Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Enron Ethics, Another Oxymoron?

"Enron had one of the best codes of ethics. They posted it. They made a big deal about it. Only they didn't really mean it."
--Michael Josephson, a Los Angeles-based ethicist (and former law professor).

Mr. Josephson is right. Enron had a flowering, lofty statement of values. Here it is: "R.I.C.E.", standing for "respect, integrity, communication and excellence". (Emphases supplied.) Of course, the problem was that it did not translate into meaningful action.

One of the commonly suggested antidotes to the corporate ethical scandals has been more ethical education. The pitch goes like this: if the business schools only taught ethics then they would have acted ethically. I don't think the answer is merely education but inclination. I'm sure those at the top of the Enron pyramid had plenty of ethical instruction. They hailed the U.S.'s finest business schools, such as Harvard and Northwestern. Their lapses did not result from not knowing the right thing to do; it was not choosing the right thing to do.