Saturday, May 18, 2024

As the Parmalat scandal hints, and the World Economic Forum going on in Davos, Switzerland, has just confirmed, European businesses are just as feckless and prone to illegality as U.S. businesses — and just as prone to try to avoid, and end, regulation.

Reuters is reporting that business executives at the conference “shunned calls for tougher regulation … saying more rules would prove ineffective and cumbersome.” The article goes on for several paragraphs quoting executives from around the world proclaiming that a new era of corporate responsibility is needed and nigh, without ever specifying from where the new moral toughness will come.

Plucked from among the torrent of nonsense raining from the ski resort:

“Checking boxes and signing things won’t solve integrity problems,” said Daniel Vasella, chief executive of  Novartis, the drug maker taking over the Necco site in Cambridge for its U.S. headquarters. (What will?)

“Bad people make bad decisions. Ethical behavior cannot be regulated, it cannot be imposed by legislation,” said James Schiro, chief executive of insurer Zurich Financial Services, who feels, the article says, that “holding executives accountable to higher moral principles would do more good than new rules.” (Who will do the accounting? How?)

Keep an eye out for financial scandals at these companies. This is self-serving, circular-reasoning twaddle; it is astonishing these executives would have the gall to make such comments even as their compatriots’ hands are still being forcibly removed from cookie jars around the world.

More astonishing still is that this is very likely exactly what will happen. Especially in the United States, people have become used to the brazen juxtaposition of corporate crime and calls for the end of enforcement. The U.S. government has even moved to decrease the power of activist state regulators, who keep catching the wrongdoing that the U.S. enforcers miss.

The image suggested by the executives is of those smug children, caught with their hands in cookie jars, blandly munching away on a cookies held by their other hands. If you do not make us stay away from the jar, they say, we will promise to stay away from it.

Thank you, we say. Have a cookie for being so good.