Law, regulation, rules, structure, order, justice, fairness, equality – whatever we call the excretion of government – some of us will agree and some will not. From the Code of Hammurabi to the speed limits in Punkin Center, Missouri, rules have given structure and order to the culture of mankind. Hammurabi, as noted in the referenced web link, was “the earliest-known example of a ruler proclaiming publicly to his people an entire body of laws, arranged in orderly groups, so that all men might read and know what was required of them. Well written and well intentioned laws can sometimes be Draconian, but we modern humans generally accept written law because it is the central method of advancing civilization – the opposite of anarchy – the force against chaos. When law is ignored by those responsible for enforcement we return to chaos. A good example is the lax culture of enforcing banking regulations during the Bush II administrative fiasco.
Consider this analogy: Many years ago, around 1970, I worked in a civilian job in a municipal police department. 1970 was the beginning of the era of strict enforcement of driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) laws. Not every law enforcement officer was on board with the more strict punishment for DWI. 1970 was a turning point in law enforcement training. New recruits were actually expected to understand the United States Constitution. Police Officers were expected to respect the rights of individuals while simultaneously enforcing municipal and State law. In 1970 there were many older police officers who had been given ‘on-the-job’ training from 1945 to 1970. The younger officers had actually been to a law enforcement academy – had learned proper methods of law enforcement. This was a time of great conflict within local police departments. The DWI laws present good examples of cultural influence over law enforcement.
I was a very young man in 1970; my police officer friends were generally the new, young, academy trained, officers. The new officers understood DWI in a completely different manner than the older officers. The new officers recognized the extreme danger of an intoxicated driver shooting a two-ton missile at forty miles-per-hour down a city street. The older officers saw an innocent victim of too much booze. Older officers were inclined to stop DWI offenders and help them park their car – then give the offenders a ride home. The danger was removed and an innocent drunk driver was saved from the new Draconian DWI laws. None of this was done maliciously. There was no real intent to consciously disregard the duty of a police officer to enforce the law. The older officers argued that their job was to keep the city safe and maintain order – and they were doing so by removing the DWI offender from the street.
DWI traffic fatalities increased. More laws were passed. More strict punishments were enacted. As the punishments became more severe local police officers were less inclined to charge a driver with a DWI offense – they were more inclined to help the driver home. State Legislators were being hammered by liberal progressive organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. More laws were passed; more severe punishments were attached. But laws cannot dictate culture. Many years would pass before the culture of law enforcement became serious about enforcing DWI laws. Many people would die as a result.
We use the DWI analogy of law enforcement because it is in-your-face obvious. The real liberal progressive attitude will eventually lead us to a better understanding of substance abuse and better methods of corrective legislation – and severe consequences will always be a part of the solution. Real solutions will recognize both the carrot and the stick.
Less obvious is the consequence of a lax culture of regulators in the world of finance. President George W. Bush and Vice President DICK Cheney encouraged a culture of minimal enforcement of financial regulations. They were the police officers who gave the Bank President a ride home (to the gated community) rather than charge him with a crime. Many of us have suffered the severe consequences.
Where is MADB when you need them? Mothers Against Drunk Bankers is in the early stages of organization. The old school financial regulators are swarming. The Republican Party has taken up the cause. “No More Laws!” they shout. “No More Regulations! The Bankers are innocent people!”
The culture of protecting the Drunk Driver has been replaced by a more sane and responsible culture. That same culture of sanity and responsibility must be applied to the world of finance. The changing of culture is much more difficult than merely writing new laws, new regulations. But change we must. When the change is positive and beneficial then we call it progress. ‘Positive and beneficial’ is only determined by history – while in the work-in-progress-mode the value of any particular change is debatable.
But there can be no debate that the drunken bankers have crashed the car and caused great pain and misery. We need not only new laws, but we need a change of mentality, a change of culture.