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Professor sees no easy end to ethical woes on Wall Street

Keith Wyma is writing a book on professionals’ choices

Congress and the president can respond to the current financial crisis with new laws and regulations, but those measures will not curb for long the abuses that have deposited a $700 billion mess in Washington, D.C., Whitworth University Professor Keith Wyma said Thursday.

Self-interest inevitably finds ways around or through legal constraints, he said. To more permanently discourage misbehavior, he said, individuals must believe personal and professional satisfaction lies in doing what is right.

Wyma said that simple premise, the foundation of “virtual theory,” has re-emerged as an alternative to other ethical approaches that maximize personal freedom, or rely on rules or, especially, look for what works best.

“This is what most people use,” said Wyma, who said considering only what works best for the majority may jeopardize the minority, as did laws that sanctioned slavery in the United States until the Civil War.

Wyma is working on a book, “Streetsmart Ethics: Connecting What’s Right With What’s Smart on Wall Street,” addressing the choices financial professionals make in balancing the interests of their client, their firm and themselves.

Self-respect and personal integrity in professional practice and family relationships stretch and enrich individuals, he said.

In solving the credit crunch, Wyma said, officials have the unenviable job of rescuing investment bankers and overwhelmed mortgage owners from the consequences of their actions while responsible Americans seethe with “moral anger.”

If the bailout comes, he said, “we’re going to get some spiffy new laws out of this.”

As prosperity returns and exuberance returns to the marketplace, Wyma predicted, care will fade, enforcement will lag, and the cycle will repeat itself if virtue does not find a place in the market as well.

“Do we have any other options?” he asked.


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