(RNS) Here's something curious.
Big banks can't make money without cheating, manipulating interest rates, selling overly risky products and betting against their customers.
Big pharmaceuticals can't make money without paying competitors to keep their generic products off pharmacy shelves.
Google and Facebook can't make money without monetizing customers' privacy and violating their trust. Game maker Zynga can't make money, period, but its insiders did sweep $516 million off the table by unloading soon-to-plummet stock before a lousy earnings report.
Rupert Murdoch's media empire can't make money without tapping telephones and politicizing the news on which democracy depends.
And these are the people we are supposed to trust, admire, treat as superior and as worthy of huge salaries and government bailouts.
If respect and compensation were determined by actual performance and contributions to the social good, these folks would be in jail or standing in unemployment lines.
Is it that severe? Yes, it's probably even worse. Every day another stone is turned, and another example of cheating and hubris crawls out. No wonder these titans of industry lobbied first for the emasculation of regulators, then bought Congress, and now are trying to buy a presidency.
Make a list:
- The milk lobby convinced Americans they must drink milk to be healthy, and now it turns out dairy milk might actually be harming us.
- Agri-business drove family farms out of business, then drove up grain prices.
- Mortgage lenders promise the moon to under-qualified borrowers, then stand by unconcerned when foreclosure agents sweep in.
- Universities raise tuition faster than inflation to pay for perks and pleasures, then cry for help, cut off aid to needy students, and jettison unprofitable academic disciplines, while flooding the nation with more lawyers.
This list could go on and on. And it does. It unwinds every day on the business pages, on the front page, and, thanks to Penn State University, on the sports pages. We are neck-deep in a rising tide of corruption. Forget truth, forget honesty, forget common decency. Just grab the last life-jacket.
It's a global phenomenon, of course. China is so buried in corruption that it risks losing its moment in history. Europe is drowning in debts and bad government decisions, while the wealthy evade taxes. Drug-dealing corruption extends Middle East wars beyond their logical duration and seizes a promising moment from resource-rich nations in South America.
Meanwhile, in an epic evasion of duty, politicians wage bitter war to control the purse into which corporate lobbyists dump their billions. Who believes anything they say on the campaign trail?
I share this litany because I believe we need to see its proportions. We should know why so many of us are out of work, why irrational cost escalations are crippling our family budgets, why we receive so much garbage from strangers, and why people around us seem so angry.
This is a perfect storm of corruption, political collusion, lazy management and creativity being squandered. We feel its impact, but until we name it, we are suckers for the crafty and targets for duplicitous attack ads and shady dealings.
Instead of turning on each other, as the wealthy and powerful want us to do, let's name the bad and incompetent behavior of the wealthy and powerful. And hold them accountable.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of "Just Wondering, Jesus" and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)