interest and to the spirit of the market economy.

Moreover, economic actors who do not care about moral and ethical values can, and do, undermine regulatory systems by bribing the officials in charge – taking advantage of the reality that not all enforcement agents can be trusted to act with integrity. Thus, in many countries, supply and construction contracts are won not by the most competent and cost-effective bidder but by the companies that are willing to offer bribes. No doubt, this is a serious problem as many cases of corruption and bribery in business have in recent years made the headlines in developed, emerging, and less developed markets alike. And the culprits have included some of the most well-known multinational corporations. Thus, it is essential that whatever regulations exist are rigorously enforced. And a system of zero-tolerance for corruption among officials of enforcement agencies as well as of corporations is necessary.

It has been emphasized that the exercise of Free Will inherent in the market economy promotes individual spiritual maturing and thereby facilitates the achievement of the purpose of human existence. But this happens only if everyone is accountable for his/her decisions and actions; responsibility should never be divorced from freedom. Economic actors should be able to reap the full rewards of right decisions so that they may have the incentive to continue to act aright while they should be left to reap in full the negative consequences of wrong decisions and actions as disincentives for future behavior. It is in this context that public displeasure about the bailouts of businesses being carried out in many countries during this period of crisis is perfectly understandable and justified. I suppose that there may be instances where bailouts are appropriate because they serve the larger public interest. But while saving the corporate entity, it might well be necessary to hold individual managers accountable for any actions of theirs which led to the failure. If ethical standards in the market economy are to be raised, individual managers should not be allowed to hide behind corporate shields when they do wrong. They should be duly penalized for bad decisions and wrong actions, just as they should get bonuses when they take beneficial decisions and actions.

The foregoing leads to an important conclusion, namely: a strong regulatory framework is necessary and absolutely indispensable for the efficient functioning and health of the market economy but it is not a sufficient condition. Higher standards of ethics on the part of all economic players are essential. Indeed, it is true to say that higher spiritual and moral values are the prerequisite of prosperous and sustainable economic systems. Collapse follows, sooner or later when such values are ignored. To the extent that we are all economic players, we all must cultivate higher spiritual values and bring them to bear on all our words, thoughts, and actions. To improve our economies, we economic players must change; we must improve ourselves morally and spiritually.

In conclusion, I commend for your reflection the following statements of Abd-ru-shin, taken from the work “In the Light of Truth, The Grail Message”:

Therefore there is failure everywhere today! A picture of desolate confusion and much distress wherever one looks!

And on top of this pile of ruins there stands, hollow and puffed up with pride, the author of all this wild confusion … “modern man” as he most of all likes to describe himself! The “progressive” who in reality has constantly retrogressed! The man who also calls himself a “sober materialist”, expecting to be admired for it!

To this must now be added the many schisms and the ever-increasing hatred for one another, despite the uniformity of their voluntary enslavement! The cause lies neither with employer nor employee, neither with capital nor lack of it, nor is it due to the church or the state, or to the different nations, but it is only the wrong attitude of each individual which has brought about the present state of affairs.

Even the so-called seekers for the Truth are now seldom on the right road! Nine-tenths of them turn into nothing but Pharisees who look arrogantly down upon their fellow-men and criticise them, while at the same time quarrelling among themselves! Everything is wrong! First of all there must come the inevitable fulfilment of a dreadful end before some few can awaken out of their sleep!

As yet it is still possible for everyone to turn back! But soon and at last there will come a “too late” for all time, contrary to the hopes of so many believers who favour the erroneous view that it probably needs a longer or shorter period for the necessary purification, depending on the individual himself, but that in the end his path must again lead to the Light, to eternal joy and to happiness in God’s proximity!

by Stephen Lampe