As a political science professor I often get the question about corrupt politicians and the general lack of ethical behavior that pervades state and national government. Coming from Massachusetts, which is likely in the top five states with a history of corruption ( the others being in no particular order – Louisiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and of course Illinois ), the concern and outrage of public corruption permeates the political arena.
Along with this outrage over public corruption there has been in this country a general respect for corporate and financial leaders, who have often been viewed as the epitome of honesty and efficiency. While politicians have been portrayed as sleasy hacks and pigs filling their pockets at the public trough, the captains of industry and banking have been spared the public scorn, at least until now.
The latest wave of white collar crime and corporate crooks underscores what has been largely ignored by Americans – there is plenty of corruption and illegality in the private sector. In fact there is now a tidal wave of theft, phony schemes and old fashioned greed perpetrated by these so-called white knights of our capitalist system.
From the executives at Enron, World Com, Tyco to the $ 50 billion rip-off of Bernard Madoff to the excessive CEO payouts for incompetent management, the glow is off the halos of the guys and gals in the boardrooms of American business and finance.
As Americans are now finding out, it is not just the politicians who have been ripping them off. In fact it is fair to say that most politicians steal small amounts of cash from the public, while these capitalists crooks go for the big payday in the millions and the billions.
Of course no kind of stealing, public or private, can be condoned, but the image that the public’s money is safe within the confines of the corporate and financial domain has now been completely destroyed. Americans now know that there are crooks everywhere who are trying to get their hands on the people’s money.
The chilling result of this new revelation is that trust in our public and now private sector leaders has taken a huge hit. It will take years to restore confidence in those who lead this country, whether they are in the public or private sector.