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April 4th, 2012
05:55 PM ET

Letters to the President #1171: 'The inside track on insider trading'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has signed a new law. I’ve signed another letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

So you signed this new law banning insider trading by members of Congress and some other government officials. Fair enough. It seems like an idea with strong public support, and presumably a lot of people will be happy the parties finally came together to take such a step.

Your notion that this will help restore public confidence in government, however, I think may prove optimistic. After all, even having to create such a law says something pretty awful about the natural ethics of some of our elected leaders. Seriously, do you think anyone should have needed to be told this was wrong?

I’m reminded of that Seinfeld episode when George is caught having sex in the office with a cleaning woman and his response to his boss is something like, “Was that wrong? Because if I’d have had any idea that sort of thing was frowned upon…”

I’m not wrecking on you, your party, or any of the backers of this bill. It’s just that, once again, it seems to suggest that DC types constantly make the mistake of thinking anything is ethical if it is not illegal. (Personally, I think that is a convenient misapprehension enjoyed by people who are basically not inclined to be ethical anyway.)

I think ethical behavior is specifically what we do because it is right; regardless of the law. For example, there may well be nothing illegal about me deceiving a co-worker. Let’s say there is a job open that I want, and I simply tell a potential competitor for the position that it won’t be open until next week. I could give myself a decided edge, and my actions would not be illegal. But they would certainly be unethical.

No, I suspect that new laws forcing our “leaders” to do what they ought to do anyway, will not improve the public’s opinion of government. Now, if some elected leader came forward to admit such misdeeds and said “It was not illegal, but I know it was wrong;” that might have more effect.

It’s hard to give credit to the cheater, who stops cheating only because he was caught.

Call if you have a moment. I’m around.

Regards,
Tom

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