TV or not TV 

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Ethics > TV or not TV?

 February 18 2003
The boss lets me buy stuff on the company account. It means I don't pay retail price for my computer gear. Ethically, I think this is ok. Tax is still being paid as required. It's a small price break for me, which helps make up for not being paid as much as I might get elsewhere, and recognises that much of this stuff gets used for the company anyway.

At the other extreme is the local councillor who gets a payment for his favourable vote on a development project. This is bribery.

In between is the issue of big screen TV'S. Telstra has loaned the Prime Minister and the Communications Minister plasma screen TV's.

When does a favour become a bribe? I ask this question because we Australians seem curiously relaxed about these current events. I'm also interested because there are a multitude of issues where we often have inside knowledge or opportunity. We constantly have opportunities to, as they say, sail close to the wind. I discovered the other day, that without even asking, a taxi driver had increased the amount of my receipt.  I was a bit surprised... and then stunned, when on the way back, the next taxi driver did the same thing!  Only 10 or 20 cents.... but still a lie.  I'm gearing up to check in the cab next time, and ask for the right amount.

What is it to live morally? What is the difference between
-me selling my EDS shares because I know their contract is up for renewal, 
-a public servant selling hers, or telling her husband to sell his, because she knows from work that the one billion dollar contract with the SA government will not be renewed? Does it matter? She has insider knowledge. And what about me? I know the bitter complaints of government IT people I have interfaced with. The writing has been on the wall about EDS. Do I have a kind of insider status compared to the average person in the street?  Are these examples perhaps trivial, and showing simple common sense, compared to taking an obvious bribe?

It is the more trivial seeming moral decisions which are the small gravel in the moral cement of our community.

As we consider these issues we need to recognise there is no fixed moral code to which we can refer. Life is too complicated to have a codified answer to each specific issue which arises. We need to work from some basic principles. In theological terms we would say that:
1. All people are equal before God and therefore deserve equal treatment, opportunity, and respect, and:
2. Christian ethics seek to honour the earth and its creatures, not just people.

Point one implies ideas like honesty, openness in government, justice, and truth telling. God is consistently shown in the bible as being particularly concerned with the lot of the poor and defenceless. Our decision making ethics should reflect this if we claim Christian allegiance.

The second point suggests our behaviour should be ecologically responsible and sustainable.

These two points should at all times be allowed to question and modify our self interest and our profit margins.

A further implication of point one is that the right thing should be seen to be done. Confidence in the system is to the benefit of everyone, especially the poor. I am more likely to be charitable to the poor, and responsible to the  environment, if I am confident in the honesty of the system around me.

On corporate and public levels we have guidelines in place to try and ensure some of these principles. Pecuniary interest registers, conflict of interest rules, and corporations law all allow society to operate with the confidence that at least the excesses of self interest are under control.

The real character of society, however, is most nurtured where people's private life is lived, and their character shaped, according to these principals--  where a person's character means the contracts and legalities are really only a formality and not a necessary protection. And where a contract is a record of promises rather than an enforcement.

For some of our clients the boss just says to "go ahead and order." Their word is enough, you don't need to wait for a formal signed reply. These are the best people to work with. Their honesty is an outworking of persona! character, not legal obligation. They are good to work with not only because you don't have to watch your back all the time. They are good to work with because they sustain and even help regenerate my faith in humanity and society.

When it comes to wide screen TV'S , I conclude the politicians have stayed inside the rules or else we would have heard much more ruckus from Canberra.  However,
they have not demonstrated personal character. Justice is seen to have been done in only the most formal way. Confidence has not been nurtured, only cynicism- which is a blight on our society already. Alston and Howard may be inside the law but they have fallen short of the ethical and character standards we need. So too has Telstra. The Prime Minister has failed as a leader of the nation, and the fine gravel of society has had some poor quality mortar packed between the bricks. 


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