Is it a maze? 

In my current M.A. studies, I'm working through a module on Ethics.  It's heavy, but very thought-provoking.  And it involves some of the thickest textbooks that I have ever encountered, the kinds of textbook that you'd want to have close to hand if you discovered a burglar in your home.  Oops, that doesn't sound too ethical, does it?

Interestingly, right across all the University's syllabus outlines, are plastered the starkest warnings about the crime of plagiarism, and the dire consequences for any student who is found guilty of it.   Call me sheltered, but until I commenced my studies, this wasn't ever something I had considered as a real-world problem.  Apparently, with the rise of the Interweb, and cut 'n paste, it has become all the rage.  Students the world-over are submitting essays and assignments which are essentially just recycled Wikipedia.

It seems to me that such practices are inherently self-defeating.  If I want an education, why would I then adopt practices which actually avoid the prospect of engaging with, and understanding, my chosen subject?  The very act of passing off someone else's work as one's own, appears to be predicated on the idea that education consists merely of jumping a series of hurdles, rather than actually learning something of value.

Of course, you don't have to be writing an essay on the Kantian Ethical Imperative, to be actively confronting moral issues and decisions, very few of which are accompanied by illuminated headlines, warning sirens, or a kind of FCA 'Ethical Decision Tree'.  The Regulator has given us its Principles, a rulebook that no normal person has a hope of understanding, a kind of pseudo-ethical framework called TCF, and backed that up with a really meaty Enforcement Division to make sure that we all toe the line.  As a general rule, I would conclude that regulatory bureaucracy, such as that which the FCA generates interminably, is the clearest possible demonstration that our culture is clueless about ethics, or at the very least has despaired of a workable solution to the fog that we seem to operate within.

Indeed, I would argue that the sheer force and pressure of regulation decreases the space for proper ethical development.  The ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book 'After Virtue' describes two primary models for our engagement with other people.  In the first model, I have my own Ends in mind, and all my dealings with other people are with a view to the achieving of those Ends: this model results in me becoming highly manipulative.  In the second model, I regard the other person as the End, and my energies, attentions and efforts are focused on their interests.  Now, you could argue that, in practice, the relationships we create with others (in whatever context) are a kind of pragmatic mix of these two models, but my sense is that the focus of regulation tends to make us emphasise the first model at the expense of the second.  One might want to be entirely free to pursue model (2) as one develops one's business proposition, but the requirements of compliance, the demands of ongoing reportage, the sheer cost of regulation, and the penalties for error or non-compliance increasingly force us back into model (1).  If we are not careful, we end up loading all these pressures onto the poor client, in one form or another - a really unattractive prospect for most customers.

There are no easy answers here.  Compliance seems at times to provide some kind of solution, but it does not replace the need for ethical development.  Indeed, one encounters repeated instances of intentional practices which engineered profits for some at the clear expense for others who were deemed to be customers, yet with very great attention to detail on the compliance front.  In this context, good compliance is merely a piece of clever deception, a smoke-and-mirrors device to disguise the ethical void within.  Clearly, we can be 'good' at compliance whilst not actually being 'good' at all.

ValidPath continue to develop resources for Members, to help develop ethical awareness and practice...

On a Code of Ethics
TCF & Conflicts of Interest
New Guidance on Market Abuse
Kevin Moss, 02/09/2014