Same Old, Same Old

Here we go again -- another day, another money scandal: The Washington Post reported recently that the chauffeur for the Washington Teacher's Union walked into a bank several times a week to cash checks made out to him for nearly $10,000. It turns out that he later gave most of the money to the teacher's union president, keeping some for himself. The details came to light during a probe in which union officials are accused of stealing more than $5 million in union funds and spending it on fur coats, designer clothes, and silver. Then on January 27, we learned that National Century Financial Enterprises -- once a huge health care financial firm -- will close. Meanwhile, federal investigators are still trying to unravel accounting problems. These almost-daily scandals are causing Americans to wring their hands over the moral failures of American society -- especially in the business world. The loss of public confidence is a major reason for the stock market slide, and we have to do something about it. But what? The major problem is found in the academic institutions that should be teaching ethics. They say that they are. For example, if you ask the average college business school if it teaches ethics, it will say, "sure." But if you look at the curriculum, you'll find out that what they are really teaching is social justice -- the need for diversity in the marketplace and more care for the environment. I have examined a dozen or so curricula -- all the same thing. They ignore the real solution to business scandals, which is not public policy or social justice, but personal virtue. This point was made by philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers, who is now at American Enterprise Institute. She told one of my favorite stories about the need for personal virtue. A few years ago, Sommers published an article urging ethics teachers to teach private virtue -- things like personal honesty, decency, and responsibility. One of Sommers's colleagues, an ethics professor, scoffed at her argument. This colleague insisted, "You're not going to have moral people until you have moral institutions." And she informed Sommers that in her classroom, she planned to continue talking about social justice -- issues like rights for women and keeping the world's poor from being exploited by greedy multinational companies. But at the end of the semester, Sommers's colleague was singing a different tune. More than half of the students in her ethics course had cheated on a take-home final exam. With a self-mocking smile, she told Sommers, "I'd like to borrow a copy of that article you wrote on ethics without virtue." This professor had learned the hard way that we can only begin to deal with the moral malaise in American life when we begin to cultivate personal virtue. Of course, we don't all have to learn the hard way. In April, the Wilberforce Forum is holding a conference called "Christians in the Marketplace." Speakers like Michael Novak, Larry Kudlow, Jack Kemp, and I will talk about restoring ethics to the marketplace. I hope you'll consider attending. Even if you can't come, you can certainly point out to your neighbors and your children the one real answer to our moral malaise and the crumbling confidence in American business. It does not come through laws or statutes or better social conditions. Just as the Bible has been telling us all along, it comes through personal righteousness. For further reading: Justin Blum and Valerie Strauss, "Charges Filed in Union Scandal," Washington Post, 28 January 2003, A01. Robert O'Harrow, Jr., and Bill Brubaker, "Future Dark for Financier of Hospitals," Washington Post, 24 January 2003. Edward Iwata, "Financially ailing National Century will close its doors," USA Today, 26 January 2003. Christina Hoff Sommers, "Ethics Without Virtue: Moral Education in America," American Scholar 52 (Summer 1984: 381-89). Christina Hoff Sommers, "Are We Living in a Moral Stone Age?", Imprimis, March 1998. Learn more about the upcoming conference, "Christians in the Marketplace," taking place April 4-6 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. BreakPoint Commentary No. 020812, "A Gap in Their Education: The NAS Study." BreakPoint Commentary No. 020715, "Law and Naïveté: The Post Gets It Wrong." Charles Colson, "A Time to Learn about Ethics," remarks before Harvard Business School on developing a personal code of ethics. Scott B. Rae and Kenman L. Wong, Beyond Integrity: A Judeo-Christian Approach to Business Ethics(Zondervan, 1996). James Davison Hunter, The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America's Children (Basic Books, 2001).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary