Everyone is talking about trying to save the banks, but the one thing they're missing is that in order to save the banks or the Big Three or any other company, we must first rescue something else from the brink of collapse: our values.
Despite what Ben Bernanke or Timothy Geithner tell you, we do not have a liquidity problem in this country. There is no shortage of cash. But there is a major shortage of the currency more important than the almighty dollar and that's honor, honesty and integrity.
On Monday night, JP Morgan announced a catastrophic cut in their dividend, from 38 cents a share to five. And guess what? Right after the news hit, their stock went up. Why? I think it's because investors reward honesty and integrity.
But it's not always easy to do the right thing. Take Microsoft, for instance.
The software giant was recently forced to lay off about 1,400 people — the first layoffs in company history. Unfortunately, due to an accounting glitch, they overpaid severance to 25 workers by an average of $4,000 to $5,000 and they shorted another two dozen people. Microsoft made good with the people they underpaid and asked the ones they overpaid to pay them back the difference.
So far, so good — common sense, right?
Well, Tuesday we learn that Microsoft has now decided to let those who were overpaid keep the extra money. Why? Because the story was leaked to the media that Microsoft was asking for workers they fired to pay back $4,000 to $5,000.
Some would argue that this makes sense from a business standpoint. Bad PR is pricey and $125,000 is just a tiny fraction of their almost billion dollar advertising budget. It's completely inconsequential to them — unless you happen to care about values.
Regardless of what Microsoft says, those employees should still give the extra money back. It's the right thing to do; it was never theirs in the first place.
And to Microsoft: Shame on you. Shame on you for putting public relations above principles.
No one ever said that living with honor and integrity would be easy. But the true test of character is not only the decisions you make when no one's looking, but it's also the decisions you make because everyone is looking.
Tuesday night, all eyes will be on President Obama and he has a choice to make. He can talk about the stimulus package and all of the great things it will do or he can take a deep breath, look us all right in the eyes, and admit that no financial recovery will ever be possible in this country until we first recover our principles.
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