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This chapter is from the book

Diminished Sense of Personal Responsibility

Retaining or improving one’s status and its associated remuneration has become the primary goal. Professionals, as well as executives, seem to have lost their sense of responsibility to the company and shareholders and to uphold the standards of their fields or disciplines. Boards of directors, corporate counsels, and auditors often appear caught up in the same "me first" drive as executives. Professionals countenanced incredible departures from "good" corporate practice and accepted standards in order to share some of the largesse. Apparently, their consciences rested easily with the knowledge that "everyone" was doing it. Any latent anxieties were reduced by the knowledge that they were insulated by their company’s liability policies.

Investment bankers, at least until recently, seem to have felt no qualms about selling "damaged goods," no concerns that their reputations as trusted bankers would be sullied. The financial news featured the lives and times of senior executives who apparently felt no pangs of conscience when they treated shareholder funds as their personal piggy bank.

Social critics bemoan such examples reflecting a culture that does not encourage personal responsibility and accountability. Social norms, the rules of proper conduct, the distinction between right and wrong have all become ambiguous and less constraining in twenty-first century America.

In part, this may reflect the growing discrepancy between risk and reward. At least until recently, executives who crossed the line in their managerial decision making in order to pump up company earnings, and therefore the value of this year’s bonus and stock options, were unlikely to face serious penalties.

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